Worth A Look: 30.11%
Pretty Bad: 11.52%
Total Crap: 6.69%
12 reviews, 197 user ratings
by John Linton Roberson
THIS IS NOT A HORROR FILM.
The Eighties. God, how I hated living through that decade. Untrammeled greed, minimalism, banal music everywhere you turned, women treated like absolute shit, and snobbery based upon the level of one's material comforts. And absolute blindness to evil. Come to think of it, much of that could still be said, and always could be. But pride in greed, which we still live with, reached a point of true malevolence in that decade in a way so obvious it screamed to be impaled.Bret Easton Ellis often gets a bad rap because he presented the Eighties as it was without casting any moral judgement besides that which was implicit in the description itself. Which made people think he saw nothing wrong with it, which only goes to show how literal-minded and dumb most Americans are.
"Do We Need Reminding Yuppies Are Evil? Yes."
But the best form of satire is, as David Byrne once observed, that which lets the target speak in its own words and hang itself thereby. If your subject is horrible enough, its own rancid viewpoint, presented clearly, should be sufficient. However, most satire--especially nowadays, and indeed for the past ten years--is so obsessed with pushing its moral viewpoint and not having the public mistake the target's viewpoint for the author's that it feels the need to moralize and tell the audience it's bad. But then, everyone wants to be liked. To his credit, Ellis doesn't care.
But look at Ellis' subjects--spoiled cokeheaded SoCal youth, materially obsessed misogynist yuppies, etc. His technique was always letting them describe their worlds, with no obvious input on his part. Readers reacted in disgust, as they were meant to. But the disgust was usually misdirected at Ellis himself, which is the risk one runs when writing hard satire; as though Ellis was somehow describing himself and didn't understand the evil of what he was saying. In retrospect, though, one finds that Ellis is the only writer of the 80s literary brat pack whose work still holds up. Like him or hate him, Ellis captured the loathsome soul--or rather, lack thereof--of a decade where we became hard, cold, hateful, and where every human relationship, in reaction to the admittedly sometimes nauseating warm fuzziness of the nonmaterialistic hippie culture that had made its way into mainstream thought by then, suddenly was entirely defined by economic relationships. No wonder Marxism was so much more in vogue among the young then. (Now they just want to get into an internet startup)
Look around you. Has the greed abated? Has the obsession with stuff changed? Is corporate culture any weaker? Look at your street outside and the number of SUVs owned by those with no need of them in the face of the highest gas prices. Look at the stock feeding frenzy that blew up in everyone's faces, ironically, the very day this film opened. This is the exact right time to be reminded, which this film does brilliantly. It makes one wonder how this decade escaped this sort of evisceration till now.
(SPOILERS APLENTY FOLLOW!!!)
Patrick Bateman is the soul of the 80s. Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner, here, have made one of the best adaptations of a novel I've seen since Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, but has injected the benefit of hindsight, and brought out the feminism of what is, in fact, an anti-male work.
The story--or rather, portrait; like the book it's mostly plotless--concerns the day-to-day life of Patrick Bateman, a Wall Street investment banker who defines himself, and sizes everyone up, by their clothes or material possessions. We begin with a marvelously witty title sequence with what looks like blood dripping past the credits, only to find that it's sauce for several dishes of that great culinary fleecing of yuppie fools, nouvelle cuisine, eaten by Bateman and his cronies while they(smoking in a restaurant), as throughout the movie, try to better one another like spoiled teenage girls.
A colleague of Bateman's, who seems the token lip-service liberal of the bunch, makes a small noise about the problems of the world(which he gets wrong) which Bateman crushes with a litany of the social problems of the 80s. Which reflects the age perfectly. Remember, there was much public discussion of such things as homelessness, poverty, apartheid, sexism, and all the other things Bateman lists--it being so close to the 60s that one had to at least appear socially concerned(no longer the case, you'll notice). Pop songs, politician's speeches, even Reagan mentioned these things. But it was only lip service. Who was fed by Live Aid? What homeless person was housed by Hands Across America? But yuppies felt that, by being aware alone of these things, they remained human. But this appearance of concern was meaningless.
