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Like if Jenny Holzer wrote film reviews. The Parallax Review is a website dedicated to dissecting movies in terms of cultural context, ideology, aesthetics, and more. From Stalker to Hackers and beyond! Run by your girl, @okaythanksmaria

American Psycho (2000)

 


This review is part of a series: 31 Days of Horror Directed by Women
 
To be completely honest, watching American Psycho makes me giddy. Sure, Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is a complete psychopath, as the title suggests, but he's got a great ass and I personally prefer his apartment over Paul Allen's.

Mary Harron's second feature begins with a motif that will be repeated a few times throughout the film. Patrick, who um, works on Wall Street ever heard of it? is sitting around a table inside an expensive restaurant with 3 identical looking men in suits. They look around miserably and whine about not getting into another, better restaurant. Their faces look smug but they shift around restlessly, as if their money and status is a burden to bear. When the bill comes, they each throw down identical platinum credit cards. "Only $570. Not bad."
 



 
Patrick is crazy—really, a lunatic—but he's got great hygiene. I'm obsessed with his skincare routine and would absolutely watch his GRWM videos if he ever decided to start a YouTube channel. If we dated, I totally wouldn't sweat it if he couldn't get us a table at Dorsia, either. Anyway, Patrick kills like, 8 people, plus a dog. He's also got great taste in music—it's a little commercial and he did say that one weird thing about Huey Lewis and the News being "too black sounding" for his taste. But that was just a lie he told detective Donald Kimball (Willem Dafoe) so he wouldn't find out Patrick had murdered Paul Allen while blasting HLatN. NOT a dealbreaker for me, honestly.

I find American Psycho to be a perfectly executed social satire that thrives in its excess; it has BPVE, or, Big Paul Verhoeven Energy. We spend 100 minutes with a young, beautiful, rich man who happens to have an unquenchable thirst for mutilating and devouring human flesh. That's refreshing. What's exhausting is his social circle and his fucking day job. When Patrick is completely ignoring his "supposed fiance" in the car on the way to ESPACE, she asks him why he doesn't just quit his job since it makes him miserable. He replies manically, his voice strained: "Because. I want. To fit. In." 
 


 

He's not lying. Ironically, he fits in so damn well that practically no one can tell him apart from any of the other men with slicked back brown hair wearing Oliver Peoples glasses and Valentino suits. In the background of nearly every office or restaurant scene, there are what looks like exact clones of Patrick and his cohorts, looking just as self-important and miserable. As the narrative's repeated motifs fold in on themselves, the viewer begins to feel trapped as well. Neither Patrick nor the audience can escape his lustful loop. As the movie pushes forward, we are horrified by his violent compulsions and long for a release. We (and he) need his sins to be acknowledged and dealt with.

Remember though, when I opened this review by saying that the movie makes me giddy? That response is the result of multiple watches. The brilliance of this film lies in its deceptively normal presentation. We expect a slasher about a fancy wall street guy who happens to also be a serial killer. We assume that his status and lifestyle are meant to play in opposition to his darker proclivities. Really, though, Patrick doesn't need to kill people to become a psycho. He's already there. I think that's easier (and funnier) to grasp on repeat viewings. 
 



 
The funny stuff really jumped out at me this second time through. American Psycho's a real knee-slapper. Sure, the infamous business card showdown is comedic genius, but there are so many other little things. Like when Patrick is so homophobic that he washes his gloved hands in the bathroom sink to cleanse himself from Luis's (Matt Ross) unwanted affection. Or the entire scene where he very publicly breaks up with Reese Witherspoon in a restaurant. Or that time the waiter at a restaurant asks Patrick if he wants to hear the specials and he deadpans, "Not if you wanna keep your spleen." I  died! My personal favorite is a recurring bit about him eschewing uncomfortable conversations by simply stating that he has to go "return some videotapes."

One scene that stood out to me as particularly astute happens right around the halfway mark. Patrick is once again coming to you from inside another expensive restaurant. He's with Josh Lucas and Bill Sage. This time they're complaining about women, who they disgustingly refer to as hardbodies. It all sounds like it's straight out of the "locker room talk" playbook.  Sage's character describes his version of the perfect woman. She's got no personality but she's hot. She's a hardbody. She's down for whatever in the bedroom, but also not like, a total slut haha, right? And of course she knows how to—say it with me—"keep her dumb fucking mouth shut." Classic misogyny, you love to see it. HOWEVER, me, a mostly heterosexual woman with two eyes has spent the duration of the movie thinking, Damn Christian Bale's body has NEVER LOOKED BETTER. I can't BELIEVE how hot he looks; 10/10 would smash!
 

American Psycho

American Psycho

 
And that's when I realize this scene is meant to be read ironically. To turn their own language back onto them, we could describe all three of the guys in this scene as "hardbodies" with terrible personalities. Just like the women they joke about. Someone could easily look at that group of men and think that they exist solely as sex objects who are better off keeping their dumb mouths shut. In fact, this reading of the scene is given legs by a scene that happens right after this. Patrick goes to the bathroom and sees his friend Luis (Matt Ross), whom he attempts to strangle from behind. Luis mistakes Patrick's gripping hands as a confession of sexual interest. Luis then reveals his affection for Patrick and calls him a hardbody. (I mean, he is.) It all came full circle for me right there, y'all. There really is no second of this movie where any of these men do not come off as completely fools. I. Live. For. It.
 

American Psycho

Chloe Sevigny

 
I noticed one or two shots where it looks like Christian Bale is about to bust out laughing. One such instance happens during a scene where Patrick invites his secretary, Chloe Sevigny, to his fancy apartment for a drink. She's got this perfect shoulder length haircut with bangs, and the contrast between the open sincerity of her face and Patrick's barely concealed bloodlust is wildly funny. The film ends up asking the viewer to decide which part of Patrick's life is more insane: mergers and acquisitions or "murders and executions."

By the end of the film, we realize that no, he's not getting caught. In fact, we close another visual loop. The film ends on a nearly identical scene from the opening of the film. Patrick inside of an expensive restaurant sitting at a table with 3 of his friends. They express discomfort about not yet having a dinner reservation booked. This time, though, Ronald Reagan appears on screen, talking casually about the Iran-Contra affair, honestly sounding a lot like Patrick near the beginning of the movie. Justin Theroux's character remarks on Reagan's two-faced persona, saying, "He presents himself as this harmless old codger, but inside...inside..." He never finishes his thought. Patrick then silently acknowledges the real horror of this story: But inside doesn't matter. 
 
American Psycho

American Psycho

American Psycho

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