“American Psycho” (2000) one of the films played by Mary Harron
American Psycho, Mary Harron’s film, on the surface appears to be about a psychopath. In fact, this film actually shows pain and madness on a wide scale: society in a culture of capitalism.
WHY do humans have two ears and one mouth? Aesthetically, two mouths seem to make our faces unsightly. Or, it’s just a feeling because we’re used to looking at faces with one mouth. Functionally, it’s hard for us to imagine we have a pair of mouths. Imagine, we might argue with ourselves. The right mouth says “A” while the left mouth says “B”.
There are explanations that are quite striking or even philosophical. He said, God created humans with two ears and one mouth so that we would listen more than talk.
The problem is, most people prefer to talk than listen. Just look at the debate shows on television. The speakers cut each other off. Not yet finished the interlocutor finished the sentence, they have filed a rebuttal. Sometimes it feels strange, how the mouth can respond so quickly, even before the ears and brain have time to really digest other people’s words. I don’t know if this is because of a thin brain or because of the desire to argue and confuse the other person’s argument.
In fact, hearing is the earliest language skill known (without even having to learn) humans before speaking, reading, and writing. But, after going beyond the listening skill phase, humans uniquely have difficulty hearing what other people are saying. Therefore, humans with the patience to listen to and listen to others are really rare.
Not a bit of noise, fights, and even wars occur because humans prefer to talk rather than listen. We always lack time to first listen to other people’s words or read different opinions but have ample time to speak and comment. The crisis of modern human communication actually starts here: our inability to hear other people and especially our own conscience.
That’s what Mary Harron describes in American Psycho. Everyone around Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) doesn’t believe and doesn’t even listen to what Bateman is saying. They, his co-workers to his lawyers, even laughed at what he said. Everyone was engrossed in their own thoughts and words. Even though his fiancé, Evelyn Williams (Reese Whiterspoon), is preoccupied with his own words, he hears not a word of Bateman’s thoughts.
An exception might be given to Bateman’s secretary, Jean (Chloe Sevigny), who at the end of the film learns of Bateman’s mental disorder. In the beginning Jean was also unable to hear Bateman due to technical interruptions in communication between the two of them.
American Psycho was first screened at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2000 and then in theaters on April 14, 2000. The film’s story is based on Bret Easton Ellis’s novel of the same name (1991).
The initial scenario was actually done by Ellis, the author of the novel. However, Harron assessed that Ellis’s version of the scenario did not match the vision of the film. So, Harron then wrote his own screenplay with Guinevere Turner who also played a role in this film.
The film’s producers originally replaced Harron and Bale with Oliver Stone and Leonardo diCaprio. However, the two last names refused to get involved (diCaprio prefers to play in The Beach which was produced simultaneously). Harron insisted on casting Bale to play Bateman because, among other things, he thought diCaprio’s fame could distract audiences from the version of the Bateman character Harron wanted.
In general, this film turned out to reap positive criticism. This is thanks to Harron’s screenplay and Bale’s stunning performance.
This film made Bale’s name as an actor exploring psychological roles. We know that Bale was then able to play a variety of unique characters equally well, starting from a serial killer in this film, a former drug addict boxer in The Fighter (2010), a crazy gambler in American Hustle (2013), a maniac politician in Vice (2018), to the superhero who suffered in The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012).
American Psycho takes place in the late 1980s, the height of the heyday of Wall Street’s currency and stock trading centres. Here, we can see the interaction of the text in his novels and films with other creative works. For example, the character of Bateman that Ellis created reminds us of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) in the Oliver Stone film Wall Street (1987). Gekko is famous for saying “greed is good”, which reflects the “ideology” of Wall Street. Multiple personalities, violence, and unusual sexual behavior in his novels and films are inspired by late 19th and early 20th century gothic novels, such as The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde, 1890), The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson, 1886), and 120 Days of Sodom (Marquis de Sade, 1904).
Bateman and his circle of friends are investment bankers; white collar workers; and upper-middle class society. They judge themselves and others on the basis of ownership of things and by extension the image of those things—brands. Their social status was determined by apartments in certain areas, certain brands of clothing, certain restaurants (even Bateman always failed to book a place in them), and even by the design and quality of the paper of their business cards.
They are shallow but not stupid. Bateman, for example, is not ignorant of current social issues. He speaks fluently about gender equality, poverty, and environmental damage. But all that stopped at the lips. He continues to abuse women, both verbally and especially in sexual relations. In one scene, Bateman, appearing to want to give back to a homeless person, mocks the homeless person as lazy, smelly, and disgusting—and ultimately kills the homeless person and his dog.
This film is full of irony, which is presented through metaphors and allegories. Bateman is a metrosexual man who worships body grooming and fitness. She takes care of her skin with a variety of men’s cosmetics. He sports spartan. Her face and skin are smooth and shiny. Her body is athletic like an Olympic-class athlete. But, at the same time, he harbored madness: perverted sexual desires and urges to maim and kill.
Throughout the film, we are presented with a picture of Bateman’s apartment which is neat and sterile. Harron wanted to show the character of a man who wants to control everything except his thoughts and moral judgments. The last two actually show chaos and dirtiness.
American Psycho peels off the outer layers of the life of a young, rich, handsome, and well-educated executive who looks brilliant. He then uncovers its inner layers, which turn out to contain savagery, moral depravity, and uncivility.
Bateman is not unaware of another dark side to himself. In the mirror, for example, Bateman says, “Even though you can hide my cold stare, and when you shake my hand you can feel my grip, and you might think our lifestyles are similar, the truth is I don’t exist.” Gradually, when that other side grew out of control, he realized that the only way was to ask others for help and even involve the law to imprison him.
One fateful night, after Bateman killed an elderly woman near a cash machine, exchanged gunfire with three police officers, and killed several office building workers, he called his attorney from a coworker’s office and told him of a series of his crimes. However, the next day when he met his lawyer face to face, the lawyer thought what he was telling was just a joke. At the same time, the apartment where he kept several of his murder victims had suddenly been cleaned, freshly painted, and about to be rented out.
The ending of the film is confusing. Harron seems to want to destroy the audience’s belief in Bateman’s story, which has been built very convincingly throughout the film. Bateman seems to want to be presented as a narrator who cannot be trusted.
However, Harron seems to have used such an ending to show that this is not just a Bateman battle. This is also the battle of society who ignores the hedonistic life. When the people around Bateman cannot hear each other’s words, they are actually raising monsters in society. And the monsters are very likely not just Bateman. There could be many other “bateman” among them, who need help but are never heard of.
In a capitalistic society, life tends to be individualistic. We know that the way a group of people lives can damage the social order: oppress the weak, destroy the economy, mess up the law, and destroy the environment. We know the monsters live among us but don’t care. Even though these monsters look dapper, seem to be in control, and appear to be caring people, we actually know they are the “killers” of life. But, again, we’re doing nothing to help them—prevent them. We can only say, it’s their business. Or, they still have money and power, it’s up to them.
So, the word American in the film’s title does not refer only to a Bateman. It symbolizes madness and pain on a wider scale: society in a capitalistic culture. We know, the United States represents that life. The madness and pain have long since spread to the people of other lands.