American Psycho (2000): On-point to American Capitalism

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American Psycho is a sharp, on-point social criticism of the capitalism world in 1980s that are still so relevant until now with a phenomenal performance from Christian Bale, even if the self-consciousness neglects the storytelling at some point.
Source: Lionsgate Films

“American Psycho” (2000) have many reasons to be deemed as a cult film. The film,  adapted from an already controversial novel (written by Bret Easton Ellis), contains so many unnerving political and social satire and extreme unethical violence which polarized its audience and critics upon its release–supported, above all, by the character Patrick Bateman that managed to gain the audience’s hearts  to create a legacy of its own. A movie that audiences will either love or hate…but there’s no denying that, in the hand of director Mary Harron, it falls into a filmmaking so skillfully crafted even with its flaws.

“American Psycho” is set in 1987 New York, focusing on a man named Patrick Bateman, a wealthy investment banking executive. While seemingly normal, he hides his alternate psychopathic ego from his co-workers and friends as he escalates deeper into his illogical, gratuitous fantasies. But as Patrick Bateman dive profoundly into his personality, director Harron instead directs the story more into Bateman exploration of himself, becoming a one-man show. The choice is more successful thanks to Christian Bale’s psychotic performance that really defined him as one of the greatest actors working in this century.

The actors and actresses casted in “American Psycho” by no means gave amazing performances. Willem Defoe as Detective Donald Kimball is unnerving every time he appears. Jared Leto as Bateman’s co-worker Paul Allen feels so quirky. Reese Witherspoon, Chloe Sevigny, Cara Seymour, you name it. But all of this is out shadowed by Bale’s phenomenal performance. The way he talks is the person you never want to meet in your life, especially how his facial expression described his lunacy. But you can’t glance your eyes off the screen every time Bale appears, having the charisma not to turn away. He just nails the character so perfect, and successfully portrays the metaphor of the high-class in America, if not the whole world.

Bateman itself is the mirror of capitalist society in the presidency of Ronald Reagan where materialism was regarded as a status, even card name. The scene where Bateman and his co-workers are showing-off their card names are a small, illogical yet perfect example. Added with swift cinematography and a cool slow-mo sound design, the scene just represents how as simple as a card name would indulge the human nature of greed. The card scenes are just one example, and the idealism of capitalism perception is seen throughout the entire film. From the beginning when Bateman explains the massive skincare routine to every reservation scene, it really does show how the moral and ethics are internally dying inside, waiting to manifest into reality soon.

Not just Bateman’s character, but Harron also expresses the society as a whole that undoubtedly would be hard to write in the novel. Take the chainsaw scene for the example. It was masterfully shot with a tense atmosphere yet analyzing deeper into it, it strange that no one reacted to the chainsaw at all. This becomes evident that not only Bateman is a psycho, but the society as well, being too self-conscious and neglecting any social interaction. It’s really harrowing. Added with the violent nature of the film, it could just simply categorized as pornography. However, Harron’s decision on glamorizing Bateman’s lifestyle changed the tone into more of a satirical black comedy rather than a slasher genre. It brings the theme to life so much until some parts of the story are just forsaken for being too overconfident in delivering the message.

Without diminishing the film quality, the satirical are very well thought that every scene in the film gave a representation of what the society had become. Especially the ending, where the criticism takes high with rational thinking, but becomes absurd with the storyline. The messages are flesh out, but the audience will take the hard turn to be difficult to process. The director had the intention of making the ending ambiguous. Even if it’s well-intentioned, it just left the audience puzzled out so much for its self-assertive nature of the film.

In the end, however, it deserved the title of “cult”. American Psycho had created a legacy on polarizing the audience that spans a lot of criticism of analysis, yet also being a cultural phenomenon thanks to Bale performance. A must-watch even with its flaws.


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Film Credits

Source: Lionsgate Films

American Psycho

Nationality: USA

Duration: 100 min.


Mary Harron


Christian Bale
Willem Dafoe
Jared Leto
Josh Lucas
Samantha Mathis
Matt Ross
Bill Sage
Chloë Sevigny
Reese Witherspoon

Written by

Mary Harron
Guinevere Turner


Andrzej Sekula

Edited by

Andrew Marcus

Composed by

John Cale

Synopsis: A wealthy New York investment banking executive hides his alternate psychopathic ego from his co-workers and friends as he escalates deeper into his illogical, gratuitous fantasies.