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American Psycho Review

That slow trickle of blood to open the enticing, Silian Rail-clad font has aged rather poorly. But American Psycho has not. Adapting the work of any author proves difficult. There are far more misses than hits when pushing the written word to its on-screen breaking point. But there are the heavy hitters. The classics that have removed themselves from the reach of the book they are based upon and have followed their own path. That is, to some extent, what American Psycho attempts to do. It is the erratic, schizophrenic horror of Patrick Bateman that is adapted so well. In particular, their obsessions, desires, and inability to face up to the real world without a thick layer of expense accounts, strained friendships and a desire to kill. 

It is the detail that these stockbrokers are obsessed with. Therein lies the obvious satire. Characters that care for what they wear, where they eat, even down to the tiniest moments of boastfulness. But this is common knowledge and nothing all that insightful. The soundtrack choices, the heavy subtext found in the words of Robert Palmer and Huey Lewis. “I want to fit in”, Bateman says to his apparent fiancé. It doesn’t quite seem like it. They are stifled and off with each other. When pressed for an answer on when their wedding day can be, he simply replies “I’m busy”, and that he won’t be able to afford the time off work.  

That is where the interest, for me, comes from. Bateman presents himself as a cool and collected island. An isolated introvert, a survivor of the machine he works within. But that is shattered by the violence he pursues and the work he is dedicated to. Where he may want to try and fit in, it is clear that doing so is presenting an extreme pressure. Bateman is self-obsessed, that much is clear, but what is better still is that he does not pick up on the smaller moments of life. He does not notice Courtney (Samantha Mathis) smokes, nor does the audience until she mentions it. Bale brings an odd, cartoonish nature to the role that works as a bitingly obvious satire of the world around him. It is a man’s journey into seeking catharsis for his terrors and villainy, but he will never receive vindication or success in this matter.  

Much of this vindication is from the fear he presents, and the lack of personality he has. Often, Bateman’s face is obscured. He is caked in layers of moisturiser; his face is opaque behind a glass cab window. We never get to know Bateman, his desires, or anything he truly wishes to do. He hides behind Valentino suits and his Silian Rail business cards. He is in disbelief of the slightest, pathetic indiscretions. The preference of business card, the braggadocios nature of Paul Allen (Jared Leto) and the many women who fawn for him, in his eyes, is a weakness. But, then, it is Bateman that presents the weakest of them all. All of this is possible through the grim, still direction of Mary Harron. Her ability to present hyperviolence as a normal act in the life of Bateman is stunning and presents the drama needed to preserve the prose of Bret Easton Ellis. Murder and scheming are secondary to the needs of each character, they are more impressed by overnight bags and elaborate luxury.  

“There is no real me” is the decisive line thrown in by Bateman to suggest he is in a world of his own. To some degree, he most certainly is. He is a bachelor living out the same routine over and over again. Sick and twisted fantasies are his morbid escape from the mundane life he leads, one wracked with disillusionment and anger. He is relegating himself to impressing those that he deems below him. As it turns out, that includes everyone. That is where his issue for mortality and destruction lies. He has no respect for anyone or anything, and the elusive side-stepping Harron allows for means that the audience fills in the blanks with the worst they can conjure up. It is an extraordinary gamble and one that pays off with tremendous effect.  

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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