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AMERICAN PSYCHO   Print  E-mail 
Written by Graham Reed  
Monday, 05 July 2004

Needs No Introduction. Apparently.

 

Oh dear, another one of those unfilmable books which was unpublishable now made into a major motion picture.

 

Much like the adaption of Naked Lunch, this book makes a faithful adaption by remaining true to the spirit of the book. The essential message of the film is essentially the same as the book, one of the facelessness of modern capitalist society.

 

 

So, meet Patrick Bateman, Wall Street Wheeler Dealer, socialite, mass murderer and psychopath (Christian Bale). He is 27, essentially vain, narcissic,self obsessed and a man devoid of meaning or self, finding his own identity in brandnames, designer labels, and his shallow materialistic existence. Unable to form an emotional commitment to any human being, viewing humanity with lesser or greater contempt,able to form a longer lasting emotional commitment to his Whitney Houston CDs and his facial cleansing mask than his secretary or fiancee, Patrick Bateman's abstraction from humanity descends into a paroxysm of carnage and violence, when he starts to become psychopathic due to inability with the human condition.

 

And, no, he doesn't fuck god up the ass, as the Manics promised he would.

 

The attention to detail in this film in stunning in its recreation of the essence and spirit of the book, with the books most shocking moments mainly enacted off camera and just made apparent by small details, instead of being a bloodbath. The film is often played as a blacker than black comedy rather than a shocker, with a hilarious sex sequence with brings home the essential dorkishness of Batemans plastic character who obviously fancies himself as some kind of stud - the exact movements Bateman makes are the idiotic macho posturing also seen in the videos of porn stars like Neil Down and Phil Mycok (not their real names incidentally).

 

By incorporating the dialogue praising the CDs of Whitney Houston, Genesis, and the absurd sequence where he praises Huey Lewis and the News whilst butchering a work colleague, Harrison encaptures the essential shallowness of the decade.The essential themes of facelessness and the lack of individuality is reinforced by the films use of Paul Allen's identity and Patrick Batemans  assimilation of his life as a second life to be used as a cover for his homocidal urges - as well as the misidentification of characters on a frequent basis in the faceless world of corporate suits.

 

 

When Bateman finally breaks down in the finale, and confesses all to his lawyer, it is just dismissed as a sick joke made by another member of the company according to the lawyer, who refers to Bateman as "spineless" - blissfully unaware of the bodycount Bateman has left in his wake. The films essential fascination with 80s' culture is also prevalent - often Bateman uses an excuse of having to return some videotapes as an alibi (nevermind that these videotapes are Texas Chainsaw Massacre or some generic porn flick) - as is the technology , using authentic chunky 80s' cashpoint machines in a very Cronenbergesque sequence, remisicent of Videodrome. This comparison is further heightened by filming in Canada, as Cronenberg often uses Canadian cities to fill in for New York and American Locations. This obsession to 80s' detail is evident in the old style hi-fi equipment used and the old style headphones on Bateman's Walkman, as seen in a superb sequence when Bateman walks into the office and responding to everyones greeted introductions as if on autopilot while some generic 80s' music pans out from the headphones. Even the mobile phones used are of the old brick type, such is the attention to detail.

 

Ultimately though, detached from the book, the films satire could fall on deaf ears. The a satire is not explicit, but understated and subtle, which could be made more explicit in its message. The message of the film on 80s' culture is identical to the book, but the essential name dropping and the misanthropic attitudes of Bateman can easily be miscontrued and taken out of context. It is indeed possible that those who haven't read the book may indeed look upon this as an advertisment for all the 80s' values it despises on a surface level, lulled in by the All surface,no feeling sheen and gloss of the culture of 80s' city slickers.

 

Indeed the only moment where Bateman shows any compassion or humanity to anyone in the film is when he narrowly decided to save his secretary from the same fate as all his other victims, and the reasoning for this is never made clear - is it because he values her as a person? Or is it because he realises he couldn't get away with it? Or simply because he needs her as a secretary more than he needs a victim?

 

However Christian Bale puts in a stunning performance as Bateman descends into alienation and madness, dropping clues to his real nature which completely fly over the heads of his socialite acquaintances. (PB:"Did you know Ted Bundy named his first dog Lassie?" Friend:"Whos Ted Bundy?").

 

However, there is worrying comparison with the immaculately dressed, superbly manicured, sexually charged, violent and amoral Bateman - he looks every inch of the much admired James Bond. Now that is one hell of a statement no one could have imagined when Bret Easton Ellis wrote the book back in 1991, but blindingly obviously given bales slight  but significant resemblance to Pierce Brosnan. Given the difficult source material, this is the best possible adaptation, but in the sense of the film of Naked Lunch, it captures the spirit of the book rather than the actions.

 

With a few more flashback sequences showing the true depravity of Batemans carnage, and a more explicit final frame ,which currently focuses on Batemans soulless eyes rather than the out of focus, seemingly ignored but highly important sign on the door behind him "THIS IS NOT AN EXIT", would this film have been masterful . Instead, it is just a superb satire on the 80s' and the buy now, pay never culture of modern capitalism. See it or regret it.

 

As for the DVD, its interesting to see Christian Bale do his interview in character, but would have been better to include all the features off the multitude of DVD's available - for example in Germany it includes a "Making of" and "Music of the 80's" featurettes, and in france it includes "The Newspaper Killer" ,"My Life" and "Berlin 2000" featurettes.Why the hell these aren't included, I don't know. Unless of course, you have to do the 80's thing of collecting multiple versions...


 

DVD Extras:

- "Killer Looks" featurette

- Deleted Scenes

- Cast And Crew Interviews

- Theatrical Trailer

 

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