American Psycho Review
Written by: LoudLon
Often times things not lost in translation are lost instead in interpretation. Take, for example, the novel American Psycho. Written by Bret Easton Ellis, who also penned the novels Rules of Attraction and Less Than Zero which have also been adapted to film, American Psycho presented an incredibly scathing social satire on the money-grubbing, me-me-me and image conscious 1980s. It could have been written as a comedy, or an allegorical drama, but instead it's written as seen through the eyes of perhaps the most insane and sadistic character in literary history, 27 year old Wall Street executive Patrick Bateman.
The novel itself is page after page of nonlinear story-telling, incomplete thoughts, overlapping narratives, mind-numbingly boring descriptions of designer suits, in-depth dissertations on 1980s pop music and, most notably, incredibly detailed and repulsive murder set pieces. So graphic and explicit were these passages in the novel that to repeat them here would necessitate having to stamp this review with an "adults only" header.
But all these things are what made the novel, quite simply, brilliant. Never before had the literary world been rocked so powerfully or repulsed so effectively. And this is where the novel reached the point of brilliance; published in the 1991, it was far enough removed from the Decade of Excess to have gained some insight into the previous ten years, and what it exposed was the desensitization of modern America brought on by excessive commerciality and a reliance on the all-mighty buck as a sign of personal success. The truly vomit inducing and depraved murders in the novel were simply necessary as an allegory of being numbed by excess and having it all. The gore was perfectly integrated with theme, to coin a phrase from author John McCarty, and those critics who dubbed the novel a how-to book on killing and mutilating women simply and rather unfortunately didn't get the joke.
Now that a brief history of the novel has been presented, let's see if the film captures what made the novel as (in)famous as it is.
Christian Bale stars as Patrick Bateman, a handsome, charming, perfectly built and insanely successful Wall Street executive. On the surface, he's boy-next-door charming and congenial. But we really see what he's made of when he approaches a homeless bum in an alley. He offers to help the unfortunate fellow, but his idea of helping includes stabbing the man to death and then stomping the brains out of the man's dog.
Bateman's fiance Evelyn (Witherspoon) is gorgeous and shallow, which makes them the perfect match (his murderous tendencies notwithstanding) yet Bateman informs us via voice-over narration that she's having an affair with his best friend, and Bateman himself is having an affair with another executive's wife, Courtney (Mathis). But none of this seems to affect the desensitized and disaffected Bateman, who has no problems with his life or his bloodlust.
That is, until he axes (literally) his rival, Paul Owen (Leto). Police detective Kimball (Dafoe) traces Owen's disappearance back to our anti-hero, and soon Bateman's mask of sanity begins to slip. Can he keep it together long enough for the heat to blow over, or will his knack for picking up and mutilating prostitutes blow his cover? You'll have to watch to find out, 'cuz I ain't tellin'.
First off, Christian Bale is absolutely perfect as the incredibly insane Patrick Bateman. He drops his native Welsh accent in favor of a shallow Upper Class Whitey pomp and his sometimes deadpan, sometimes over the top performance is at once hilarious, peppered with quirkiness and, amazingly, sympathetic - this despite the fact that he's portraying a remorseless butcher. Bale prepared rigorously for the role, a preparation which included working out for sometimes five hours a day to maintain that "perfect" Men's Health Magazine physique. So brilliant is he as the character that when I read the book again after seeing the film, I could not read without seeing Bale as the character.
And of course, I can't leave out what makes American Psycho fit within the confines of a horror film in the first place; the savage murders perpetrated by the lead character. Though nowhere near as graphic as the novel - an understatement if ever there was one - there's still plenty of mayhem to be seen. Aside from the aforementioned bum in the alley scene, we're also treated to murder by axe, a decapitated head in a refrigerator, death by chainsaw, and let us not forget death by bloody cunnilingus. When in murder mode, Bateman is a stark, raving lunatic and Bale's performance during the murder scenes add that much more of a horrific punch to the film.
The only real negatives in the film are the same as those of the source novel, mostly in that there is no linear narrative. We have no sense of time or procession, we don't know when scenes take place in the flow of the story due to the fact that for the most part, the film is just a collection of moments either real or fictional, or both, in the mind of Bateman. The only coherent part of the story involves Kimball's search for the missing Owen, and the ending is ambiguously left open for interpretation. We don't know for certain if Bateman really is killing all these people or not. In fact, we ultimately come to realize that he doesn't really know, either. But truth be told, I'm having difficulty in pegging these things as negatives, because they almost give you some idea of what it must be like to be someone whose every action may or may not have happened, whose thoughts and philosophies are all fraudulent and fabricated.
Those who've already read the source novel might be disappointed by the drastically reduced amount of violence in this film adaptation. But if one pays close enough attention, there is a scene near the end of the film where Bateman's secretary Jean (the sympathetic Sevigny) is browsing through his journal only to find sketches of perverse and disgusting images. These are all images taken directly from the book, and represent the crimes Bateman attempts to confess to his lawyer in a hilarious yet psychotic confession to an answering machine.
Those wondering what differences there are between the R rated and unrated version can rest peacefully. The only differences are a few pelvic thrusts during a sex scene. Otherwise, the films are identical.
Despite critical response and though tremendously watered down from the source novel, American Psycho is an effective and accurate social satire of the "Me Decade" that was the 1980s and a funny yet harrowing psycho-drama cum black comedy which, luckily for us, is in the form of a horror film. So do yourselves a favor and pick this one up if you haven't already. If anything, you'll never be able to see Huey Lewis's "Hip to be Square" in the same light...
Note: Originally posted on ZombieKeeper.com as reviewed by myself while a staff writer