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American Psycho

American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000)

A brilliant dark comedy that works as an effective satire much like Fight Club, a film released the year previous to it. But like Fight Club, it is a film that I feel many will overlook and miss the point of, instead only focussing on the stylistic elements – the brutal violence that takes place within the film.

Adapted from a best selling novel of the same name, the film’s female director ensures that the film is something more than a piece of entertainment where we watch the actions of an insane man on a killing spree. The film has gained a cult following, mostly in part to Christian Bale’s superb performance as the eccentric Patrick Bateman, but it is not just the bizarre images such as the wealthy investment banker dancing to the music of ‘Huey Lewis and the News’ before proceeding to take an axe to a man’s head repeatedly, that makes the character such a memorable and fascinating one.

At the beginning of the film we are talked through part of Bateman’s daily routine complete with self narration as he showers, clean himself and undertakes his morning exercises in order to maintain his appearance. Key to the character of Bateman is his inflated ego, he is what most would describe as a ‘rich spoilt brat’, and is of the opinion that he is somehow superior to those around him, always trying to stay ahead of his work colleagues as they pathetically compete over business cards and restaurant reservations. We see scenes where Bateman is visibly angered by his jealousy of his work colleagues, not only the business card scene but also when he discovers that one colleague, Allen, has an apartment that would cost more than his. The actual fact is that these business cards and apartments are not much different from each other; the difference is small yet holds great importance to the greedy and narcissistic Patrick Bateman. The script is filled with lots of hilarious lines and scenes, and I will honestly say this film viewing was the most I have laughed in a while, whilst some may find it dark and disturbing, I personally loved the sick and twisted Bateman whose violent personality is crucially overlooked by his friends.

Subtle, almost unnoticeable differences that hold major importance, is a description that can be applied to Bateman and his colleagues themselves. One of the film’s running jokes is that Bateman is constantly mistaken for his colleagues. Bateman’s desire to be something more than he is, is what ultimately drives his brutal killing spree.

"Do you like Huey Lewis and The News?"

** Spoilers ahead – do not read without watching the film **

In the end it becomes apparent that Bateman in facts wants to be caught, he wants the world to know about his crimes, he wants the fame, to stand out from the crowd. Yet somehow, he continues to evade punishment with a series of scenes that poise the question to the viewer whether Bateman’s killing is actually real or not.

This ambiguity between fantasy and reality is what makes the film such an interesting satire for me. I can see arguments for both sides of the real or not real argument. On the surface it appears that the film may be pointing towards the murderous spree of Bateman being simply fantasy. His drawings that are discovered at the films end seem to indicate that these are simply the insane thoughts of a man so egotistical, he wants to commit these murders and make a name for himself, but he can not – with the nail gun scene showing this.

Early on in the film there actually appears to be a subtle indication that Bateman’s murderous personality is part of his own imagination, when he seemingly panics over an alibi for Allen’s murder, only to be assured by the detective that he was, as confirmed by a number of his colleagues, present at a meal with them. This scene is important as it could imply a number of things: either what the detective says is real - Bateman was at a dinner and did not murder Allen or that Bateman did murder Allen but was given the alibi of the dinner meal due to the ongoing joke of mistaken identity - however this would likely not be so literal and instead be part of the films satirical criticism of the 1980s yuppie generation, implying that Bateman was ‘above’ being punished for such crimes and that somehow these actions would always be covered up. But it could in fact suggest something else, what if the character of Detective Kimball is a completely imaginative creation of Bateman, a character that represents everything he wants. He wants to be caught, and in his conversations Bateman appears to be slipping, he is uncertain about an alibi and his body language suggests that something is wrong, as if he wants the detective to suspect something.

Even after confessing to the murders, Bateman continues to evade punishment. His lawyer, Harold, again mistakes him for another of his colleagues in a conversation where he describes Bateman’s confession as unbelievable in part for his ‘decision’ to use Patrick Bateman in his ‘joke’, a person ‘too lightweight’ to be able to commit such crimes.

Bateman has not only managed to avoid getting caught and being punished for his crimes, he has also failed in his attempts to become recognised, he is still a pathetic human being no better than his colleagues, a man who will continue to be mistaken for others, someone whose colleagues will still not take seriously and continue to take his homicidal remarks as nothing more than humour. The film finishes with the words of Bateman, "This confession has meant nothing”, which can be taken as an indication of his continuous desire to inflict pain on others, but I saw it more of him displaying his frustration that his confession has meant nothing to those around him.

Whether or not as a human being he was capable of committing such crimes is not important to the film as a whole, what is more important is the dark ideas that fill is head, they represent the evil side of human nature where people are willing to at least fantasise about going to such extremes in order to achieve recognition.