I can’t really remember the first time I watched ‘American Psycho’. I don’t remember why or when or where, but I do remember the manner in which it enthralled and intrigued me. I was gripped by this unique experience. This was unlike any other film I had seen before; a mix of graphic violence, disturbing fetishes and rituals, with explicit social satire and the darkest of humour. A film which catapulted leading man Christian Bale to Hollywood dominance, a film which captivated audiences and still does today. You don’t have to look far on the world wide web before you find the blood-splattered, grinning face of Patrick Bateman, a character who has becomes so iconic, and so widely revered as one of cinema’s greatest lunatics. This is the Patrick Bateman show, by all means, and it’s one hell of a show.
The aforementioned gentleman, Patrick Bateman (Bale), is your every day, successful Wall Street type. He’s handsome, rich, relatively powerful and has a penchant for sex and drugs and the work of Phil Collins. Better still, stick on Whitney Houston, he really loves that. Patrick also has rather violent tendencies, an insatiable thirst for human bloodshed and a keen interest in chainsaws and axes. So maybe Patrick isn’t your every day, successful Wall Street type. You may have guessed long before now, that Mr Bateman is a psychopath, who can’t stand to see a co-worker flash a new, superior business card or hear a rival vice-president discuss his dinner reservations. And the solution: kill them, chop them up and put their head on a stick.
I said this was a one man show and I’m really not kidding; Christian Bale underpins everything which is great about ‘American Psycho’. After seeing this performance, I can guarantee that Bale is not a star you would want to meet, just in case any of those Patrick Bateman tendencies spilled over in to real life. He channels the devilish brutality and lack of remorse that you would find in infamous movie sociopaths like Hannibal Lecter or Jack Torrance, combined with the eccentricity and chaos of The Mask. Throughout the film, Bale perfectly exhibits all the behaviours one would expect from such a character – aggression, lust, apathy, obsession and absolute insanity. But under it all, as Bateman so concisely puts it, he just longs to “fit in”. And it is this desperately ruthless side to the character which Bale most expertly portrays. Truly, this is one of my all-time favourite movie characters and acting displays.
Based on a novel by Bret Easton Ellis, this film is brilliantly adapted for the screen. Ellis is a master of social commentary, materialistic cynicism and meticulous detail. To translate this into film could have gone very wrong, but director Mary Harron strikes the perfect balance between tedious, trivial monologues and enigmatic, fascinating character development. Although the storyline may borrow certain aspects from classics such as ‘Psycho’, and the previously mentioned stars of ‘The Silence Of The Lambs’ and ‘The Shining’, ‘American Psycho’ still maintains an air of originality and singularity in the motives behind the madness; Bateman’s desire for perfection and money makes Gordon Gekko look like a procrastinator.
The use of diegetic sound is inspired, where classic tracks from the 80s are implemented to construct the laughable social interactions and falseness of the impressionable sycophants who prowl Wall Street. The use of dark comedy however, is the reason I love this film so much. From enthusiastic album reviews and ruthless fashion advice to conceited sexual fantasies and a delightful game of cat and mouse with a curious detective, you will feel an uncomfortable fondness for Patrick Bateman, before he very brutally reminds you why you shouldn’t.
Christian Bale may have gone on to protect Gotham City, catch John Dillinger and even part the Red Sea, but THIS is the defining performance in the Christian Bale catalogue, and will take a lot of beating in my eyes. I may be unsure of why, or when, or where I first watched ‘American Psycho’, but I do know that I will continue to watch, and enjoy and try to figure this film out for the foreseeable future. It never gets easier to watch – I grimace at the violent acts carried out and muse over the ambiguous conclusion for days to follow – but it never gets boring. As the man himself would say: ‘American Psycho’ is “utterly insane”, a “playful but mysterious” film, and above all, an “undisputed masterpiece”.
Director: Mary Harron
Starring: Christian Bale, Reese Witherspoon, Willem Dafoe