Greed, superficiality, and selfishness. These are the traits we associate with the 1980s. Whether or not that’s a fair assessment, that’s how the ‘80s are portrayed in American Psycho.
This is not a horror film. It doesn’t aim to frighten or gross out its audiences. Instead, American Psycho is a social satire, a character study, and a dark comedy.
The Quintessential Yuppie
High Fidelity, 2000, because it has characters, like Patrick Bateman, who fancy themselves experts in pop music. Both movies feature the song "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves!
They Live, 1988, another enjoyable "horror" film, this one from director John Carpenter, that's more a satirical social commentary.
Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is the quintessential yuppie. He’s rich, good-looking, has great taste. He’s also shallow, and proud of it. At one point he even says that there is no inside, that only the outside matters.
Bateman is vain. Take his morning grooming routine: first he uses the cold pack in case his eyes are puffy; then he does his stomach crunches — he can do a thousand; then he takes a shower, making sure to use the half-dozen different cleansers and moisturizers; and finally, he applies a cleansing facial mask that he puts on and peels off every morning.
Status is also important to him. After work, he hangs out with the other vice presidents, posturing and playing social chess. For example, deciding where to have dinner involves a competitive ritual where the object is to suggest the most expensive and prestigious place you can, while still being able to get reservations. If your suggestion is too cheap or if you can’t get reservations, you lose face among the other alpha males. When this competitive group decides to compare business cards, you can almost smell the testosterone.
Bateman can play social chess, but he’s not the best at it, and it leaves him nervous and insecure. He discovers that he can parlay that insecurity into power by taking a human life. After just one murder, he’s addicted.
Bale portrays Bateman very well. He captures both the dashing confidence of Bateman’s outer self and the nervous insecurity of the inner man. The wheels of Bateman’s mind always seem to be turning, whether he’s checking himself in the mirror or feeling stress about being found out.
The production design is also very good. Gideon Ponte recreates the look and feel of the 1980s throughout the movie. Food, clothes, furnishings, even early-model cell phones, all have the aura of excess and indulgence about them that is called for in this movie.
What’s best about the movie is the density of its satire. Its wry social commentary permeates every aspect of the filmmaking. Its condemnation of the 80s is well thought out and thematically coherent.
The subject matter may seem unpleasant, but it’s hard not to be interested in Bateman’s character and the world he lives in.