Skip to main content

Empire List #435: American Psycho

Five years before he donned a cape and played Batman, Christian Bale played a truly monstrous man in “American Psycho.” His Patrick Bateman is a vane, arrogant, misogynist Wall Street trader who loves to stare at himself while having sex with two prostitutes in his rich Manhattan penthouse. He values money above all else, dresses well, works out obsessively and uses more skin care products than some Hollywood actresses. Oh, and he occasionally kills people with axes, knives and chainsaws. As if working on Wall Street wasn’t bad enough.

The violence and depravity in this movie is legendary. Based on a 1991 novel by Brett Easton Ellis, the adaptation attracted the likes of David Cronenberg and Oliver Stone as directors and Leonardo DiCaprio as Bateman. Fortunately, the task of filming and performing the scenes of sex and violence fell upon the shoulders of Marie Harron (“I Shot Andy Warhol”) and Christian Bale. The result was a cult movie whose violent scenes were both brutal and somewhat comical.

This is not just my opinion. Back in College in Quebec City of few of my classmates would YouTube the scene where Bateman hacks Paul Allen (Jared Leto) to death with an axe to the sound of Huey Lewis and the News’ “Hip to Be Square.” Shocking the first time you see it, but they thought it was hilarious. A few years later I got in on the joke while living off-campus near the University of Sherbrooke. If it’s October and we’re only a few days away from Halloween, why not rent a movie filled with blood, depravity, naked women and Christian Bale running with a chainsaw?

Set in the 1980s, at a time when Wall Street was running unchecked and brokers thought they were masters of the universe (déjà fucking vu) Patrick Bateman barely stands out amongst the other coke-addled millionaires. A great scene defines how these men view each other when they compare their business cards during a boardroom meeting. Whoever has the most expensive card with the best ink wins (i.e. has the bigger dick).

Yet Bateman is clearly more unhinged than anyone in the boardroom. An early montage shows him exercising religiously while delivering a monologue about his diet and beauty regiment. Like a carefully oiled machine he plans everything in his day, including murder. When he kills Paul Allen, the winner of the better card contest, he has clearly thought this out. He has him sit on a couch surrounded by newspapers while he puts on a raincoat and enthusiastically talks about his love of Huey Lewis.

This guy was Dexter Morgan before “Dexter” became a TV show. Except unlike Dexter, we never really learn Bateman’s motivations. Just why does he randomly kill a homeless man in a dark alley? Was he jealous of Paul Allen’s success so he just had to hack him to death? Has sex become so dull to him that he needs to kill prostitutes in order to feel anything?

A scene in which an ATM asks him to feed it a live cat suggests he just might be crazy, plain and simple. But I don’t believe “American Psycho” is just about a psychopath. Otherwise Bateman would be just another murderer living in some motel hacking tourists.

The movie is about the excess that comes with money. Bateman and his friends define themselves by who can access the most expensive restaurant in the city, who has the biggest apartment and of course who has the most money in the bank. It’s all about them and to hell with the rest of the world.

Bateman’s murders are the just satirical exaggerations. It would be pretty shocking to find a Wall Street with corpses in his closet like Bateman, but it wouldn’t be surprising to find one with the same lifestyle.   


Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #85: Blue Velvet

Exactly how do you describe a David Lynch movie? He is one of the few directors whose style is so distinctive that his last name has become an adjective. According to Urban Dictionary, the definition of Lynchian is: “having the same balance between the macabre and the mundane found in the works of filmmaker David Lynch.” To see a prime example of that adjective film lovers need look no further than Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), which does indeed begin in the mundane before slowly sinking in macabre violence.
My first introduction to the world of David Lynch was through his ground breaking, but unfortunately interrupted, early 1990s TV series Twin Peaks. This was one of the first television shows to grab viewers with a series-long mystery: who killed Laura Palmer? A mix of soap opera, police procedural, and the supernatural, it is a unique show that showed the darkness hidden in suburbia and remains influential to this day. Featuring Kyle MacLachlan as an FBI investigator with a love for …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #90: When Harry Met Sally...

There is an age-old question regarding whether single men and women can be just friends. In real life the answer is obviously “yes,” but in movies and TV the answer always has to be that at some point two single characters will get attracted to each other and move beyond friendship. On TV I find this to be contrived and overused, but some movies can have a lot of fun with the concept, most notably Rob Reiner’s comedy classic When Harry Met Sally…(1989). It may not change your view on love and friendship, but it forever changed the meaning of the phrase “I’ll have what she’s having.”
On paper this film’s premise sounds like another rom-com, but seen by oneself during an evening of Netflix binging it does make you think about deep stuff like the long-term impact of your decisions on your life. A person you meet during a tense trip might turn up again sometime later down the road in the most unexpected ways. If there is one thing I believe in it is infinite possibilities, and Nora Ephron…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #83: Brazil

Dystopian movies from the 1980s are a funny thing since we now live in the future of those movies and if you look at the news for more than five minutes it will feel as though we are one bad day away from being into a dystopia. On the plus side, if it ends up looking like the dystopia portrayed in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) at least we will have lovely architecture to look at while the government is busy telling us how to think. This might not be a movie that will cheer you up, but the production design is amazing, the performances are great throughout, and you get to see Robert DeNiro play a maintenance man/freedom fighter.
I first saw Brazil as a Terry Gilliam double feature at the Université de Sherbrooke’s movie club paired along with 12 Monkeys around ten years ago. Those two films are similar in that they both feature a rather dour future and, as with most Gilliam movies, incredibly intricate sets. However the dystopian future in Brazil is somewhat scarier than the disease-ra…