Cult Column: American Psycho

New York, 1987. Soft sunshine and piano notes pour into a plush apartment in Manhattan. An impossibly rich, impossibly image-conscious, Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) strolls through various rooms, walking us through his morning routine, all in his pristine white boxer-briefs. The opening sequence is iconic enough to have inspired a spoof on Vogue’s YouTube channel nearly seventeen years after the film first hit the screens. Seventeen years on and the lead character is still synonymous with the yuppie culture that is associated with Wall Street and the excess that it gives rise to. The apparent timelessness of the protagonist (particularly in the face of the recent financial crisis) and the gripping storyline has granted cult status to American Psycho.

Materialism runs amok in the movie. It is not simply restricted to the possession of expensive items – the casual name-dropping of designer labels and the obsession over restaurant venues are apt examples – but extends to minds and bodies as well. Patrick Bateman is, in essence, a deeply disturbed man. He lies, he lusts, and he kills. Such is his scant consideration for life that being homeless is a good enough reason to kill. Such is his vanity that he flexes his biceps and checks himself out in the mirror when engaged in a three-way sexual act before butchering the women involved. “I’m a fucking evil psychopath” is how he describes himself. Christian Bale does a remarkable job in first bringing out the captivating, sensual angle of the character, then the creepiness and finally, the queasiness.

But, to me, this queasiness is so marked and unnecessary that it overshadows the other aspects of the movie. In fact, it had me thinking: was it necessary to narrate through the eyes of the lead character? Would a straightforward, chronological unravelling of events not have introduced a sense of suspense and intrigue to the film? It is questionable whether the movie’s narrative style taps fully into the storyline’s potential; there comes a point in the movie where all the violence and the bloodshed becomes too much to handle and too predictable to propel the story forward. The introduction of the detective to investigate the murder of Patrick’s friend provides an opportunity to increase the pacing of the narration and effectively incorporate a whodunit element to the script. Except that it soon fizzles out and neither excites nor provides the much needed momentum.

American Psycho has undoubtedly stood the test of time. However, one can’t help feeling if this shelf-life is only applicable to selected scenes, selected performances and selected characters. As a whole, the movie quickly becomes monotonous and, adding salt to wound, ends on a flat note.

Image: Daniella Urdinlaiz

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