Tuesday, March 23, 2010

American Psycho (2000, Mary Harron)

Most satires center around comedy. Although human drama is involved, satire is a subgenre of comedy and its purpose is to make you laugh (at times) while making sharp, pointed critiques, usually aimed at certain people and or ideas. "Dr. Strangelove" and "Wag the Dog" take serious material and make it funny (the former though is the far better movie) and squeeze humor out of rather dark, bleak situations, featuring dark humor that is quite sharp and unflinchingly honest.

What's interesting about "American Psycho" is that there is dark comedy, yet in the end it is not a comedy-rather, it exists as a satire of the 1980s that also manages to exist as a slasher horror movie, building upon a subgenre of horror that has a long and illustrious tradition, although some would beg to differ due to endless slasher ripoffs and sequels. This movie is one gigantic rip on the 1980s, presenting the decade as a greedy, selfish, vapid and idiotic consumer driven culture ("American Psycho" and "Fight Club" would be fantastic as a double bill). The capitalistic jungle that Marx feared and opposed exists in the full extreme here, with the movie's main character Patrick Batman and his co-workers being the burogouise predators, who also happen to prey not only on those beneath them, but also upon each other.

The function of Bateman is to go one step further beyond that simple idea, in that his insane homicidal blood lust fueled by his lack of humanity emerges and is showcased often in his high rise penthouse apartment, where he butchers both those on the lower end of the economic ladder and even one of his rich upper class co-workers (with some exceptions-I cannot fully go into further detail without revealing the film's brilliant ending, and mediating upon Batemen's state of reality is full of spoilers). In the 1980s the recession and the rise of the corporate raiders, desperate and eager to climb the social and economic ladder of success, fuels the movie's rather nasty and depressing outlook filtered through Bateman, his employers, and of course his fellow co-workers.

Thus, through the crazed mind and terrible actions of Bateman does the horror/slasher aspect of the movie compliment and carry the film's message and ideas. Although I have yet to read the book, I'm not surprised that upon its release it was highly controversial-as was the movie itself. Not only were both created by women, they also focused upon how easily men can be cruel and harmful to women.

Two women, one the author, the other the director, dive into the mind of a misogynistic, chauvinistic, arrogant bastard, and then brazenly reveals that mindset to the world, which is still quite shocking to many people. Also, those prone to 80s nostalgia were probably furious that their world was painted as such a empty, miserable place in time and history, which is also in regards to the book, published in 1991 at the tail end of the decade.

Now this film is unsatisfying in some aspects, and has its weaknesses, especially since the rest of the cast pales in comparison to Christian Bale, who gives a force full, chilling, complex performance as Batemen-its among the best work he's ever done. William DeFoe is given a pointless role as a detective, while the lovely Reese Witherspoon has the thankless task of playing Bateman's insipid ditzy girlfriend, who does serve a purpose in that until the end she fails to realize he's truly, in her words, "A monster."

The satire at times is less interesting and original than the horror elements (one of the scenes where Bateman goes crazy with a chainsaw is something beyond words, and thanks to this movie I'll never look at "Its Hip to Be Square" the same way ever again) but at the same time even the horror elements wear a bit thin. Although the movie fails short of greatness, its still quite smartly made and very noteworthy. One should see it not only to get a window into the mind of a psychopath, but also to view a satire that ventures outside the safe confines of the comedy genre. 93

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