American Pscyho opened in the spring of 2000 to good reviews and a modest box office of over $34 million considering it’s relatively low budget of just $7 imillion. But even before it went into production, it was an issue of controversy for years.
When Bret Easton Ellis published the novel by the same name in 1991, it was almost immediately banned from many libraries across the nation. The original published Simon & Schuster backed out, leaving Vintage Book to publish it in a mass-market paperback. The novel, around 400 pages, was criticized for its depiction of violence against women. I never got to those parts. I read about half of it before I decided I couldn’t read anymore as the protagonist Patrick Bateman bore me with all the clothes and accessories he was wearing and where he got them and for how much.
There was a few mentions of him masturbating to the scene in Body Double where a women is killed by a power drill. There was also talk about how Patrick would buy dogs, often puppies, from pet stores so he could torture and kill them. But the novel didn’t go into graphic detail. Other that this, there was just talks about all his clothing items and other materialistic things.
Following the success of Titanic, Leonardo DiCaprio was in talks of playing Patrick in a movie adaptation directed by Oliver Stone, who was going to focus more on the violent aspects of the book, rather than Ellis’ satire. Late critic Roger Ebert theorized Stone would made something similar to the 1812 Overture sequence in The Music Lovers where cannon fire blows off people’s head stretched out ot a feature length. And I would concur. It would have also destroyed DiCaprio’s career.
Instead, Christian Bale plays Patrick. Bale later said he based the performance on how he saw Tom Cruise act during a TV interview. I picked up on this right when I saw it. Mary Harron directs, as well as co-wrote it with Guinevere Turner, who had made the lesbian movie Go Fish. Harron, who also made the movie I Shot Andy Warhol, suggests a lot of thing that Patrick might or might not do. If you haven’t seen the movie, read no further, because Patrick is basically an unreliable narrator. Even though he is shown committing acts of violence and talks about it, in the end, we are left wondering what is really happening.
As is Patrick himself.
Patrick is a young and wealthy investment banker who works mostly in mergers and acquisitions as a vice-president at Pierce and Pierce on Wall Street in New York City. He’s an Ivy League graduate and has a nice apartment on Central Park West, but his life has become bland, in my opnion. His apartment looks immaculate but doesn’t have a lived-in look. It reminds me more of an post-mo art museum where you’re afraid to touch anything because it might break. It’s mostly white. Patrick has the best suits, wears the most expensive watches, and goes through a morning routine of showering and washing up that seems to take a good hour.
Patrick would probably be best classified as a preppy crossed with a metrosexual, but without the liberal-minded views, even though he speaks about them in front of others at a restaurant. Since success has come so quickly and so greatly, Patrick has begun to detest the people around him. He’s involved in a relationship with a wealthy trust-fund debutante, Evelyn Williams (Reese Witherspoon). She’s his fiance but he despise her. And she is too busy often talking about how perfect they’ll look as a couple, she ignores what he says. The first time we see them, they’re sitting in the back of a taxi look away from each other outside the windows. She’s not in love with him as much as she’s in love with the notion of being with him.
Evelyn is also suspected of having an affair with Patrick’s friend and colleague, Timothy Bryce (Justin Theroux), who has jet black slick back hair and seems to be the only one Patrick can at least tolerate. They do lines of cocaine together in bathrooms at nightclubs. Patrick’s other colleagues who he hangs out with are Craig McDermott (Josh Lucas) and Daniel Van Patten (Bill Sage). They’re basically the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the story, which is probably intentional because they’re hard to tell apart.
This is also a common motif in the movie of characters mistaking someone from another. They all seem to look alike and only have three or four different hairstyles. Another investment banker, Paul Allen (Jared Leto) constantly mistakes Patrick for one of his colleagues, Marcus Halberstram, as they both dress and look alike. Patrick tells Evelyn he just wants to fit in but at the same time he gets angry at the fact that he’s basic and wants to stand out.
And that’s why to some degree, I think Patrick has imagined himself as a serial killer. The movie is set over several months from the late fall of 1986 well into the spring or summer of 1987. In New York City at this time, crime was outrageous. So the likelihood that Patrick could have committed numerous murders and gotten away with it is possible. Yet, I find that he is probably seeing himself as more of a better version of Ted Bundy.
