Sunday, 18 January 2009

I have all the characteristics of a human being: blood, flesh, skin, hair; but not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed & disgust

No 435 - American Psycho
Director - Mary Harron

I don't know if it is a worrying sign of my mental condition, but I woke up this fine Sunday morning with a surreal craving to watch American Psycho... so armed with my pint of tea and some toast and nursing a Shunt inspired hangover I sat don for for some gloriously ridiculous homicide.

The comedy that stems from this film is mostly from the shallow and obscene life lead by the central characters. None of them are likable, they are all just a bunch of self obsessed, over paid yuppies from the 80s. The shallow existence motivates Patrick Bateman so that his murders are never for any really valid reason, in fact, the main murder which then spawns Patrick's decline to insanity is down to someone having a better business card than him.
This is but one of the facets of the film which give the killing scenes an unrealistic sheen as the film progresses and the murders become more fantastical, the scenes develop more of a deliberately cliched feel. In the finale he blows up 2 police cars with only a pistol - this is the kind of thing that is possible in dumb action films, not in the normal life of an 80s business man on Wall Street. Another point he is chasing prostitutes through a house naked, brandishing a chainsaw and covered in blood - it is all so ridiculous and feels like it should be in a different film,. The viewer feels detached from the kills and they end up being amusing interludes in Patrick's mundane life. This is all deliberate and the reasons for it become clearer as the film progresses.

It is only in these moments of murder and insanity that Patrick Bateman feels comfortable. Christian Bale's performance is superb (as usual) showing a character who is clearly very detached and uncomfortable with his surroundings, he also crackles with smug arrogance and has an underlying vein of aggression which could break out at any point. However, for me the real interesting element is Patrick Bateman's voice. This is the first film I've seen in a while where Christian Bale isn't playing the gravelly voiced action man, Batman and the upcoming Terminator film will probably cement Bale into that kind of role (though I don't see him as the kind of actor who will get typecast). In this film Bateman's voice is constantly upbeat and has a soft occasionally even camp tinge to it. However, everything he says sounds fake, insincere, scripted. Bateman gives fantastic monologues, especially on the music scene, however they all sound fake, as if he is reading them from a music magazine rather then forming his own opinions. It is only really the amazing confession he makes to his lawyer over the phone that you begin to see the real Patrick Bateman, falling at the seams and an insane wreck of a being.

Harold, it's Bateman, Patrick Bateman. You're my lawyer so I think you should know: I've killed a lot of people. Some girls in the apartment uptown uh, some homeless people maybe 5 or 10 um an NYU girl I met in Central Park. I left her in a parking lot behind some donut shop. I killed Bethany, my old girlfriend, with a nail gun, and some man uh some old faggot with a dog last week. I killed another girl with a chainsaw, I had to, she almost got away and uh someone else there I can't remember maybe a model, but she's dead too. And Paul Allen. I killed Paul Allen with an axe in the face, his body is dissolving in a bathtub in Hell's Kitchen. I don't want to leave anything out here. I guess I've killed maybe 20 people, maybe 40. I have tapes of a lot of it, uh some of the girls have seen the tapes. I even, um... I ate some of their brains, and I tried to cook a little. Tonight I, uh, I just had to kill a LOT of people. And I'm not sure I'm gonna get away with it this time. I guess I'll uh, I mean, ah, I guess I'm a pretty uh, I mean I guess I'm a pretty sick guy. So, if you get back tomorrow, I may show up at Harry's Bar, so you know, keep your eyes open.

In fact, most of the moments where Bateman is about to get his kicks (either through murder or prostitutes or both) begin with fantastic musical interludes. That is the main benefit of setting a film in the 80s. Sure you can explore the fantastic nature of Yuppies spending too much money at restaurants serving Haute Cuisine and sharing cubicles to take coke. However a film like that is much better if you've got Huey Lewis and the News in the soundtrack. In fact... most films would probably benefit from having Huey Lewis in their soundtracks. Just look at Back to the Future. In fact even recently Seth Rogan asked Huey Lewis to write the title track for Pineapple Express in his trademark style. Also, because of Bateman's love of music you get to see a lot of footage of him with a really old school walkman. Which is nostalgically fun.

I want to go back to something I said earlier before getting sidetracked by the music: Patrick Bateman's bizarre tone of voice. It seems to be linked with just the way he lives his life. Everything he does is calculated to make him look his best. I know that the Yuppie generation were all about showing off and one-up-manship but there is real dismay in Patrick's face when he sees someone with a better house, or suit or even business card. He fills his world with status symbols to show off how successful he is. This maybe because of the feeling he has to be better than everyone, but it may also be because he truly believes he has no self - and that external materialism helps him have an identity....
But then again, his friends are just as materialistic and shallow so we can't really judge him on that.

I have already said that none of the characters are that likable, however that sentence is really targeted towards the core group of males. The female characters fare somewhat better, especially the ones which don't fall directly in Bateman's world.
I will begin with Jean, his Secretary, played by Chloe Sevigny. Her character is so sweet, that although she does not have a lot to do in the film, I ended up genuinely concern when she almost meets death by nail gun (a scene which I imagine is a reference to the nail gun rape scene in the book, which didn't make the film for probably quite obvious reasons)... The other character doesn't fare so well. Christie the whore, played by Cara Seymour, also suffers (quite badly) at the hands of Bateman but her character is treated in a way where I felt concerned for her and wanted her to escape the insane blood spattered chainsaw wielding maniac running after her....


.... She doesn't

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