Why American Psycho is a Great Movie

What do people like in the horror genre? Violence? Absurdity? Dark humor? A better question to ask is how does a horror movie take the stereotypical theater of the absurd elements that surround the genre and make insightful arguments throughout the film? A movie that has been ridiculed by many since its release in 2000 is American Psycho. At first, many viewed it as silly or even below the level of absurdity most horror films use to grasp the audience and today has gotten very mixed reviews by nearly every typical horror fan. However, under closer inspection, I write this review to argue as to why American Psycho is in fact an all around decent film in general regardless of horror aspects.

American Psycho takes place in the 80s, a time where corruption like the Iran-Contra Affair was looming large, drugs such as cocaine were being used by everyone and Wall Street was enjoying the policies from its favorite president, Ronald Reagan. The main character, Patrick Bateman, represents every bad thing about American culture at the time. Exceptionalism, greed, addiction and bloodlust would all be seen in Bateman’s numerous talks that he has with other supporting characters. In my mind, the movie truly masters the art of filmmaking as portrayed through the professional acting of characters played by Christian Bale, Jared Leto, or Willem Dafoe, symbolism of absurd sequences that build the film’s overall outlook and political critiques of the era it depicts.

The acting is nothing to ignore when watching this film. In many instances, the movie is boosted by amazing acting done especially by Christian Bale for such a unique role and so early in his acting career. We can take one of my favorite acting scenes, the phone call with the lawyer. Bateman just ran into his office in the middle of the night after going on a killing spree and shooting at cops and decides to call his lawyer for he may not be able to cover his murders up as he usually does. Bale first states his lines in a very sad tone and with his physical actions, you almost start to think that he regrets killing all those people. It’s however revealed when Bale switches to a more proud tone that he was able to kill all these people in the first place such as boasting about killing Paul Allen, his coworker, with a fire axe to the face. He’s only sad because he doesn’t know how he will be able to cover it all up this time and asks for his lawyer’s assistance in possibly having to defend him in court. It’s acting like this that makes the movie very interesting to watch when analyzing the characters. Bale masters the portrayal of a literal psychopath having the audience pick up on his true intentions based merely on his physical actions. Furthermore, Bale depicts his masterful acting as Bateman when he shares scenes with Paul Allen (Jared Leto) and Donald Kimball (Willem Dafoe). After finding out Allen has an aesthetically better business card and that he also has a higher level job than Bateman, Patrick decides to do what he always does best, which is killing people. This entire sequence is always so fun to watch when analyzing Bale’s acting. When Allen flaunts his business card, Bateman is in shambles. In front of his own coworkers, it looks like he’s about to have a heart attack after seeing the off-white coloring and designer font of the paper card. His frustration with Allen goes even further when he tries to keep his cool with a drunk Paul Allen to find out how he got control of the new job. Allen is nonchalant and oblivious to Bateman’s awkward and condescending questions. Even after a joking answer of why it must be kept secret, Bateman is on the verge of exploding in fury. His smile is forced and his eyes show his true feelings which is that he will soon then kill Allen with an axe in one of the movie’s most iconic scenes. Bale is also accompanied by Willem Dafoe who plays Donald Kimball, the detective who investigates the disappearance of Paul Allen after Bateman supposedly kills him. In two interviews with Kimball, Bale not only acts as a psychopath but also builds the movie’s comedic effect. Kimball’s investigative skills are left ambiguous with the masterful acting from Willem Dafoe to create mystery around what his lead on Bateman truly is while Patrick consistently derails the conversation about getting drinks or returning video tapes with the most forcefully normal tone known to man. Bale even masters the act of anxiety before the interview starts as he tries to make it seem like he isn’t available to talk to Kimball and when that’s no use, he acts like he’s in the middle of a friendly phone call with a coworker when Kimball walks in by talking to a phone that has literally no one on the other side. It’s Bale’s ability to act like an alien who was placed in human skin to live on earth that makes this movie so impressive in regards to acting. It’s also with the help of Leto’s and Dafoe’s acting as normal people you’d find in the physical world that construct the psychotic nature of Bateman’s literal character. The movie is so talented at depicting a psychopath who is utterly disconnected from the world that you could even argue that this is the first mainstream movie that has a character more insane than whoever Willem Dafoe acts as. The movie in general takes a new spin on contrasting different acting performances and creating an entertaining story out of it.

