31 Horror Films (2014) #12 American Psycho 2000 Dir. Mary Haron

American Psycho 2000 Dir. Mary Haron

I didn’t enjoy this film when I first saw it shortly after it was released on home video. I found it grotesque and vile, showcasing a character who contains no redeeming human qualities. Patrick Batmen is a shallow and petty being, he is a sadist, a misogynist and a murderer. Watching him torture his way through prostitutes and investment banker colleagues while soliloquizing over an inexpensive menu items and the quality of business cards is enough to make you want to leave the room. It wasn’t until almost a year later, that a friend let me in on the secret of this film. It is satire. Bloody, gory satire. The second viewing was more pleasurable after realizing that Bateman’s detached psychopathy perfectly mirrored the “Me” culture of the 1980s. Bateman is Alex P. Keaton gone wrong.

Based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho follows the day to day life of wealthy investment banker Patrick Bateman, as he attends business lunches by day and murders people by night.

When first released, American Psycho divided critics as did the original novel. Some hailed the work as a satirical masterpiece, while others viewed the film as a work of shallow misogyny. It is easy to see why the film has so many split. This movie does not for a second wink at the camera to let its audience know that this is social criticism. Moreover, American Psycho has no hero. There is not a single person the audience can attach themselves to, save for Detective Kimball (Willem Dafoe) who doesn’t manage to bring Bateman to justice anyway.

It is likely also worth noting that this film might explain the influx of psycho protagonists in our modern media landscape. With shows like Dexter and Bates Motel topping Netflix queues, one might say that while we find Patrick Bateman’s brand of violent psychosis execrable, we seem to be warming up to his offspring; characters who are made more palpable by the inclusion of some familial code.

The end of American Psycho asks the question, did he make it all up? Or did Patrick Bateman kill all of those people, but due to his social standing and the narcissistic tendencies of his society he gets away with it? I guess that depends on your point of view. The latter definitely falls in line with the point the film is trying to make, that it’s not just Bateman who’s sick but the whole world at that point in time.

What we get with this film is a look at the mind of a monster wearing a man suit. Bateman isn’t just despicable for his gleeful violence, he is also a monster for his surface level obsessions. He is a man willing to murder because a colleague’s business cards are better than his own, and becomes disgusted when his prey (another man) mistakes the murder attempt for a sexual advance. Though played completely straight, these scenarios really are enough to send a person into fits of laughter. How can someone be so shallow, so self absorbed, be only concerned with money and social standing? With our modern politicians extolling the virtues of Ayn Rand’s objectivism and rose-colored recollections of Reagan’s America, American Psycho might turn from critique of a decade gone by, to find current sociopolitical relevancy.