Mary Harron’s ‘American Psycho’ (2000)

06Jul05

American Psycho is an incredibly strange, violent film. I’m not surprised, but I learned that the National Organization of Women spoke out against the book on which the film is based because of the extreme violence to women depicted in the novel. The Los Angeles chapter of NOW denounced it as “a how-to novel on the torture and dismemberment of women.” I’ve not read the novel, but based on the film Bret Easton Ellis’ excess in violence matches the excess of the culture he is critiquing, that of American yuppie culture of the 1980s.

I don’t think that Ellis intends to glorify the violence that his main character inflicts on both men and women, but rather the violence, that could only be perpetrated by a man completely void of conscience and humanity, is the most extreme symptom of the disease of yuppie culture, the egotism, greed and superficiality being milder — in some cases only slightly milder — indications. In fact, it kind of reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s Bodily Harm in a way. Like Atwood’s Rennie, Patrick Bateman has become so consumed by his outer shell that he has forgotten about what lies inside of him. His dismembering and consuming his victims seems like some disturbing, misguided way to reconnect with himself.

But I can understand NOW’s reaction. American Psycho is not a Schindler’s List — the violence is not meant specifically to evoke sympathy for these women but rather it is part of the make-up of a character. I suppose the question becomes where does one draw the line?

With the film version, I believe that director Mary Harron really tried to make the material more palatable to women. While the viewer is allowed into Patrick’s mind, he is not expected to find Patrick sympathetic. Rather, the sympathetic characters of the film are the women: Courtney, Christie, even Evelyn. In watching the deleted scenes, I think that Harron decided not to include one of them because it would have made Evelyn less sympathic when the break-up scene occurred. The women of the film are seen as disposable, but Harron emphasizes that the men are disposable too. Patrick is mistaken not once, but twice for another of his colleagues who probably wears the exact brand of suits, shirts, and shoes as he does.

So what is the significance of the ending? Did Patrick really kill those people or is he just crazy? I think that an argument can be made for both options.

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