American Psycho (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Total spoilers. I suppose, although I may not understand the ending well enough to spoil it.

The phenomenally successful investment banker Patrick Bateman is a superficial, bland, soulless product of a consumption-driven society. Although only 26, he's already at the top of his field. He wants to eat in the best restaurants, drink the finest wines, have the best apartment, present the classiest business card, marry the richest heiress, screw the sexiest supermodels, and buy the top of the line of every product. He prides himself on having all the hippest opinions, at least by Wall Street standards. He wants to appear perfect in every way, from his body to his suits to his watches to his skin, and to this end he purchases a closet full of designer clothing, a bathroom full of moisturizers, and enough exercise equipment to train as a body shaper.

There is only one problem.

Patrick Bateman is insane.

His quest for perfection, which is inherently doomed to failure, turns him to rage. When he isn't having superficial conversations with his colleagues, Patrick is killing the homeless. Not to mention streetwalkers, girlfriends, colleagues ... people who rouse his ire or, when he lacks specific targets for his internal wrath, whatever victims he can drum up to calm his blood-lust.

I find American Psycho to be very brilliant in spots and there are sections that made me laugh out loud, although I was ashamed of having laughed at a guy pontificating on the merits of Huey Lewis while committing a brutal axe murder. In the end, however, I found the film deeply unsatisfying. I suppose part of this reaction may just be my natural negative reaction to black comedy in general, but it's not just that. The ending of the film left me totally confused. I'm not opposed to ambiguity, and in fact I find it is often a hallmark of the best art, so I don't really have any problem with the fact that the film never says whether Patrick Bateman's murders are real or just his fantasies. I suppose that he imagines them, and that these fantasies are just the ways he acts out the inner turmoil that he can never expose with his Yacht Club friends. Thus, when a colleague one-ups him with a more stylish business card, he maintains absolute composure, but the jealousy burns so deep inside of him that he just has to have a kill, or at least a fantasy kill. That ambiguity did not bother me, because it was simply ambiguity, not confusion. That's the sort of device that draws us into a story.

What did bother me was the question of whether there was a Patrick Bateman or not. Why do others so often call him by different names? In an office building, a security guard says, "good evening Mr. Smith, don't forget to sign in." When he confesses his crimes to his lawyer, the lawyer responds by calling him "Davis." (In the book people address him by many more names, like "Taylor" and "Donaldson.") Other characters call him "Bateman," but one of his office rivals calls him by another name, confusing him with another fungible social climber. So what is the deal?  I guess I should be able to figure it all out from his opening monologue in which he tells the audience "I'm simply not there," but I'm still not too sure what it all is supposed to mean. We do see him impersonate a colleague at one point, so perhaps part of Bateman's insanity is that he constantly imagines himself switching places with his colleagues. Am I supposed to consider the fact that Bateman not only didn't commit any real murders, but doesn't even exist? That he is merely a convenient device for two hours of rambling? I just don't know. I do get the point: that he is totally indistinguishable from the rest of the products of mass affluent culture, and can't establish a separate identity without his real or imagined murders. I just don't understand how it all works on the level of surface reality, and I do know that literary devices and symbols only function well if they supplement the surface story, not if they supplant it, and in this case the surface story has a very confusing and unsatisfying ending.

Getting this story from a book to a film involved a complex process. Mary Herron, the eventual director, was also the original director, but she left the project when she was forced to take Leo DiCaprio as the star. Oliver Stone then took over the project. It's interesting to speculate what Stone and DiCaprio might have done with this material, but they both lost interest, so Herron came back in, and signed the star she wanted, Christian Bale. That probably worked out well, at least for the casting, because Bale has the correct physical development to play the body-obsessed character, a role which involves plenty of nudity and near nudity. DiCaprio may have done just fine with the dialogue, but he would definitely have needed to add about fifty pounds of muscle to look the part. There seems to be no need for any artistic regrets because Bale seemed to nail the character, and because Herron did a remarkable job in two ways: (1) she and her co-author managed to siphon the worthwhile elements from the rambling book and assemble them into a coherent narrative; (2) she overcame the difficult challenge of picturing the lives of trendy Manhattan high rollers without having the big bucks to photograph their haunts. The investors have no need for regrets either. Oliver Stone may have added lots of bells and whistles, but I don't expect he would have brought it in for seven million dollars, which is what Herron spent. Indeed, I think the film has turned a profit, which it may not have done as a lavish $50 million Oliver Stone production.

Although the film has been both widely praised and widely condemned, it is neither as depraved nor as good as people have portrayed.

  • Is it a disgusting sex-and-gore fest? No. It was a controversial film. The director's cut was originally rated NC-17 by the MPAA, then trimmed to get an R rating. The uncut version is now available on the DVD, along with some deleted scenes that were never in either version. Frankly, it isn't really that explicit, and the sensationalism has a point. Watch the original dirctor's cut on the DVD, and you'll see that it is still more suggestive than explicit.

  • Is it a masterpiece of the first order? No, I don't think so. It soars close to that altitude, but can't sustain it, and it feels empty at the end.

It is, however, a consistently interesting and provocative movie, not your characteristic run of the Hollywood mill.



  • Director/Writer Commentary
  • Cast and Crew Commentary
  • About 40 minutes of on-set interviews and behind-the-scenes footage
  • A few deleted scenes


Christian Bale: clear buns in several scenes, and a brief shot of his crotch.

Cara Seymour and Krista Sutton show breasts and hints of other body parts in a three way sex scene, but the most explicit material is pictured through a home VCR.

Samantha Mathis shows the top of one areola in a deleted scene

Guinevere Turner showed her breasts in another three-way sex scene.



Note: the nudity report refers to the uncut version.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus out of four stars: three and a quarter stars. James Berardinelli 3.5/4, Roger Ebert 3/4, BBC 4/5.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It was budgeted at $7 million for production, and the distribution/advertising costs are estimated around $10 million. Although far from a hit, it was a moderate success, with $15 million in domestic gross (1200 theaters), and another $19 million overseas.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C+, a cult classic which is too sexy and violent and just plain heartlessly cynical to cross over to mainstream audiences.

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