Friday, August 5, 2011

American Psycho (2000)


American Psycho
2000, Lions Gate


Principal Cast:  Christian Bale, Chloe Sevigny, Reese Witherspoon, Jared Leto, Willem Dafoe
Director:  Mary Harron
Producers:  Christian Halsey Solomon, Chris Hanley, Edward R. Pressman
Screenwriters:  Mary Harron & Guinevere Turner based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis
Cinematography:  Andrzej Sekula

American Psycho is a character study on Patrick Bateman.  Bateman is your average Wall Street, 1980s era yuppie that places a high value on material possessions.  Oh yeah, he also likes to kill people.

I want to stab you to death, and then play around with your blood. 

Full disclosure:  This film is ambiguous.  It does not have a clear cut, wrapped in a ribbon, answers every question kind of ending.  In fact, it raises some contradictions that some might consider plot holes (they're not) and never addresses them.  Herein lies the brilliance of this film.

Most people think this is about a serial killer that goes around killing people.  It's not.  That plot is just the tool this film is using to illustrated the real point.  This film is about obsession.  Obsession about social class.  Obsession with material possessions.  And most importantly, obsession with yourself.  It is therefore no coincidence that this film takes place during the 1980s.

Bateman works for a stock firm.  He never seems to actually do any work, but that doesn't matter.  He's rich, and seemingly successful.  He's obsessed with getting the nicest things, wearing the nicest clothing, living in the nicest apartment, eating at the finest restaurants, etc.  He has an exhaustive morning ritual that he explains in detail at the beginning of the film. He is obsessed with these material achievements, because of what they mean:  a higher, more elite social status.  Hell, Bateman even gets infuriated when one of his colleagues has a nicer business card than his.  Society tells him what he should want, but when he gets it, he feels nothing.

Bateman only feels anything when he succumbs to his extreme addictions.  Mainly, killing people.  When he realizes the previously mentioned colleague is surpassing him professionally, he brutally kills him.  Bateman, even when he's not killing people, exhibits these violent tendencies with just words.  Whether it's a bartender or his girlfriend, he will blatantly admit he's killed people or admit how he wants to kill someone.  No one ever listens.  This is the true criticism the film is trying to make.  Even when this brutal killer is confessing, no one seems to be listening to him... because they are too wrapped up in their own lives.  They are too obsessed with themselves.
Bateman kills people.  He does it because he needs to feel something.   It's at those moments of violence that his "mask,"  the face he shows society, finally comes off.  Hell, he even allows himself to savor cheesy 80s pop music while he's doing his horrible deeds.
Any more discussion or points that I'd like to make on the movie would be getting into spoiler territory.  Just watch the movie, and think about the ending.  If you REALLY pay attention and you REALLY think about it, you'll realize it's not that ambiguous after all.