American Psycho - 2000
American Psycho is a dark comedy thriller, written and directed by Mary Harron. This movie was adapted from a novel of the same name and it took eight years of development hell to bring it to the big screen. This movie also has an incredible cast of actors that went on to great fame. The list of actors includes Christian Bale, Jared Leto, Reese Witherspoon, Justin Theroux, Chloë Sevigny, Josh Lucas and Willem Dafoe. The beauty of this film is that it can either be taken at face value and watched as an extremely funny dark comedy with a stellar performance by Bale, or you can geek out over all the meticulous details used by Harron to deliver an incredible visual and story masterpiece.
The plot is set in the mid-1980s, as a businessman’s psychopathic alter ego becomes harder and harder to hide from his co-workers and “friends”. Honestly you don’t need to know anything more than that. I’m going to dive in to both viewing options, starting with how funny this movie is.
This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you enjoy dark humor and sarcastic punchlines this is the movie for you. Christian Bale gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Patrick Bateman, a self-absorbed, narcissistic businessman that embodies everything society hated about the “Yuppie culture” that emerged during the mid-1980’s. His line delivery ranges from complete psychotic killer to a Jim Carrey level of sarcasm. My favorite line comes when Leto’s character drunkenly asks, just before getting murdered, “Is that a raincoat?”, and Bale answers loudly and with a huge fake smile; “Yes, it is!”.
There are multiple bizarre scenes of obscured situations that just make me laugh every single time I watch it: Bale calling a prestigious restaurant to make a reservation, while in the background a porn movie plays very loudly; the ATM demanding Bale feed it a stray cat to get money out of it; drawing a woman killed by a chainsaw while have dinner with his fiancé and she never notices it. My favorite comes in the business card showdown (all having the same “Vice President” title) he has with his coworkers, that pushes him to the breaking point of murder. This movie if taken seriously can be off-putting to some, but if looked through a satirical social commentary of the materialistic lifestyle employed by the “Yuppies”, it can be flat out hilarious.
Now, let me geek out over a few techniques employed by Harron throughout the movie.
With the theme of the movie mainly focusing on Bateman’s double personality, Harron found multiple ways to visually showcase it. For most of the movie, Bateman’s face is lit from one side of his face, casting a shadow on the other one. This way the audience is constantly reminded of his light and dark side. There are two scenes in where Bateman’s murders lead to blood spurts landing on his face. Once again Harron decided to only have one side of his face covered in blood, while the other one remined untouched or uncorrupted. But if you ask me what is the best use of this visual technique, it would be during his introduction. The first time we hear him say his name, he is staring at a framed poster of Le Miserables. The camera zooms in to his reflection on the poster and we see the left side of his face brightly light, while his right side in cast in shadow with a hint of the colors from the French flag.
Another theme that goes hand in hand with the double personality of Bateman is the “mask” he constantly wears to hide among his co-workers. There are multiple scenes in which is face is either hidden behind a mask or distorted from sight. During his morning routine, if too puffy, he puts on an ice mask to help with the puffiness. During the taxi cab ride to dinner with his fiancé, we can clearly see her in frame while Bateman is completely distorted due to the window divider. My favorite mask scene is during his morning routine. He meticulously applies multiple products to his face to preserve his outside good looks and applies a clear facial mask. He stares with a cold gaze at the mirror as he slowly peels off his facial clear mask off his face, while the narration overhead states;
“...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.”
I honestly can go on and on about this movie, from the set design to the music selection but the review is starting to go long.
American Psycho is honestly one of my all-time favorite movies. The craft employed by both the director and the actor to bring to life this unique and twisted story is remarkable. The social commentary of how homogenized that material life can be and how it would drive someone to murder in order to break from the norm is brilliant. Ok, I said no more deep diving but I find it brilliant that the song Bateman chooses to praise Huey Lewis and the News for is “Hip to be Square”. A song in which the entire message revolves around conformity to society’s norms and breaking away from your independent style of thinking.
Normally I summarize the reason why I love movies in one sentence from the movie I watch, but I can’t for this one. This entire movie is the reason why I love movies.
American Psycho is currently streaming on HBO GO. One of your sides will thank you for watching it.
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