Saturday, February 5, 2011

Murders and Acquisitions

Set in the 1980s, the movie adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho satirizes the narcissism and shallowness of Wall Street yuppies, as well as the excesses of the decade as a whole. Patrick Bateman, an investment banker/ serial killer, is the anti-heroic protagonist who turns to violence in this moral desert. American Psycho tells a story of violence, greed, and the constant lust for power and gold. This story has been told a thousand times before-- just trade in the cowboy hats on the Texas-Mexico border for Armani suits and limos in Manhattan.

Here is a NYTimes review of the movie

“From the opening credits, in which drops of blood are confused with red berry sauce drizzled on an exquisitely arranged plate of nouvelle cuisine, the movie establishes its insidious balance of humor and aestheticized gore. That sly confusion between the beautiful and the gruesome extends to the language of the screenplay by Ms. Harron and Guinevere Turner. Dinner specials are described by waiters in the tones of unctuous coroners announcing the results of autopsies. Some of the funniest speeches are Patrick's pompous lectures -- each a prelude to homicide -- on the 80's pop stalwarts Phil Collins, Whitney Houston, and Huey Lewis and the News. “

This movie is a great horror comedy because it does not take itself that seriously. The screenplay is a far cry from the dark novel, with quotable jokes like “I have to go return some videotapes” and ridiculous lines like Bateman’s voiceover upon entry into a restaurant: “I'm on the verge of tears by the time we arrive at Espace since I'm positive we won't have a decent table, but we do, and relief washes over me in an awesome wave.” The violence is kept to a bare minimum, and confined to sterile spaces that highlight the unreality of the situation.

There is an interesting joke of anonymity that comes through many times during the movie: the characters are so self-absorbed that they often cannot tell each other apart. For instance, there is a moment in the beginning of the screenplay where McDermott looks around in a restaurant and finds a handsome young man with slicked-back hair and horn-rimmed glasses. He thinks it’s Reed Robinson, but Price thinks it’s Paul Owen, but in reality, all of these men look exactly alike. The first man that Bateman kills is his doppelganger. The running joke is that he’s constantly confused with others despite his wealth and status. It’s funny and pathetic that Bateman has all of the material possessions that can help him fit into this crowd, yet the harder he tries to conform, the more alienated he becomes. He becomes virtually faceless as he blends in with all of his peers. At the same time, he loses control over the urges that make him so “unique”. In this amoral society, he needs to become amoral in order to conform, and so he drives himself to the extremes of violence.


  1. I liked this movie too. What struck me about it was how little violence was in it compared to the book. The book is filled to the brim with very specific descriptions of violence in almost clinical detail. The movie instead is only somewhat violent with a lot of it happening off-screen, like Paul Allen's murder. Mary Harron takes a subtle and focused approach to the material, making it mostly a critique of Wall Street culture and male vanity. On this level, I really enjoyed it. I did feel that the book was far more ambitious though, attacking consumerism in American society in addition to isolation and alienation from ourselves and each other in the post-modern age (maybe I'm pulling this out of nowhere though, it's been a long time since I read the book). If it were directed by Oliver Stone who was originally in line to direct, I can definitely see it being a completely different movie, far more violent and far more daring, maybe something along the lines of Natural Born Killers in its depiction of violence and probably more truthful to the ambitiousness of the book.

  2. I also really liked this movie. I have not gotten the chance to read the book but from watching the movie it is obvious that it is a critique on elitism, narcissism, and greed, which was prevalent in the Wall Street culture. Along with being violent, I thought it was a pretty funny movie. I especially loved the scene when everyone is comparing their business cards. I didnt even know "bone" was a color. But from watching that scene again I really agree with andrea's last paragraph on anonymity. All of the characters look the same and act the same, they even get their hair cut at the same barber, although Bateman thinks he still has a better haircut. This satire paints a great picture of a society where everyone wants to be the same as everyone else, but also be the best.


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