Reviewed by: Brett Willis
An Empty Theater
1 hr. 37 min.
Year of Release:
“American Psycho” marks a new low for major releases. Those who’ve read my other Spotlight reviews know I have a high tolerance for offensive material and I try to give credit for artistic merit wherever possible. But I’ve walked out of a few films that I considered both offensive and pointless; and except for my intending to review it, this one certainly would have qualified.
The story centers on a young 1980s Wall Street hotshot, Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), who inherited rather than earned his position in the company. In voiceovers, he details his meticulous diet, exercise and skin care regimens and other things that all focus on “self.” He and his coworkers, still in their daytime business suits, go to weird nightspots and snort cocaine. But although the whole group is hedonistic, he explains that he’s different from the others because he’s not really a part of humanity; everything he does is an act, and he has no emotions except greed and disgust (in other words, he’s Psychopathic/has a severe case of Antisocial Personality Disorder). Bateman apparently admires the careers of serial killers such as Ed Gein and Ted Bundy.
Content warnings: There’s not much of a plot to give away, although a twist at the end might tempt some people to see the film a second time to unravel what they thought they’d seen. My purpose here is to persuade others NOT to see this film a FIRST time; so be prepared for enough detail to satisfy any curiosity you may have. Profanity is extreme, and there are many anti-female remarks and some racist ones. Bateman kills many victims, including prostitutes and homeless people, just for amusement (several killings graphically shown, others implied). He also develops (but can conceal) murderous rages against his coworkers over offenses such as someone else having the accounts he wants or having a better-looking business card. Besides his hands, feet and teeth, Bateman’s assault tools include knives, an axe, a nail gun, an automatic pistol, a coat hanger and a chainsaw. Bateman often excuses himself from a situation by saying he has to return some videotapes; the only tapes we glimpse him watching at home are slasher movies and porno films, and he apparently acts out what he watches. (As law enforcement people say: “Not everyone who watches this stuff is a pervert, but every pervert watches this stuff.”) Bateman forces call girls to do things with each other as well as with him, and pays them extra for accepting violence (when he doesn’t kill them). There are simulated sex acts and glimpses of nudity in several scenes. These scenes are not sexy to me, but I don’t know how I’d feel if I were a teenager. Bateman keeps some of his victims’ bodies or body parts, and claims to eat the brains. The film seems off-balance, as though it had been re-edited (which it was, to overturn its initial NC-17 rating).
I saw this on a Saturday night and got to witness audience reaction. If all of the above weren’t bad enough, several scenes were played for laughs and did get laughs. In one such scene, Bateman starts to strangle a coworker who’s standing at a urinal; but the coworker happily takes this as a pass, and Bateman is so revolted by the idea of male homosexuality that he washes his hands and then runs away (thus the director, Mary Harron, links “homophobia” with Bateman’s other “problems”).
It turns out that there’s a second reason for the film’s off-balance feeling. It takes on an increasingly surreal tone, with Bateman performing impossible feats. Then we get clear evidence that Bateman is delusional (real ATMs don’t tell you to insert a stray cat) and that some or all of the murders never really occurred. In the end, we realize that everything we’ve seen was only Bateman’s version of reality. Most psycho-killer films (other than those marketed as episodes of an ongoing series) at least take the killer off the street and give some degree of closure. Not here. In fact, we don’t know if the killer really is a killer or just an elaborate fantasizer, and neither does he.
Canadian serial rapist/killer Paul Bernardo claims that his crimes were inspired by the novel on which this film is based. What might the film itself do? And the upcoming Summer 2000 films in the trailers consisted of sex comedies, over-the-top or comic-book style violence, and a Jim Carrey comedy about a cop with a violent split personality. Plus, the sequel to “Silence of the Lambs” (see my review of that film for some comments about Psychopathy) is due out later this year. With everyone from first-graders to senior citizens in retirement homes plotting or carrying out murders, I don’t see much of the “responsible voluntary restraint” that Hollywood’s been talking about. What are these studio execs thinking? I think it’s spelled with a dollar sign. I’ve already given them my ticket price for this abominable film; I hope that you save yours.