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LimeGreenLegend

American Psycho [RSC Film Club 19]

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LimeGreenLegend

For July the film club was tasked with choosing a female-directed film, with the winning entry coming from Canadian filmmaker Mary Harron, who started her career as a music journalist writing for Punk magazine, and was the first person to interview The s*x Pistols for an American publication.  She started her film career with the independent movie I Shot Andy Warhol, which is about a failed assassination attempt on the famous pop-artist.  This infusion of violence and pop-culture came to the fore once again in her second film, American Psycho, based on the notorious Bret Easton Ellis novel, and our film for this month thanks to @Con and @Squirrel.

American Psycho (2000) - IMDb

American Psycho stars Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman.  Good looking.  Rich.  High-powered job.  Homicidal maniac.  The film follows Bateman as he starts to lose grip on reality and his own sanity, if he ever had them in the first place.  A searing satire on the Reaganomics of the 80's, the film is often laugh out loud funny and shockingly violent in it's attack on the culture of greed and profit margins that treats people as commodities to be bought and sold like stocks.  Although much tamer than the book, which features scenes of Bateman slitting a child's throat while visiting penguins at the zoo, it still features graphic scenes of s*x, torture and murder, with many people seeing it as a metaphor for how Wall Street traders view and treat the average person.  

As well as Bale, the film features a fantastic supporting cast including Willem Dafoe, Reece Witherspoon and Jared Leto, who are all memorable in their own right.  But the star is Bale, with this performance really cementing his status as one of the bravest and most dedicated actors of the 21st century.  His performance was inspired by a Tom Cruise interview where he noticed his "intense friendliness with nothing behind the eyes".  His Bateman is a shallow, vapid moster with no redeeming features, but even then we can still sympathise with him come the movies end as his total breakdown makes us consider if any of what we've just seen is even true.

The film's ability to shock has not diminished in the twenty years since its release, and, if anything, it's themes are more relevant now than ever.  This will be an interesting one for the film club and I can't wait to hear everyone's thoughts on it, and how they think having a female director for a film like this impacted the way it was written and shot, and how the s*xual violence is represented because I personally think this would be a much different, and a much worse film, had a man directed it.

You may also be surprised to learn that it was turned into a stage musical several years ago with Matt Smith, who was Doctor Who at the time, originating the role of Bateman on stage before it moved to Broadway.

do you like Huey Lewis and the News?

american psycho GIF

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Squirrel

I’ve just ordered the book. It’s been around 20 years since I’ve read it so will be wanting to refresh my mind so I can give fresh comparisons to both versions of the story. 

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LimeGreenLegend
2 minutes ago, Squirrel said:

I’ve just ordered the book. It’s been around 20 years since I’ve read it so will be wanting to refresh my mind so I can give fresh comparisons to both versions of the story. 

I pulled my copy from the shelf earlier to give it a flick through, but from what I can remember the film is pretty faithful to the book while omitting the more gratuitous chapters.  Filming a scene where he rubs broken glass and cheese into a prostitute's v*gina before inserting plastic tubing in her in order to get a rat inside her, before cutting her open with a chainsaw, releasing the rat probably wouldn't get past the censors.

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Squirrel
9 minutes ago, LimeGreenLegend said:

I pulled my copy from the shelf earlier to give it a flick through, but from what I can remember the film is pretty faithful to the book while omitting the more gratuitous chapters.  Filming a scene where he rubs broken glass and cheese into a prostitute's v*gina before inserting plastic tubing in her in order to get a rat inside her, before cutting her open with a chainsaw, releasing the rat probably wouldn't get past the censors.

That’s the scene I was mentioning in the other thread. I don’t think anyone would want to see it recreated in film format even if it was approved by the censors. 
 

A shame we didn’t get the Tom Cruise cameo though. 

