Sunday, October 9, 2011

American Psycho

By s. Sunday, October 9, 2011 , , , , , , ,
(102 min, 2000)
Director: Mary Harron
Writers: Bret Easton Ellis (novel), Mary Harron (screenplay)
Stars: Christian Bale, Justin Theroux and Josh Lucas

There is no exit.
“There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable... I simply am not there. “

Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), a young, well to do man working on wall street at his father's company kills for no reason at all. As his life progresses his hatred for the world becomes more and more intense.

The movie is based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis “American Psycho. After I saw the movie, I immediately had to read the novel – this is what the greatest movies do, they encourage you to find out more about the characters, the events, they make you want to stay in this world, you've been watching for two hours. The novel instantly became my favorite book – the depths to which the author goes to describe Bateman's mind and his actions are both shocking and fascinating. The movie contains about 1% of all the horrible, sick and revolting things title character does. They simply couldn't portray more – if they did, the movie would be X rated and shocked everyone and even after “American Psycho” - the movie was released, there were critics who called it “pornography” and even before the release certain scenes had to be edited to get R category. Can you imagine what would happen if the director actually shot the scene with Bateman, victim, tube, cheese and mouse? Despite avoiding a lot of Patrick's doings, the movie captures the essence of the novel – lost, psychotic individual, living in the world were everyone is the same and were the greatest happiness (let me rephrase – the surrogate for happiness which is satisfaction) comes from eating at the most popular restaurant.

The novel was called “sexist” and “outrageous” many times. The author even received many death threats. And the director of the a woman. I found this interesting piece of trivia - “Guinevere Turner, co-writer and actor of this film, has publicly stated that she hates the novel “American Psycho” and even threw a glass of water at the novel's author Bret Easton Ellis' face when she first met him, yelling at him, asking why he wrote such a "disgusting" book and has even called the book "trash". She herself has admitted to being offended by the graphic nature of the book and often asked Mary Harron how could she make a film of such a "sexist" novel. Harron would argue that she doesn't find the book sexist and that she found it to be a satire of the behavior of men and the upper class.”. This is how I viewed both the movie and the novel – it is poignant and disarmingly hilarious satire. Murders happen in real world – we hear about them every day, but for something like this to go down it would most likely be almost impossible, because people like Patrick are being caught, in most cases, before they manage to kill couple of dozens of people. And Harron was a perfect director, she is objective and she leaves it to the viewer to come with his own conclusions. She is merely showing us the story, leaving the opinions and reflections to ourselves. Ellis himself liked the adaptation and said "the film clarified the themes of the novel. It clarified that the novel was a critique of male behavior".

Patrick Bateman lives alone in a classy, expensive apartment. He has a fiance, not because he wants one, or because he loves her – it's how it's supposed to be. He has a job that he doesn't really need to because he is wealthy to begin with, but he still comes to his office to keep the facade. However his mind is occupied by something else – his sick need of being absolutely perfect, of having a perfect life, the one which everyone will envy him. Bateman kills women, occasionally men if he has “good” reason to do so. It's never fast – it is always slow, cruel, elaborated - he is taking his time in horrifyingly mutilating his victims. And he gets away with it – because all of the guys in his environment looks, behaves and lives exactly the same. He kills not only because he is a psychopath - he kills because he desperately wants to be different – he wants to do something, none of those guys do. But in this ill world of theirs it's never clear if anyone else isn't doing what Patrick does. After all would anyone care? As long as they wear their suits, drink their whiskey and look wealthy and elegant the appearances are good enough for the outside world to be the reason for not questioning things.

Bateman kills a homeless man, because he disgusts him. He kills his co-worker (in one of the best murder scenes in the history of cinema) because he is better than he is – he gets better women, he gets better results in his job, he eats at most desired restaurants, he has his own tanning bed and – the final straw – he has better business card than Bateman has. He also tortures and kills women, as many psychopaths – being unable to love, or to even feel. He only feels disgust.

