what i watched last week
sing me a song: windows 10, day one

film fatales series #2: american psycho (mary harron, 2000)

In yesterday’s weekly update, I mentioned a “summer film club” suggested by the “Film Fatales”. I was writing about Vagabond, which was in the category “Women-Directed Films That Inspired the Work of Film Fatales”, and said if I continued to watch some of the movies in the lists, perhaps I’d turn it into a series. I noted, “I won’t know if I’ve turned this into a series until I’ve done at least one more”. Then, by happenstance, I watched American Psycho, which is also in the “Inspirational” category. So I guess now it’s a series.

The most important thing I need to say in advance is that I never read Bret Easton Ellis’s novel. I mention this because it was apparently revolting, and I felt that many of the film critics praised Harron’s work because it wasn’t the book. I can’t make that point.

It’s also important to note that American Psycho is a film of its time (2000), and also a representation of an even earlier time (the late 1980s). Watching it for the first time in 2015 adds a level or two of distancing.

Whether or not you’ve read the book, the film American Psycho is playfully complicated. It’s not too hard to read things into the basic scenario. There are a lot of privileged yuppie men turning Manhattan into their playground. It’s easy, maybe too easy, to see these mostly interchangeable men as standing in for all men ... even the men who haven’t reached the peaks of these fellows at least want to reach those peaks. They are creepy, self-absorbed participants in consumer culture, and women are just another item on the shelf, to be bought along with the fancy clothes and the expensive restaurant meals. At this level, American Psycho is a mildly funny look at the inanities of men.

But in Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), we see what happens if the male attitude is taken to an extreme. Bateman one-ups his colleagues in what seems in the film to be a logical fashion: he murders people. He murders them in ways that are increasingly horrific (although apparently this is one of the areas where the book was many times worse). He murders men, but mostly he murders women, and his misogyny seems more virulent than his misanthropy.

Somehow, Harron (and co-writer Guinevere Turner) turn this stew of male rage and self-involvement into what both writers call a feminist movie. They pull this off by bringing satire to the forefront. There is something comical about seeing Bale running around naked with a chainsaw. Our attention is less with his potential victim, and more with his bare butt as he scampers around. He isn’t shown as a hero, or an anti-hero, or anything we would aspire to. He is shown as the personification of male lunacy. He is an American psycho.

I have no idea what’s going on at the end of the film. I got pissed at first, then decided I didn’t care. Did the murders really happen? Call it the film’s MacGuffin. #472 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 7/10.

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