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Con

No way! Had to read the title twice! I hope we get a lot of participants this month. This film divides people. Thank you wheel!!! Finally...hahahaha

 

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Squirrel

In case there’s any doubt, this is not a film to watch with the family. Send the kids to bed. Maybe your partners too if they are a bit sensitive, there are scenes of graphic violence and worst of all multiple instances of music by Phil Collins. 

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djw180

This was not quite what I expected, not nearly as violent as I feared it might be (although I have no idea if the version I saw, from Sky Store, was edited, I don't think it was). Whilst clearly a film for adults only the killings were not that graphic. Most of what happens is not seen in detail and there seems not to be that much blood, given what was happening to some of the victims. All of this was good from my point of view. I don't like bloods and guts, and I really don't like knives.

Christian Bale was very good as the lead, Patrick, who I ought to have really disliked but somehow actually quite liked him. Maybe this was because his 80s-yuppie-investment-banker freinds were all even worse than him and I was enjoying the prospect of seeing some of them brutally murdered! It's got quite a good sound track as well, even with Phil Collins included - further proof of Patrick's deranged mind.

I was left wondering if some of the murders actually took place though. Could some of them have just been in Patrick's, clearly very sick, imagination? This doesn't detract from the film, just seems to be something more to the story that what we see on screen. What exactly happens to Paul Allen (Jared Leto)? Patrick is convinced he killed him, a detective (Willem Defoe) is investigating his dissapearance but Patrick's lawyer says he has seen Paul twice since his apparent dissapearance and murder. Thinking back to that murder scene we don't actually see Paul killed, it happens off screen and at the time I thought this was just the director wanting to keep the gore and violence down, but maybe it is saying Paul wasn't actually killed? There's the obvious bit with the cash machine talking to Patrick and telling him to feed it the cat, which thankfully he was not able to even attempt. But also there is the fact that if he did carry out all the murders he seems to have been very lucky in getting away with them and leaving no trace of body parts nor blood, even though at least one (the women he chases with the chainsaw) happens outiside his appartement in a reasonably public place.

 

Overal I enjoyed it, 8/10.

 

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Con
3 hours ago, djw180 said:

I was left wondering if some of the murders actually took place though. Could some of them have just been in Patrick's, clearly very sick, imagination? This doesn't detract from the film, just seems to be something more to the story that what we see on screen. What exactly happens to Paul Allen (Jared Leto)? Patrick is convinced he killed him, a detective (Willem Defoe) is investigating his dissapearance but Patrick's lawyer says he has seen Paul twice since his apparent dissapearance and murder. Thinking back to that murder scene we don't actually see Paul killed, it happens off screen and at the time I thought this was just the director wanting to keep the gore and violence down, but maybe it is saying Paul wasn't actually killed? There's the obvious bit with the cash machine talking to Patrick and telling him to feed it the cat, which thankfully he was not able to even attempt. But also there is the fact that if he did carry out all the murders he seems to have been very lucky in getting away with them and leaving no trace of body parts nor blood, even though at least one (the women he chases with the chainsaw) happens outiside his appartement in a reasonably public place.

Oh man....that is exactly why this film is debated about in Universities. There is so much to break down with everything that happens. Thankfully the film being older and with all the social and digital media, we could probably learn the answers to all those questions from the filmmakers and writers themselves. This being one of my fave films, I really have not dug deeper into the meanings and truths, I have my own theories and justifications for certain scenes and other scenes ... well thats why I love reading other people's opinion about this film to get some insight myself. I will rewatch it....lol....and review it and then research some things and post my findings and explanations. And maybe Patrick Bateman is the original JOKER!!!!!!!!! one can make that argument.....the American Psycho living in NYC became the JOKER. Write that one Hollywood....two billionaire Wall Streeters one becomes Batman and the other becomes Joker. You know what, dont mind me, i just hit the pen (vape). 😄 

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Squirrel

Working out what is actually real or not in the film is one of the reasons why I wanted to discuss this film. I’m currently halfway through re-reading the book before I watch the film again to see if the source material gives up any more clues to what is going on in Batemans mind. 
 