Harron films many of the scenes of murder in such a way that something is always off-screen or hidden. When Patrick walks past a black middle-aged homeless man named Al (Reg E. Cathy), he stabs him but all this happens under the screen. And when Patrick bludgeons the man’s mutt dog with his feet, we cut to an aerial over the top shot where we don’t see anything but here the dog’s whimpers. Would a dog loyal to his master really just bark while seeing him kill? And it’s not a toy dog, but actually a modest size dog that a few kicks wouldn’t do much damage.
Later, he gets angry at Paul for having a better business card than him, as well as bragging about a Friday-night reservation to the coveted chic restaurant Dorsia. Patrick lures Paul back to his apartment after getting him drunk. Patrick goes into the bathroom to take some medication. Is it an antidepressant? In the book, Patrick takes valium. He drinks alcohol and does cocaine. So, it’s likely he’s also taking narcotics as well. This might have led to psychosis and paranoia in him.
Either, when Patrick does use an axe to kill Paul, we never see the axe going into his body. We just see Patrick swinging the axe repeatedly and Paul’s bloodied body on the floor and all over Patrick despite his raincoat. Later, when Patrick takes the body downstairs to discard, he puts it in an overnight bag that he drags, which would be a lot of dead-weight. It’s possible that Patrick was just taking something else in his bag pretending or thinking it was Paul’s body. But as he loads the body into the trunk of the taxi, he meets another friend and colleague, Luis Carruthers (Matt Ross), who is impressed by the bag.
Speaking of Luis, he is the only one who works at Pierce and Pierce, who doesn’t seem like they’re from the same cookie-cutter assembly line. Even though Luis is rich and wealthy, he dresses less impressive but still admires the clothing and accessories of others. Luis is later revealed to be a closeted homosexual or at least have intimate feelings for Patrick. When he shows Patrick his new business card, Patrick gets upset and tries to strangle Luis in the bathroom of a social club. However, Luis immediately interprets the action as Patrick being intimate as he can only bring himself to put his hands on Luis’ shoulders.
This is why I think Patrick may not be a killer. He can imagine himself doing it. But he can’t do it. He may have passed by a homeless man but still kept on walking fantasizing about doing it. His inability to kill Luis leads to an unraveling as the movie begins to spiral further out of control as the death scenes become more ludicrous and unbelievable.
Before I go any futher, I need to mention that Patrick is having an affair with Luis’ fiance, Courtney Rawlinson (Samantha Mathis), another trust-fund debutante like Evelyn, but she is so consumed by alcohol and narcotics she can barely function. Patrick talks her into going to dinner at Dorsia but when he can’t get reservations, he takes her to another restaurant where she’s so out of it, she doesn’t know. Courtney uses Patrick for sex that she possibly can’t get from Luis. She wants to have the perfect family and sees Luis as the only way to have a well-to-do marriage where she can have a baby.
At the same time of the events, Patrick is repeatedly questioned by a private investigator Donald Kimball (Willem Dafoe) who’s been asked by the family of Paul’s to look into his disappearance. We see Patrick going to Paul’s apartment after killing him and making it appear Paul left town by taking a suitcase and some clothing. But I think Patrick is fantasizing about killing Paul as he knew Paul was corrupt and has skipped town. Remember, this was right before the 1987 Wall Street Stock Market Crash.
There’s discussion about Paul handling a highly prestiguous Fisher Account but it could be why he’s skipped town. Kimball can’t locate where Paul is because everyone he talks to gets Paul confused with someone else. Later, Patrick goes to speak with his lawyer, Harold Carnes (Stephen Bogaert), who mentions he had dinner with Paul in London. My theory is Paul went overseas to London as he was scamming money out of the Fisher Account and Carnes flew to London to discuss their legal options.
Carnes also doesn’t believe Patrick when he leaves a voice message on his phone confessing a wild range of violent crimes admitting to killing “a lot of people.” Carnes who at first mistakes Patrick for someone else, tells him that Patrick is too weak and doesn’t have the ability. He even says that he would believe it more if it was Bryce or McDermott. Does Patrick even kill one person in the movie?
Maybe he did and just because he got away with it, assumed the fantasies about killing others. Earlier in the movie, he hires two prostitutes he calls “Christie” (Cara Seymour) and “Sabrina” (Krista Sutton) that he has sex with as he videotapes it, even though he seems to be more interested in looking at himself in the mirror. Later he hires “Christie” again who is hesitant because it’s presumed Patrick got a little rough with them. Again, this is all off-screen. So, when he takes “Christie” to Paul’s apartment with another woman, Elizabeth (Turner), it gets rough in which “Christie” observes Patrick getting very violent with Elizabeth killing her.
