Review & Interview: American Psycho

AND AS THINGS FELL APART,
NOBODY PAID MUCH ATTENTION.
Talking Heads [novel’s epigraph] 
THIS ARTICLE IS PART OF THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS BLOGATHON

The second obstruction consists in reviewing a film and conducting an interview about it — extra points if the person you’re interviewing in related to the movie. I’ve chosen my beloved American Psycho, since a dear friend of mine has very recently watched this bloody, cinematic gem. 

In the late nineties, director Mary Harron envisioned a film adaptation of American Psycho – the highly controversial novel by notorious american writer, Bret Easton Ellis. It follows the daily life of 26 year-old yuppie Patrick Bateman, from his meticulous morning routine, to his extensive office “work” on Wall Street in the eighties, fancy dinners, coke-fueled parties, and occasional homicides. Wait, what?? Oh yes, Patrick Bateman is rich, handsome, deliciously fit, quite intelligent, and even funny; but he’s also a psychopathic egomaniac with a barely manageable murder impulse. And quite possibly a schizophrenic with borderline behavior and pomophobia, too. But don’t be scared, this is not a horror movie — it’s a satire, a black comedy; the truth is, it can be quite hilarious, provided you’re morbid enough. 

Though not a tale of morality (since it is devoid of judgement), this is a ruthless look at the hyper-masculine environment in which Wall Street’s newest acquisitions lived, where personal success in measured by the clothes you wear, the reservations you can pull, and your overall appearance. And at all that (except when it comes to dinner reservations, but Dorsia’s pretty tough), Patrick excels. In fact, he’s quite the fashion adviser, a true connoisseur of the art of dressing oneself. He also takes care of himself on a daily basis, with a rigorous exercise and beauty routine that he insists on sharing throughout several pages/minutes — all leading up to the so-called mask he carefully puts on every morning, which hides the complete lack of emotion of his interactions with other people.

—- SPOILERS AHEAD —-

And if those people happen to threat his sense of success or masculinity, he will also display no emotion while committing or detailing their assassinations. Apart from Paul Allen’s murder (he really got on Patrick’s nerves). That is, if you think it was real, since our favorite yuppie is also prone to various hallucinations…

—- IT’S SAFE AGAIN —-

Which brings us to the novel’s most controversial aspect: its extensive and extremely visual depiction of violence and sex — something Harron wisely toned down in the movie. It can all be very frightening, repulsive, and offensive, if seen in the wrong way. But by the end of both book and film, Patrick’s violent outbursts become so vicious, so barbaric, so disgusting, that they almost turn into parody. And even from the very beginning, what separates horror from satire is just a matter tone. The book may not be so obvious (or rather, can be harder to interpret) but the movie couldn’t be any more obvious than it already is: it actually shows Patrick keeping a straight face while passing through his office’s corridors, listening to Walking on Sunshine – how could that not be intended as funny? While we’re on the topic of his face: this too is a hint


Embodying this rotten excuse for a human being (but absolutely brilliant character), is british actor Christian Bale. Many knowledgeable people with exquisite taste consider this to be his best performance so far, and with good reason: every single fiber of his being is 100% committed to the role, going through the astonishing full-metamorphosis that has now become the actor’s trademark.

But even though he deserves every praise, it would be unfair to make his work larger than the film itself. Working together with Guinevere Turner, Mary Harron wrote one great adaptation of Ellis’s novel, fully capturing the essential elements of Bateman’s world and cleverly adapting scenarios, characters and situations to fit the demands of film format — and all of this while balancing its opposite facets of horror and comedy, keeping the perfect tone throughout. I’d say it’s pretty close to perfection.

INTERVIEW

Even though you haven’t read the novel, you knew, going in, that American Psycho was not strictly a horror film, but rather a satire. Was it hard to find the humour in it at first? And how do you think these two seemingly opposite genres balance each other in the movie?
Well, I think both genres blend in with each other pretty well, and when the writer/producer knows how to handle things, it can work out pretty nicely. Most of the times, I think, it was more of a black comedy with a rocambolesque tone mocking the environment which surrounded the plot and the protagonist, with the quick change of places showing how so many different “worlds” lived side by side in the same area, and how people change too, as they changed places  (from the office to the clubs, from the elegant restaurants to home). But I think that while the movie developed in this way, in the end it leaned more towards a dramatic sort of apotheosis showing the results of this dangerous masquerade (his and that of the society around him).

When it first came out, Ellis’s novel (and the film, to some extent) was subject to negative criticism and a lot controversy – from its (alleged) gratuitous violence and sex, to being completely devoid of substance. Do you find any reason in these claims?
I guess there are always those easily-offended ones who will overlook the whole work as something bleak because of some descriptive violence and sex that may go a bit out of their comfort zone and, depending on the level of sensitivity of the person in question towards this, it may lead to negative critics. However, it is important, I think, to not let that after-taste blind our judgement of the work to such point as stating that it is devoid of substance; there certainly is a lot of substance to this story and although each of us is entitled to his/her opinion about that, we should at least consider everything in the book/movie before claiming it as something solely sexual and violent.

And don’t you think it is curious that even though we remember the movie as being extremely violent, there isn’t any actual violence on screen? Because the camera is always focused on Patrick.
Though we are not shown the people he is beating, there is more than the mere suggestion of the action actually (there are the noises, the blood smeared on and around him, and every now and then a victim sprawled on his/her back lying in a pool of blood), so if on one hand the camera focusing on him softens the scene a bit, on the other it may be enough for those easily-offended ones to have somehow a right to argue… I think those scenes were well thought out though, because that’s just what the movie is aiming for, to make you understand Patrick’s insane brutality, while not actually willing to show you the gruesome part, because that’s not the point, it is not a gore movie afterall…

No, it really isn’t, thank god. Alright, standard but fun question: what’s your favourite thing about American Psycho?
The fact that we are led to think that Patrick is the insane one, but in the end you just realise that everyone is insane in their own way, actually! To different extents, of course. He is just the culmination of that, but we understand that he must not be the only one, surely. Because it is a rotten society, and he is just another product from it, as basically everyone is… His fellow workers, the homeless guy he killed in the street, they are all victims of the society they live in, even though they may not realise it.

I was hoping you said Bale’s abs, but okay… Finally, the big question: is Patrick a serial-killer, or was it just all in his head?
Haha, that is something that I am still trying to sort out and make my mind about… I think it is more reasonable to think that it is all in his head, or say, that he is a killer (gone looney) only “in his heart” (I mean, the police would not just dismiss him after following him home with helicopters and everything, right?). But on the other hand, I noted the woman in Paul’s apartment wearing a white cloak as she turned when he walked out of the house. And that set me thinking: “what if those things were a bit in his head, yes, but he actually committed some, or the people around him (his secretary for example) started noticing his odd behaviour as he slowly lost the ability to fake, and reported him to the police who got him in a mental hospital, in which he is hallucinating and dreaming about his everyday life?” I guess I am left to wonder…

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