Ali Taimur Shabbir discusses the cult-classic black comedy
When you first see Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, you would almost definitely think that there is nothing wrong with him on a moral level. How wrong such an assessment would be.
American Psycho follows narcissistic Wall Street banker Patrick Bateman and his life as part of the elite of New York. Exposing the culture of the 1%, the film uses Bateman’s character to satirise the American Yuppie (young urban professional) culture through a concoction of murder, dark humour and spellbinding sequences. Working with an A-List cast comprised of Christian Bale, Reese Witherspoon and Jared Leto, director Mary Harron has spun a tale that leaves the viewer awestruck; ‘horrific yet hilarious’ is the phrase that comes to mind when the credits finally roll.
Interestingly, production almost never took off, largely due to the fact that AP is a hugely controversial film. Bret Easton Ellis’s book of the same name served as the source material, and anyone who has read it knows that it is filled to the brim with violence, depravity and numerous other vices. When Bale was about to accept the lead role, his closest advisors warned him to change his mind, telling him it would be a career suicide.
But Bale persevered and delivered a master performance, hacking and slashing his way through friend and foe alike with the gleeful smile of a 6 year old that has just received candy for Halloween. What makes this movie so wonderful is the ingenious way it satirises Yuppie culture. While most satirical films will have a reference or two that pays homage to the fact that the film itself is indeed satirical, nothing of this sort is found in AP. The film challenges you to understand it, to peel back the layers just as Bateman peels off his mask in his morning beauty routine. One could really interpret it as a shallow slasher film, but when one watches AP knowing the true interpretation of the movie, laughter and horror follow in equal measure.
Harron rips Wall Street apart, poking fun at everything it has come to be associated with. Bateman’s obsession with his looks, clothes, reputation and bank account serves to showcase the ludicrousness of consumerism, and in doing so makes a stark comment about our world. The viewer is spoilt for choice when it comes to memorable scenes that highlight this issue.
There is of course the aforementioned opening shot, showing Bateman busy in his morning routine that uses about 150 different beauty products. Bateman doesn’t use aftershave with alcohol because ‘alcohol dries out your skin’, he chides. Then, there is the scene with Leto’s Paul Allen, whom Bateman despises because the former simply secured a reservation at a certain restaurant while the latter could not. Without spoiling too much, it shows both satire and Bale at their best. Bale truly does seem insane, and the way he splices that insanity with euphoria will leave the viewer squirming with delight in their seat. Moreover, one cannot mention great movie shots without mentioning the business card scene (if you do not laugh when Bateman breathes ‘it even has a watermark!, you may need help).
Obviously, there is criticism of the film. “Too much blood”. “Too much violence”. “No redeeming qualities for Bateman’s character”. But Bateman isn’t meant to be a redeemer. He is the amalgamation of our worst vices, the epitome of what mankind is like at its worst. However, this is seen through the lens of black comedy. Bateman says that ‘there is no catharsis’ as the final line of the film, but there is, for the viewer at least. American Psycho is not for everyone, but it is a tour de force.
Featured Image Credit: Official American Psycho Poster