But how? We don’t see. But it still looks bad. Then, Patrick chases her around the apartment where he has other naked bloodied bodies of women. “Christie” gets out and runs down the hall with Patrick naked in sneakers with a chainsaw chasing after her. “Christie” is able to get to the bottom of the stairwell but Patrick drops the chainsaw on top of her, killing her. How can you drop a chainsaw especially hoping it’ll hit a moving target. Also, for Patrick to have all the bodies in the apartment, decomposition would’ve started and it would’ve smelled. He would also have to somehow get “Christie” out of the stairwell. And even though he’s physically fit, I don’t see him carrying her dead bleeding body up several flights of stairs.
Later when he returns to the apartment the following day, he discovers that it’s almost empty. There’s no sign of the murdered bodies as well as graffitti Patrict has written on the walls. The apartment is being shown by a realtor who never heard of Paul and asks him to leave on threat of calling authorities. Patrick may have had a three-some with “Christie” and “Sabrina” that turned bad. But I highly doubt “Christie” would’ve been with him a second time. Also, the late introduction of Elizabeth also suggests she may not be real or Patrick fantasized about her as well.
Also, the scene where “Christie” is running and screaming banging on doors would make it seem someone would’ve called 911. Paul’s apartment is supposed to overlook Central Park in a better part of NYC. I’m sure hearing a screaming woman at about 4 a.m. would at least arouse some interest. Yet, this is NYC and people are notoriious for minding their own business. This also brings up the Kitty Genovese myth of a woman who was killed will dozens watched and did nothing.
Harron and Turner are more worried about a tone or suggestion rather than actually showing violence when not needed. We don’t need to see Patrick harm someone to think he might be violent. In one scene after getting money from an ATM, Patrick walks up to a slightly older woman at a stop light as they wait to cross the street. They exchange minor pleasantries but she looks at him a second time in an ominous way and they cross the street. What happened? Who knows? It could just be they went on their separate ways. Or she was one of Patrick’s victims.
Later, when Patric is at a nightclub, he talks with a younger woman and it’s assumed they’re going to go back to his place. In the next scene, he is in his office playing with a lock of blonde hair similar to the women at the nightclub. Did he kill the blonde woman? Is he even playing with a lock? He hides it in his shirt pocket when his secretary, Jean (Chloe Sevigny) comes in.
As for Jean, she seems to be the only woman in the movie that cares for Patrick. And she is the only woman Patrick seems to treat not as an object. But why does he not like women? As he talks with McDermott and Van Patten, they share the same misognyistic beliefs that men have shared for women for decades. The fact that they don’t see women as partners or even housekeepers comes from the notion because they’re rich, they will only be with women like Evelyn or Courtney who are rich themselves and don’t see their husbands as partners. It’s not a marriage of convenience but a marriage of prestige. It’s a no-win situation for them where they get married because that’s what they’re expected to do. Patrick briefly mentions in passing that he’s a child of divorce so it could have something to do with it.
That’s what makes Jean different than some other women in the movie. She’s a young 20-something who is stuck as Patrick’s secretary. I would argue he probably likes her but he wants her to dress the way he’s used to seeing women but her business professional look isn’t what Patrick wants. Yet, Jean seems to be the only one who can talk to Patrick in a way that he’ll listen as well being the only one who really listens to him. During a scene where Patrick is losing it at a restaurant, Evelyn seems to be more interested in what her other friends are wearing.
I’ve thought that Patrick might be a closeted homosexual himself or at least bicurious. During the threesome, he flexes in the mirror. He only likes and wants women he can control. He also views Bryce as a better person which is why he doesn’t mind that Evelyn is having an affair with him. He also seems to admire Bryce who is more bold in his ways and manners. It’s possible he might be in love with Bryce. Ellis is known to include homosexual or bisexual men in his work. Ellis himself has been repeatedly questioned about his sexuality that he’s dodged the question in a way to lead people to suspect he’s bisexual.