Symbolism throughout American Psycho is a key element in maintaining the quality of the film. While many gloss over the absurdity of businessmen geeking out over business cards and other random events, there is a deeper meaning to all of this that make the movie a lot more interesting to watch and sometimes even relatable. Taking the example of the iconic business card scene, we see overall just a very silly scene. The businessmen at Pierce and Pierce on Wall Street are all showing each other their new business cards after Bateman feels obligated to do so with his. After seeing Allen hand another guy his business card for a potential meeting, Bateman pulls out of his pocket a slim metal container that flicks open like a samurai sword. Out of it comes his business card which he places for everyone to see and admire. This makes everyone else at the table boast about theirs and put them side by side to compare. When I write this, it seems somewhat unnatural however, seeing the scene itself is even weirder. The business cards have little to no differences when they are placed side by side. The only notable difference is the font and paper material. The miniscule variations even have sophisticated names like cecilian braille, or eggshell white coloring. The climax of the scene is when Bateman, as I said before, gets freaked out by the fact that Allen has a supposedly better business card when it visually looks the same to all the other ones. Even though this scene is plain stupid the first time you watch it, it becomes more interesting when you realize the filmmakers are trying to explain how perfectionism leads to absurd consequences. Every human in every society has some aspiration to be perfect. I know most Neuqua students relate to this when it comes to GPAs or SAT scores. In one of my classes I can vividly remember some of my peers talking about their SAT scores and how they’ll put it on their college applications. To sum up the entire discussion, it felt exactly like the business card scene. Kids were debating on whether a standard score of 1510 would be better than a superscore of 1530. Even with students’ GPA they also feel this immense sense of perfectionism as they view A’s as the only acceptable grade point average and giving up regular classes in order to take weighted classes. I get it that students want colleges to view great GPAs and SAT scores, but when people are freaking out over miniscule differences in numbers and letter grades from their dream goals it almost directly becomes this psychotic and absurd perfectionism we see in American Psycho’s business card scene. Additionally we also have Bateman’s half date with his secretary, Jean. Throughout the movie so far, we know for a fact that Bateman is having a relationship with many women including sex workers. His overall attitude towards most women especially those who work for him like Jean is very sexist and degrading. However, it is almost randomly that Bateman asks out his secretary on a date to Dorsia and she accepts. Unfortunately, the Dorsia reservation Bateman attempts to schedule is denied but he never tells Jean because he wants her to think of him like a very strong man who gets what he wants. Bateman and Jean spend some time at Patrick’s apartment and Bateman gets Jean to stay instead of going to Dorsia through quick persuasion of how he must maintain his body and keep up with his diet. After briefly seeing a human head in Bateman’s fridge as he opens the door to get food and as he tries to make small talk about Ted Bundy, we instantly get an idea of why Bateman invited Jean over. With most women he invites over, he finds someway to abuse them sexually or straight up kill them. With Jean, Bateman plans on simply doing it with a quick puncture in the back of her head with a nail gun. As he positions the gun at the back of Jean’s head, we see for a brief second the feeling of human conscience. Bateman for once puts away his evil deeds and refuses to kill Jean. In the book, we understand that Bateman doesn’t necessarily view Jean as a human being but rather a beautiful object that must not be destroyed. This can also be translated to the movie. Bateman seemingly views everyone as if they are objects but when he sees Jean he thinks of something different. The reasons for this are also quite vast. It is shown that Jean is really the only person in Batman’s life who actually treats him like a real human. Everyone else is either just as one sided as him or completely indifferent to what he has to offer as a person. The movie not only tries to explore what psychopathic humans are like, but also what creates or breaks a psychopath. In other words, Bateman could be seen as someone who only gives others what they give to him. With deeper inspection of American Psycho’s absurd sequences, there can be a deeper meaning divulged.