Both the movie and the novel would probably be impossible to go through without terrific, dark humor. Patrick is talking about pop stars before or during his murders – in the books those digressions of his are separate chapters, here they were inserted into scenes to great comedy effect. Some of the scenes are hilarious – in the novel it is the one where Patrick wonders where is the hand of the victim which is decaying in his kitchen (“Earlier in the day I had sawed off her left arm, which is what finally killed her, and right now I pick it up, holding it by the bone that protrudes from where her hand used to be (I have no idea where it is now: the freezer? the closet?”) - the absurdity and unimaginable horror of his actions are so shocking and frightening sometimes you cannot help but laugh. And the hilarious factor also lies in contradictions – Patrick kills girls with nail gun but he also says “Cool it with the antisemitic remarks”, suddenly being all sensitive. The movie captures a lot of that humor, mostly because of Christian Bale's spot on facial impressions, great music choices (who can forget “Hip to be Square”?) and colorful characters like incredibly mannered and spoiled fiance Evelyn, played with a lot of charm by Reese Witherspoon or Patrick's lover, always high and barely conscious Courtney (Samantha Mathis).

The only two normal characters in the movie are detective (Willen Dafoe), who was not present in the novel and Patrick's assistant Jean (Chloë Sevigny), who has a crush on her boss. The detective is being brought to the story to build up suspense and create illusion that Patrick's world is not as isolated from real world, as we may thought when we read the novel. He is asking questions about Bateman's missing colleague, but has no conclusions. The scene were he and Patrick met in the restaurant and Bateman keeps acting like a lunatic, throwing salt on empty plate and perspiring as a guilty person is a true gem.

The movie does a great job at recreating the feel of the 80's where the story is set. It was shot in 2000 but when I was watching this film for the first time, I thought the movie was much older than this. It is definitely the best adaptation of any Bret Easton Ellis's novel, although it takes a lot of liberty with the source material. The ending in the movie is unintentionally puzzling, in the novel we had better sense of what went down in the story. What I loved about the film, though is that it didn't omit my favorite parts from the book – the confession Patrick makes to his lawyer over the phone, preceded by hilarious shootout in the apartment building.

The role of Patrick Bateman was first offered to Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt and even – readers are you sitting down? – Leonardo Dicaprio. I can't imagine them in the role now that I saw Christian Bale in it. If I had to name 5 best performances I've seen his take on Patrick Bateman would be right after Heath Ledger in “Brokeback Mountain”. Looking for a way to create the character, Bale stumbled onto a Tom Cruise appearance on Letterman. According to the director, Bale saw in Cruise "this very intense friendliness with nothing behind the eyes" and Bale subsequently based the character of Bateman on that. He also must have had read the novel many times, because he becomes Patrick, he acts as if he actually did all those things from the novel, that we don't see in adaptation. He is both scary, menacing, funny and makes you feel sorry for him – he lives in his little world, being involved in rat race, trying to do anything society expects him to do. He is deeply unhappy and his killings are the only moments when he is truly free. The constant masturbation is a substitute for real closeness, the murders are the substitute for real purpose. His world is fake and he is living his double life, slowly falling into hallucinations and despair.

That being said the lengths his character goes to are petrifying and the darkness that must inhabit the mind of such deranged person is most likely the scariest thing I've witness on screen and when I was reading the book. The author must have done a lot of research before writing this and one can only hope it didn't affect him too much. The murders we see and read about are so unimaginable, so cruel and meticulously described I hope nobody will ever be inspired by Bateman's actions.

“American Psycho” includes very fine acting from everyone involved – I have to mention adorable Sevigny, who is one of the most interesting actresses nowadays – you only need to see her on screen once to know this, but who can forget about her work in “Boys don't cry” and in “Big love”. She is the perfect Jean, embodies her naive and sweet personality. Jared Leto is doing great job at portraying successful asshole, who is basically just Patrick minus the psychosis and general lack of interest in anyone or anything. The costumes, set pieces, accessories and music (the single biggest cost on the film was purchasing the rights to the various songs used throughout – all the hits are here: “Simply irresistible”, “Lady in red”, “True faith”) all add to this amazing and unique feel of the movie. But in the end, it's all about the incredibly quotable dialogs and great scenes that makes this movie completely unforgettable and essential for every cinema fan to see.

The film has been in my top 10 ever since I've seen it – I can read the novel over and over again, cherishing every word and admiring that disturbingly interesting study of the troubled, rotten mind. And the movie embodies all of that – we get a glimpse of what the true madness looks like. But it's not Patrick or even his actions that truly scare us – it is the portrait of the world where people simply don't care about what matters, where they don't have any morals, conscience or guilt.


1 comment:

  1. Great review, one of your best. I mentioned you in my American Psycho review today! It's a book that works well on film I think, the soundtrack and atmosphere really captured the late 80s. As you say C Bale's performance is amazing. I know some people think the movie was too safe, but as the author said, the violence is only a few pages anyway. A memorable film and a memorable book!