In the end, Kimball no longer sees Patrick as suspicious because through his investigation, he recalls Patrick was with the real Marcus Halberstram and others prior to Paul’s disappearance when it was believed Paul was with Marcus. Harron shot Dafoe doing his scenes in three ways, one in which he knew Patrick had something to do with Paul’s disappearance; one in which he doesn’t suspect Patrick of knowing about Paul’s whereabouts; and one in which he is indifferent. These takes were all edited together to give Kimball an eerie feel.
But yet, I do still think that Patrick is psychotic, even if he’s not violent or too violent. It could be the stress of his work on Wall Street even though he’s never seen working really. It could be the drugs and alcohol he consumes along with prescibed medication. One particular scene in which he is at a Chinese dry cleaners where he bumps into a friend, Victoria (Marie Dame), where he shows his true behavior. He’s screaming with the Chinese proprietors and threatens the older woman but it’s possible the language barrier is a problem. But when he sees Victoria, his attitude suddenly changes and he almost seems embarrassed to be seen in that manner. But as he’s leaving, he suddenly goes back into pscyhotic mode.
It’s possible it was just cranberry sauce on his sheets. Who would really take blood-soaked sheets to a dry cleaners? At other times, Patrick gets angry at a female bartender who refuses his drink coupons and swears at her as she turns away to make drinks. But it’s possible with the volume in the nightclub her hearing has gone and she didn’t hear him. Even when he tells Paul he likes to “dissect girls” and asks, “Do you know I’m utterly insane?” it could be Paul was so drunk he didn’t realize what Patrick was saying. When he tells the young blonde at the nightclub he’s into “murder and executions,” she hears “mergers and acquisitions” because she’s been around other investment bankers.
Both Harron and Turner have said they believe that it’s left up to the viewers if Patrick is really a killer or an unreliable narrator. Did Carnes confuse Paul Allen with another client? He’s Patrick’s lawyer but confuses him with someone else. Kimball, himself, seems to think that Paul just skipped town to get away from something. It’s possible Patrick did kill Al the homeless man, but thought he saw a dog but didn’t kill Paul. Some people have theorized the realtor covered up the murdered bodies because it was a good prime real estate. But that would take a huge mess to clean up.
However, since we don’t see many of the crimes Patrick confesses to Carnes on the voice message, he could just be having a pscyhotic break. When he goes on a shooting spree one night toward the end, it’s filmed in such an exagerrated way even Michael Bay or Zack Snyder would find it overdone. Also the killings of NYPD officers would possibly make news. Patrick even sees a digital message on the ATM telling him FEED ME A STRAY CAT, right as he sees a stray cat at his feet.
Ellis’ book was actually a satire on the materialism of the 1980s and how people used credit cards too much and hung out at the mall and splurged on high-price clothing. In the end, they became walking models for expensive clothing designers. The trick was they paid the designer rather than being paid. I guess in my older years, I’ve gotten to the point of just wearing simple black, grey, white and green shirts with no logos on them. Patrick and his colleagues are spending hundreds and thousands of dollars on items to show off. That’s why the reservations at Dorsia are so important. Van Patten even mutters at one time he wants to have reservations somewhere but he’s just not that hungry.
It didn’t start in the 1980s but it was exagerrated as hanging around in restaurants and nightclubs become more popular. Wearing expensive designer clothes became the way to do things. You’re paying for the privilege of wearing expensive sneakers or a pair of pants. Even Patrick puts Paul’s body in a overnight bag made by Jean-Paul Gaultier because that’s all he’s got.
Patrick is no different than suburban dads who have to have the latest power mowers or cordless drills. And being a yuppie who lives in the city, Patrick has no need for those so he has to have the best reservations or business suits. You hear stories about how Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, seemed like a normal person or how Bundy was even studying to be a lawyer. If Patrick is really a killer, he’s been unable to get anyone to believe him. Jean finds a ledger where Patrick makes disgusting and violent drawings as well as writes down vulgar ramblings. And she’ll probably turn in her two-weeks notice or leave the office and never come back.
This of course has left Patrick without the only person who actually likes him. He’s still no different at the end than all the yuppies sipping on martinis and bourbons at Harry’s Bar as they smoke cigars in their Armani suits. If Patrick has a bloodlust, it’s been fulfilled because no one will think he’s capable. And now Jean just thinks he’s a creep.
This is why Patrick says at the end in voice-over narration, “This confession has meant nothing.”
What do you think? Please comment.