“I feel my mask of sanity is about to slip…” ~ Patrick Bateman
Last week I exploded the ultra-violent ‘Fight Club’, so as a gentle change of pace (NOT – 2007 Borat reference, geddit), this week I shall peer into the twisted, sadistic and also ultra-violent mind of serial killer Patrick Bateman in Mary Harron’s 2000 film, ‘American Psycho’ – I fully acknowledge there may be a theme developing here. Yet, I make no apologies for this, primarily because I am a stubborn twat and this is blog is called The Ross Report last time I bothered to check.
But before I go balls deep into my revered movie chat, I have a darkly humourous tale to relay regarding ‘American Psycho’ and my dear old Grand-papa.
It was Christmas Day 2007, as is Bilko family tradition, Grandad Billington stays over for the yearly festive shenanigans. This particular year I graduated from University. Carelessly, I had left a copy of my dissertation perched atop the coffee table in the living room. Curiosity getting the better of him, Grandad reached over and began a merciless 60 minutes reading through my life’s work. Being the dullard I am, I paid little attention – partly due to the beer induced fug I was blissfully ensconsed within but chiefly because I was sat in a brand new gaming chair lobotomising droids in ‘Halo 2’.
My dissertation was entitled, ‘Masculine identity, violence and homoeroticism in Chuck Palahniuk’s ‘Fight Club’ and Bret Easton Ellis’s ‘American Psycho’. Innocuous enough right? Well, kinda…
As I stared blankly at the TV, I happily mused,”Oh, Grandad, what a good sport you are, reading my dissertation.”
After 30 seconds passed, the beer delay complete, my thoughts violently evolved and transformed into, “OH FUCK, GRANDAD PLEASE STOP READING THE DISSERTATION.”
For any mortal who has delved into Bret Easton Ellis’s original novel they will clearly understand the point I am getting at here, however if you are unitiated, the novel details a sociopathic yuppie killer who revels in violence, sex and his materialistic cravings. All three are interspersed with each other leading to jaunty little passages such as this:
“I tried to make meat loaf out of the girl but it becomes too frustrating a task and instead I spend the afternoon smearing her meat all over the walls, chewing on strips of skin I ripped from her body”.
“I want you to clean your vagina. Sabrina (a call girl he has employed), dont just look at it, EAT IT!”
Both of which were quoted in my dissertation, amongst other filth.
Just as quickly as the blood rushed to my cheeks it dissipated from Grandad’s, and never again will I be that innocent little scamp of grandson he once knew.
Story time over.
Mary Harron’s film does a very decent job of translating Easton Ellis’s words to celluloid. The narrative style is painfully descriptive and at times incredibly monotone in it’s delivery – yet this is not a criticism in any way, as it is clearly intended to be read that way by Easton Ellis. However to truly embrace the character of ‘Bateman’ and to buy into the story, the novel requires patience. The film however dilutes this somewhat and focuses on several gory set pieces and also, I would argue, a softening of ‘Bateman’s’ character. Understandable considering this is a Hollywood re-imagining but still it is disappointing having read the novel beforehand.
The entire film is dipped in satire and retains a jet black humour throughout. Whilst it is memorable for Christian Bale’s performance as the lead, dancing to ‘Huey Lewis and the News’ as he stisfies his nocturnal bloodlust or sprinting maniacally around his apartment complex covered in claret, the film attempts to explode themes of homoeroticism and materialism. Partly it is succesful, the styling is faithful to the era and many of the memorable ‘rant’ passages from the novel find their way into the film. I wont go into further detail with regard to the themes (I did that in my dissertation and lost a head of hair as a result) but they are clear and evident should you choose to read the novel or watch the film. I would argue that those themes are not explored deeply enough in the movie though.
As for Mr Bale, this is career defining fayre. Before he battled Bane or larked about with The Joker, Bale logged the best performance of his career as ‘Bateman’. He is equal parts frightening, unhinged and hilarious.
A brilliant performance is ordinarily measured by whether you can take your eyes off of the actor – I could not. Even after countless re-watches, it is Bale I come back for. An ongoing joke between my friends references a particuar scene in the movie where ‘Bateman’ is porking one of his many prostitutes before shooting a glance at his wall-length mirror and flexing a ripped bicep. Hilarious? Of course, but it is also one of many brave, ultra confidence scenes performed by a then fairly unknown actor.
Harron captures the mood and vapidity of the 1980’s brilliantly. The clothes, music and yuppie culture are dialed up almost to a point of lampooning but do the job of re-creating the transparent atmosphere of Easton Ellis’s narrative. Great support is found in Reese Witherspoon as ‘Bateman’s’ on/off fiance and Jared Leto (who really needs to pack in this singing lark and get back to acting) as ‘Paul Allen’, ‘Bateman’s’ quasi-nemesis.
This is not a perfect film by any means, chiefly due to it’s heavy-handedness at times and glossing over of the true themes of the novel, but it is still a great watch, and worth seeing purely for Bale’s breakthrough performance.
However, if you are hunting for the true Psycho experience, get the book, brace yourself and enter the brilliant but fubar’ed mind of Bret Easton Ellis. Just dont lend it to my grandad when you’re done.
This is a prime taster of what to expect: