“I have all the characteristics of a human being: blood, flesh, skin, hair; but not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed and disgust. Something horrible is happening inside of me and I don’t know why.” – Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale)
Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is the epitome of 1980s yuppie culture. By day, he’s obsessed with his self-image, competing with coworkers, barely stomaching his girlfriend Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon) and telling his secretary (Chloe Sevigny) how to dress. At night, he busies himself with torturing prostitutes, chasing women with chainsaws and ridding himself of an overachieving business partner (Jared Leto) — all while educating them on the evolution of Phil Collins and Huey Lewis. As his nighttime activities start creeping into his daily thoughts and he finds his hatred for the people around him harder to suppress, his paranoia grows that he might get caught. It all crescendos in a confession scene that slices between dread and relief for both Bateman and the audience.
The main character’s behavior clearly splits between day and night. During the day, he’s a misogynist professional. At night, he continues to be self-involved, but his sins are more substantial than envying a coworker’s business card’s watermark. One of the most telling actions Bateman performs is while shooting a video of himself with two prostitutes — he continually flashes his well-sculpted muscles for the camera, making his film more about him than the act he is committing. In the end, he is so convinced of his own greatness, having finally eliminated all competition, that the biggest crisis he undergoes is one of identity. He has taken on so many personas to promote Patrick Bateman that he’s no longer sure if he really is Patrick Bateman.
And who better to play such a dynamic role than Bale, whose performance is so cold and calculating that it’s hard to imagine him as anything else. The performances of fellow cast members are adequate by design — everything has to make way for Bale’s powerhouse (and breakout) portrayal of a psychotic who’s a little too close to home for many professionals who compensate for their dislike of their colleagues with hyperactive competitiveness.
Before calling American Psychoout for its objectification of and violence against women, remember that it was directed and adapted for the screen by a woman, Mary Harron. The film itself is a satire of everything from 1980s materialism to the American male’s mindset. Bateman’s character is absurd; therefore his hatred toward women is an extension of his madness, not an acceptable trait glorified by his actions.
American Psycho is not meant for all audiences. In fact, it succeeds in captivating only those with the foresight to look past its nasty exterior to the character depth and social conditions on which it comments. But be warned — decyphering past the two might make you psycho.