I hadn’t watched it for many years and when it was first released it was pretty shocking. After 20 years it still retains some shock value although it definitely didn’t seem as violent as I first remembered. Obviously down to the loosening of censorship rules over the years since the original release. 

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LimeGreenLegend

american psycho face mask GIF

Most people, upon finishing this film, will be asking themselves whether or not any of what had just transpired happened at all, but to me the real question is who is Patrick Bateman?  Neither of these questions has a definitive answer, but you are given enough information to come to your own conclusions, and they're all right.  He can be seen at the surface level of what we are shown, a homicidal psychopath who would be at home in a slasher movie, but if you look a little deeper there is much more to be found.

Based on the book by Bret Easton Ellis and directed by Mary Harron, American Psycho follows Patrick Bateman, wall street trader, as he slowly loses grip on reality, falling deeper into a world of violent s*x and thoughtless murder in both the high society and the seedy underbelly of 80's New York.  Played by Christian Bale in the role that bought a lot of attention his way, Bateman is almost a cartoon character.  In some scenes the way he gurns and contorts his body reminded me of Jim Carrey.  This is why the film works for me, and especially why I think that having a female director here was the best option.  In the hands of a male filmmaker I can almost imagine the kind of film we would have seen; gratuitous s*x scenes that turn into torture p*rn just for the shock value, Bateman shown as an anti-hero rather than the pathetic mess that he is.  This is a problem a few films from that era suffer from, turning the antagonist into the hero, whether intentional or not, to be worshipped by a generation of angry young men as someone to look up to, to aspire to be.  Edward Norton's charcter in American History X and Brad Pitt in Fight Club are two examples that come to mind.  

Instead we get a black comedy.  A satire on 80's comsumerism and the “greed is good” mentality.  Sure, Bateman has a great body and an incredible skincare routine, but he is also shown to be a weak willed, jealous, petty, scared little boy who breaks down in tears when it all gets too much for him.  I wouldn't be surprised if instead of calling his lawyer at the end of the movie he called up his mummy crying for help.  His body, his attitude, his clothing are all a front hiding himself from the world, not because he is a monster but because he is boring.  I'm not saying the film is boring, but the character of Bateman is.  He dresses the same as everyone else, goes to the same clubs, the same restaurants (if he can get reservations), dates women who look the same as the women his friends are dating, says all the right things because that's what people do.  Chiding one of his colleagues for making an anti-semitic remark is one of my favourite examples of this.  Bateman doesn't care about Jewish people, but the image of seeming to care is all he cares about.  Even when he talks about music it sounds like he is just regurgitating the opinion of someone else, a review he read.  There is absolutley no substance to this man.  No real personality.  He and all of his friends are so alike that there are constant examples of mistaken identity throughout.  Even his lawyer doesn't know who he is.  

smug american psycho GIF

Even the fantastic design of the film shows this.  Bateman's apartment is a minimilist white box, a totally blank canvass with no signs of real personality.  The motif of mirrors is also strong in this film.  Bateman sees himself reflected in a framed poster for Les Miserables, in the mirror behind a bar, and, most tellingly, as an indistinct blur in the steel menu of one of the interchangeable restaurants he visits.  This can be read in several ways, obviously as a reflection on society, but I like to see it as a portal to another world.  In this film the Bateman in the mirror is the Bateman in the real Bateman's head.  Mirror Bateman is the one who tortures and kills with reckless abandon because that's what real Bateman wants to do, but can't.  In the same way that trolls on the internet will say the most awful things thanks to anonymity, Bateman can imagine these awful things when he looks at his reflection because they're happening in the mirror universe.  Near the start of the film we see him at a club ordering a drink.  He says to the bartender “you're an ugly b*tch.  I'd like to stab you to death and play with your blood” but he is looking in a mirror when he says this, making me think that he didn't say it at all.  Bateman is the personification of toxic masculinity, one which Harron shines a sardonic, unflattering, mocking light on.  

