‘American Psycho’ reminds us: Hey, killing is bad, dude
Dripping, staining blood. Perfectly tailored suits. Bodies littering the set. Drinking during normal work hours. So this is what happens when Don Draper decides he wants to purge society of “undesirables”?
Not quite, but still, director Mary Harron’s “American Psycho” (2000) — adapted from the Bret Easton Ellis novel — gives off that impression just a bit, doesn’t it? Instead of the drama of an ad department and 1960s culture, we get a strange blend of 1980s excessive greed and yuppie beliefs, a collision between murders and executions with mergers and acquisitions. To some, they may as well be the same.
A prime example would be who could be only be described as the titular character, Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale). An executive with an ego worthy of the most arrogant among us, Patrick thinks he’s basically a master of the universe. It doesn’t help that he has his own office, secretary, obscene salary and quick-to-answer mentality. Oh, and he has a penchant for murdering people.
Some may say these killings symbolize something deeper, something more metaphoric. But by the sheer amount of bodies that pile up by movie’s end, that’s really not the case.
Patrick normally picks young women to attack, wooing them back to his sweet pad. He then accosts them with ridiculous music, only to follow up with murdering them with whatever weapon — axe, knife, chainsaw — he finds. Talk about adding insult to injury.
But, as with any functioning sociopath, he shakes off his previous night’s activities and returns to work as perfectly molded as ever. And molded he is, because his veneer is about as far from humanity as you can achieve.
Still, after all this time, that beautiful face he shows to the world begins to crack. Even Patrick feels worried: “I think my mask of sanity is about to slip,” he says to the audience.
But maybe he’s just worried about Detective Donald Kimball (Willem Dafoe), who has begun investigating the disappearance of one of Patrick’s victims, a work associate (Jared Leto) he just so happen to kill.
You may notice a similarity between “Psycho” and the Stanley Kubrick film “Clockwork Orange.” Between Patrick being an upscale version of “Clockwork’s” Alex the Droog, the same sense of murdering for the sake of murdering (even entertainment) permeates through “American Psycho.”
And like Alex, Patrick commits his heinous acts almost without thinking, and he brings us into his demented scenes through his creepily distinct narration. He even murders a homeless person just because — just like Alex.
Still, “A Clockwork Orange” is an enduring film about murder meaning something deeper. Harron’s “American Psycho” is more of a black comedy, steeped in blood and sick humor, materialism and misogyny.
But to give credit where it’s due, Bale’s Bateman is engrossing. The manic energy surrounding him through even banal tasks like showering is palpable. Even if his murdering spree is slightly less than terrifying — no thanks to just how by the numbers it all feels — there’s still something to be said about a crazed naked man chasing you down to murder you with a chainsaw.
Three psycho stars out of five.