Movie Review

American Psycho

MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, sexuality, drug use and language

Reviewed by: Brett Willis
CONTRIBUTOR

Extremely Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
An Empty Theater
Genre:
Crime Drama
Length:
1 hr. 37 min.
Year of Release:
2000
USA Release:
_____
Christian Bale in American Psycho
Featuring: Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, Reese Witherspoon, Samantha Mathis
Director: Mary Harron, Andrzej Sekula
Producer: Christian Halsey Solomon, Ron Rotholz, Edward R. Pressman, Chris Hanley
Distributor: Lions Gate Films

“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.

The cast of American Psycho
Christian Bale, Reese Witherspoon, Justin Theroux, Samantha Mathis and Matt Ross in Lions Gate’s “American Psycho”

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.


Viewer Comments
I can understand why most Christians were offended by this movie, due to some of its gruesome and sexual subject matter, however, it is important to delve further into this film to extrapolate the meaning it is trying to convey. I thought this film intelligently examined how greed and envy can lead to a loss of conscience. The film’s protagonist, Patrick, is a man consumed by worldly desires, and realises that he is losing the qualities that God would want us to foster. Via his immoral activities, Patrick is further and further removed from his humanity, he substitutes materialism, greed and menage a trois’s for something that is lacking in his life, love and God perhaps? This film presents a disturbing portrait of a man lacking love and understanding, resulting in greed and violence. My Ratings: [Average / 4½]
—Maclin, age 24
This was, by far, the most offensive and worst film I’ve seen in a very long time. What was so reprehensible in my point of view was that our “hero,” the illustrious psycho killer, is painted as an admirable character. Successful, attractive, funny, popular, and more, he’s everything most people want to be. Except for the brutal killings, of course. Compared to the mentioned “Silence of the Lambs,” wherein the killers are not funny, not amusing, and all around not nice guys, this movie offended every sensibility I have. I suppose that there was an important message—that normal people are serial killers—but it came off the opposite way—that serial killers are normal people. My Ratings: [1/1]
—Chris, age 18
…yes, the movie has a lot of objectionable material in it. But the film does provide a very interesting and valuable social commentary. The film is about big business and corporate America and the insecurities that arise out from America’s consumer-based lifestyle. Patrick is not any different than any of his “friends” in the film. They all talk poorly of women in their need to deal with their own impotency, Patrick just takes it one step further. They all are envious of one another’s possessions, business cards become a status symbol.

Patrick merely takes his agression out in a more destructive manner. In fact, all of these characters are so much alike, they even have trouble distinguishing one friend from another. Their situation has become a nameless and faceless society, all of which prompts Patrick to act out on these murderous impulses of that all of the characters have, to one degree or another. Another interesting feature of the film is, and this is going to sound funny, Patrick’s own morality. He can’t help acting out these violent fantasies, but he doesn’t want to do them. He even tries to turn himself in, but no one believes him. Society forces him to be and to remain, a killer. And his own greed fuels that. He is a tragic-anti-hero. He tries to change what he is, but is unable to. Again, as for the content, there is a lot of violence, although considerably less than I thought there would be.

As for the menage-a-trois, it wasn’t supposed to be arousing, or even enjoyable. It was supposed to be disturbing and again show us the emptiness of the greed and power of Patrick’s life. And in the end, that is the statement that the film is ultimately trying to make—When you live your life for greed and power, and have no moral compass, ultimately you become exactly like Patrick. You may not take the lives of others, but there are different ways to kill people. My Ratings: [2/4]
—Josh Hornbeck, age 22
…I thought it was one of the funniest black comedies I’ve seen in a long time. It was a fish-out-of-water story with the psychopath playing the game with the 80’s-culture rules he has absorbed. The absurdity of self-absorbtion and status symbols (the scene where they were comparing business cards had me laughing to tears) is ridiculed with fantastic skill. The lead character is deadpan… he’s not human—get it? Watch him throw out “witty” remarks in cigar and brandy social situations; he has studied his material and is confidently reading his script (until the detective gets involved), making fun of a society where people are willing and eager to accept what follows the “normalcy” rules even if it is obviously a facade. The directory (according to what I’ve heard) took a miserable book and turned it into a biting satire, turning the tables and ridiculing men, business, the 80’s, music and social norms.
—Glenn, age 30, non-Christian
“American Psycho” is a waste of time and good celluloid. Not only is it an offensive movie, but even if you clipped the offensive scenes the movie is still poorly made. Christian Bale is over the top in his performance so much that I never believed I was watching a real person. He looks throughout the entire movie like a little kid trying to sit still. The only time the performance works is in the killing scenes. There is no real motivation for his killing. The film presents several motives, but Bateman’s behavior shoot them down.

