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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.   

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