What made many overly critical about American Psycho was also its ambiguous ending. When Bateman is going to check up on the deserted house that used to belong to Paul Allen, we see that it has been completely turned inside out for a real estate agency to sell. All the bodies of sex workers and bloody sheets are all gone including Allen’s belongings. Bateman then goes to a meeting with his coworkers and tries to reveal that he killed Paul Allen and countless other people in person to the lawyer he called the other night and is only met with confusion and his lawyer being unamused as he thinks Bateman is pulling an act. As Bateman is with his coworkers, we then jump back to his office where Jean is trying to do her own investigation on who Bateman really is and sees that his schedule booklet is not only filled halfway with imaginary and random meetings with random names but disturbing drawings that depict all the people Bateman brutally murdered. As the movie ends, the audience is left with only two different interpretations of the movie. One is where Bateman’s basically just a loser who imagines himself killing people and his coworkers are right to not take him seriously, and the other is where Bateman truly is a killer who everyone mistakes just to be a regular person. With a very simple understanding of the movie, it’s very easy to believe that the first interpretation is the correct one as I did the first time I ever watched it. However with deeper understanding of the political undertones that the movie critiques one could easily make the argument as to why the second interpretation is the correct one. Without a doubt one must consider the fact the Bateman is mentally ill and cannot interpret everything the right way. In many scenes he is portrayed as delusional and thinks that an ATM machine is telling him to feed it a stray cat. This means that hyper unrealistic scenes like his massive shootout with the police may be the only false kill in the movie. This is hinted through Bateman’s own surprise to the events he is witnessing as he effortlessly makes the police car explode with just three gunshots from his hand gun. Now that we have categorized the known false kills, how can we justify the existence of the killing Paul Allen or the on screen bodies of his numerous victims? 

To do this, we must start to dive into the political undertones the movie has throughout its run time. When I say political undertones, I mean the politics of the 80s that this movie tries to replicate such as the self-interest culture that came with the big business politics at the time. Throughout the movie, the characters are all portrayed as forgettable due to their homogenous appearance of designer suits and similar haircuts with personalities of greed and selfishness. Bateman himself was designed to be forgettable if he wasn’t the main character or a mass murderer. Whenever he talks about killing people, his coworkers or other people at the clubs he spends time at almost don’t care or misinterpret what he said. Because of all of this context, we can now start to understand how Bateman’s killings get swept under the rug so easily. Paul Allen’s death can in fact be proved when you think of the fact that characters confuse each other as other people. When the lawyer states how he saw Allen in London and that he just went on vacation that there may be some leverage to disprove this. Now we move on to more miscellaneous on screen deaths. From what we see in the movie, the deserted apartment that belonged to Paul Allen has been cleaned out for selling. This means all the bodies of sex workers and other women that Bateman has killed somehow went missing. To still prove that these murders existed, we can tie it all together with the sole principle of how consumerism is willing to cover up things in order to make money. The owner of the home being dead, and the apartment being well kept other than a few dead bodies meant a new opportunity for real estate agencies to sell a nice home in New York. Why tell consumers that the house originally belonged to a deceased person and had numerous dead bodies in it? It would’ve given no net profit for big business. The same thing can be said with the homeless man Bateman stabs in an alley. It was a discrete kill that happened when no one was around. To go further, we can also examine how when it happened on Wall Street, it was in every authorities interest to keep it secret and maintain the pristine status of that area of New York. He was also poor, which not many people during that time would even care about depending on his economic status. To sum it all up, we can understand how the second interpretation begins to make sense when we further analyze the way the movie develops its atmosphere and ambiguity. It’s another reason why the movie holds up to be more interesting than it already is as it takes further inspection to fully understand why it becomes so ambiguous.

In conclusion, American Psycho is a movie that is heavily underrated. Even though it gets internet praise in a joking way, it still lacks appreciation for its deeper meaning that deals with the 80s and other themes.