For example, Bateman makes a reference to ed gein thus suggesting that people have two sides, a good side and an evil side. Fine, but Bateman seems to have the same personality throughout the entire movie. He is a little more over the top during the killing scenes, but not so much as to suggest a second personality… profanity is rough. Graphic cocaine use. But the worst is a threesome (unnecessary to the plot) that is graphically shown and sleazy in the way Bateman gives the two prostitute instructions. Another scene contain a porno movie playing loudly in the backround and is disgusting as well as distracting. Skip “American Psycho”. I wish I had. My Ratings: [1/2]
—Andrew, age 24
Although I refused to watch this movie, I have read the book (more out of curiosity to see why the feminists were upset). It was banned in Nova Scotia, Canada because of its violence against women. It contains graphic details of Bateman’s torture and abuse of women. I have recommended to the students in my dorm that they NOT watch this movie or even try to waste their money. Having read the book I can only imagine that the movie was as bad or worse. I was utterly shocked when I saw the preview for this movie on TV. I wonder what gems Hollywood will come up with next. They need a moral and ethical over haul in the worst way. Hollywood has no boundaries—nothing is sacred or respected.
—Ellie, age 31
I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I not only saw this movie, but that my mother and sister came along! I’ve been a die hard fan of Christian Bale ever since I was 16, but this movie was the most boring, immoral, stupid thing I’ve ever seen! There were some moments of the film that I thought were quite good, but the bad still outweighs all of the good stuff.

The film was cut to get an R rating and I’m scared of what they cut out, considering the trash that remains in this movie, in my opinion, is still enough to give it an NC-17. Besides containing explicit sex scenes, it was just downright boring and too slow. As I said, a couple of scenes I actually enjoyed, but would I pay to see this again? NO WAY! Actually, you couldn’t pay me to see it again. If I were you, I’d find something else worthy of your time and energy.
—Maggi, age 24
I found “American Psycho” to be a dimented, disgusting, vulgar, and perverted movie. My friend and I had decided to go see it after seeing a preview. We both really liked Christian Bale who is the lead character. After sitting through about 55 min. of it we decided we’d had enough and walked out as well as getting our money back. It was extremely disturbing to see what Hollywood can actually get away with showing… there were many perverted sex scenes as well as sexual discussion, heavy nudity, language, and obscene murders. I believe they went to far with this movie.
—Stephanie, age 18
The movie version of AMERICAN PSYCHO seems tame compared to the book. But it is unfair to make such a comparison. The movie is by no means tame. It stays in the gutter where the book, despite its designer trappings, was firmly rooted… The director, Mary Harron, has no sense of irony or humor. But Harron doesn’t seem interested in how people shape their times or are a product of their times. She seems to want to make a point about what she considers real sin. She doesn’t seem too perturbed by the murder or the sex or the drug use. Or by the stark soulless furniture. She gives these things the usual Hollywood flair.

To her, the twin pinnacles of evil are capitalism and consumerism. And if there’s any doubt, the movie makes the point for us by tying Patrick Bateman’s heartless and depraved world to the man Harron wants to show us is responsible for it all—that trickle downer, boat-lifting tide riser, “Morning in America” phony, Ronald Reagan. This is nonsense, of course. Harron should put “The Scum Manifesto” back on her shelf and catch up with the times… AMERICAN PSYCHO contains nudity, graphic sex (often between three people), profanity and violence.

The violence is particularly disturbing because it is tied so closely to all forms of human interaction, especially to sex which is portrayed as a communal spectator sport (Patrick’s narcissism extends to watching himself in a mirror while he has sex with a woman), and a prelude to carnage. Harron even equates bloodshed with gourmet dining, a joke which begins with the film’s opening credits. She tries to draw a fine line between sensual indulgence and every other kind of indulgence, but she offers no retreat from these sins. And no redemption. My Ratings: [1/2]
—Jim O’Neill