This, to me, is why Patrick Bateman doesn't exist.  And if he does exist then he is everyone in the film.  Bateman is not a person, but rather the personification of faceless corporate America who thinks that they can treat people however they want as brazenly as they want and never have to face any consequences.  Bateman makes a full confession at the end of the movie, but it goes nowhere.  No one cares because he makes lots of money, and in the end he just sits down at a table with his friends who all look and sound like him and life goes on.  

american psycho pandora GIF

Before rewatching this I had memories that it was much more graphic than it is, perhaps my memories of the book were getting mixed up in my head, and I was pleasently surprised at how restrained it is.  The s*x scenes, which in the book read like they were written by a h*rny teenager (my favourite bits when I was fifteen), are played for laughs here, Bateman flexing and posing in the mirror rather than paying any attention to the women he's with.  The same goes for a lot of the violence in the film.  The murder of Paul Allen (Jared Leto) is again played for laughs, with Bale really hamming it up in this scene as he monologues about Huey Lewis and the News before planting an axe through his head, “hey Paul!”

scary jared leto GIF

The supporting cast, including Willem Dafoe and Reece Witherspoon, are all solid, but this is really the Christian Bale show.  I think he's in every scene of the film, and he really carries it effortlessly.  Whether he's goofing it up or glowering with brooding intensity he really gives it his all and shows the commitment to his roles that would go on to define his career.  Harron's direction is fantastic, subverting expectations in the most satisfying way right from the opening titles where we see what we think is blood, but it turns out to be a sauce for one of the fancy dishes that Bateman would order at Dorsia.  I love the way she shoots scenes like the famous business card scene as if they were the real horror, all uncomfortable close-ups of sweating brows and heightened sound design adding a threatening “swish” whenever a new card is presented.  Someone should tell Bret Easton Ellis that women can direct more than romantic comedies (something he actually said after this film was released) but that speaks more to his obvious misogyny than his expertise as a film critic.  

american psycho GIF

Overall, this is a surprisingly subtle look at the mind of a psychopath.  Not one who has actually killed anyone (in my opinion) but someone who is still a danger, someone who views not just women, but everyone, as commodities to be bought and sold like so many stocks.  The soundtrack perfectly matches the tone and themes of the films, being full of surface level pop music with little to no depth.  The score is fantastic, ranging from brooding menace to light and fluffy with ease.  To me this is one of the rare occasions where the film is better than the book and that is all down to Harron and her writing partner, Guinevere Turner.  They have taken a tricky work to adapt and have found the perfect mixture of shock and comedy, toning down the gratuitous murder fantasies and turning up the sardonic commentary on greed and vanity 8/10

Christian Bale Oooo GIF

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Squirrel

@LimeGreenLegend sums up the film perfectly. I certainly can’t tell it any better. 
 

I don’t think Bateman exists at all. There’s no clue in either the book or the film other than a line in the opening monologue. 
 

01IFFd0.png

 

Bateman is clearly a representation of corporate consumerism. An example showing that people caring about how they are perceived is far more important than who they actually are as a person.


An alternative view is that those who have the power will inevitably get away with even the most heinous of crimes due to their influence. Bateman is an example of everything wrong with American business and the stockbroker culture in that time period. Wolf of Wall Street also covered that same era of excess. 

 

The level of detail described in the book is recreated perfectly in the film, from his skincare routines to his taste in music. You feel like you’re back in the 80s.

 

The book takes his fantasies to a darker level, possibly some of the most disturbing collection of words I’ve ever read. Mary Harron managed to take a graphic depiction of violence and excess and turn it into a film that can be viewed by a large audience. Would a male director be able to do the same especially when it comes to recreating the violent scenes against women? I don’t think it would be the same film, it would have ended up being more like a horror and you wouldn’t get the same sense of doubt about the reality of the film. 
 

 Now I need to go return some videotapes.

 

 

 

Edited by Squirrel
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