2000 – A wealthy New York executive hides his psychopathic personality from his co-workers and friends as he spirals deeper into grotesque, violent fantasies.
I was hesitant to watch this movie based on its reputation alone – I’m not a big gore fan, and serial killers (especially the cannibals and necrophiliacs) scare me to death. So when I started this one at 1:00 AM, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
American Psycho was a pleasant surprise. On a pop cultural level, it was a movie way, way ahead of its time. In an era when serial killers are like vampires – cool, sexy, moody, but with that requisite compassionate side that makes the ladies swoon – Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is the ultimate deconstruction. If it’s true that “all girls want bad guys,” your basic fictional serial killer is the pinnacle of dark, menacing allure. You might mistake Bateman for one of these – until he’s chasing a woman through his hotel with a chainsaw or trying to obey an ATM machine that tells him, “Feed me a stray cat.”
The serial killer aspect is only secondary to this film, however. It’s a satire on the emptiness of so-called “high society,” and although it was targeted at the 1980s it resonates just as deeply today. Bateman works at his father’s company (we never see him doing any actual work) in mergers and acquisitions (misspelled “aquisitions” on his business card). He’s engaged to a woman (Reese Witherspoon) that he can’t stand and is friends with a bunch of guys he holds in contempt. His life is an empty parade of dinner parties and night clubs, and he looks for deeper meaning in pop acts like Huey Lewis and the News.
The world he inhabits is completely superficial, and he has no sense of who he is or where he fits in. He’s constantly being mistaken for other people – he’s called Marcus, Davis, and “Mr. Smith” by people who either should know him or assume they do. While he might be handsome and impeccably dressed, so is everyone he knows. His business card, of which he is inordinately proud, is virtually identical to everyone else’s (they all have the same title, phone number, and typo).
The fact that he’s a depraved, misogynistic killer might make him stand out from the crowd and give him some identity… but nobody seems to notice that, either. Bateman’s victims aren’t missed – his own lawyer claims to have dinner with one of them, twice, after their brutal murder. He leaves heaps of evidence behind – he drags a body across his own hotel lobby, leaving a streak of blood – but nobody cares. One of his colleagues catches him stuffing a body into the trunk of a cab and simply asks, “Patrick… where did you get that overnight bag?” He even tries to confess, but nobody listens (mishearing “murders and executions” as “mergers and acquisitions”) or believes him (his lawyer assumes he’s making a joke on his own harmless, vanilla persona). In this society, true meaning is impossible to attain, no matter how extreme your attempts to find it might become.
American Psycho is essentially the dark comedy to end all dark comedies. The trick is to make sure you’re laughing at the right thing.