Then we see Bateman in his morning grooming ritual, using every Por Homme emollient, exfoliant, and mask to keep his skin smooth and perfect, explaining in a voice-over every single product he uses, every brand nane he owns, and we find that this is in fact his definition of his personality. We see him on the floor of his sterile white-and-chrome airless and perfect apartment(the production designers are the most brilliant personnel involved; the look is perfectly resonant of the design trends of the 80s, as is the costume design. But much of their work was done for them; the book describes everything specifically down to the weave of Bateman's Cerruti suits)doing a thousand stomach crunches to anal-porn videos and, at one point, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Then he plows into his office, blocking out everyone on the way in(as he blocks out his fiancee Evelyn later when she's discussing marriage) with his Walkman, playing "Walking on Sunshine." He blocks out the world. Wayfarers, Walkmans, cold hard decor--blocking out all human beings and, indeed, the humanity in oneself. If you were around then you remember this. Inhumanity as lifestyle choice.
The first murder he commits is on a helpless homeless man who he chooses to berate and lecture to find a job, and tell how bad he smells and such, prior to stabbing him to death and stomping his dog to death. In this scene we see, better than any other, not just Bateman's evil but the evil inside every yuppie. Didn't you always suspect they wanted to do just this? The cruelty of Bateman in this scene is merely an exaggerated, blatant expression of the odious contempt of all his kind against the victims of society they helped create. (Remember how Trump helped cause much of the homelessness of NYC then) Kick a man till he's down, then blame him for not being able to get up once you've crippled him. That was what the Batemans did to guys like this one, and the image presented in this scene alone is so precisely searing it almost tops all else in the film. Its satire is of a level with Swift's Modest Proposal. And just as grisly.
He screams at anyone who gets in his way like the entire world was populated by his servants. He snottily orders his secretary Jean(played beautifully by Chloe Sevigny) to dress in a more feminine way(it's hard to remember now, but there was a reason for the hysteria about sexual harassment at the end of the 80s--ten years of concentrated condescension will do that). He fucks his mistress for a few seconds and then dresses and leaves, speaking to her no differently than to the prostitutes he picks up and abuses, and sometimes kills. He is the Evil White Male you've heard tell of, the reason for the PC reaction of the early 90s. Suddenly I remembered the reason for the rage that came to a head in the Anita Hill hearings.
He hates women as most of his ilk did in the 80s, laughing--phallic cigars prominently displayed--with his friends that there is "no such thing as a woman with a good personality." To him and his friends, women are, at best, cum-receptacles. In his case, at worst, they're something to kill, to rape, to cut up, even to consume. (Very little of which, BTW, is seen in the film) He is hateful and you despise him from the first moment you see him. Christian Bale's tour-de-force performance is so good you can bet he'll not get a single Oscar for it. He is Bateman through and through, making no concessions to likeability, playing this soulless bastard deliciously to the absolute hilt. Than God Leonardo DiCaprio wasn't cast; then one might unintentionally sympathize with Bateman. Bale gives us a hard, cold, unreadable man with nothing inside him, who is capable of seeing as much significance in Huey Lewis and the News as Griel Marcus might see in Bob Dylan. Soulless music for a soulless man. Bale is absolutely astounding throughout, and I'll be very surprised if he doesn't turn out to be one of the best actors in film very soon. The horrid prep-school sneering voice, the stiff gait, the contemptuous and smug expressions are all dead-on and painfully yuppie. I particularly liked the hilarious scene in which Bateman almost strangles a closeted gay colleague, only to find the guy thinks Bateman's coming on to him. Bateman's face is drenched in homophobic panic and he runs, apparently less worried about killing than that someone might(horrors!) think he's gay.
Harron has done a beautiful job integrating the funniest sections of the book--Bateman's heartfelt reviews of the ouvres of Genesis, Whitney Houston, and most especially the ultra-banal, ultra-yuppie Huey Lewis. (When I read that chapter in the book, I was shocked how many albums that idiot had actually put out and how many songs I'd thought were the same song were in fact different) In the novel they follow the killings, as though he tranquilizes his rages with this banal yuppie-pop. In the film, he speaks them out loud to his victims prior to killing them. (This and "I'm going to return some videotapes" are the signals throughout someone will die) The murder of his rival Paul Allen(who constantly thinks he's another of his interchangeable colleagues, as happens to Bateman throughout; none seem to recognize any difference between one another and it's a good running gag) is the first and best of these, as he reflects on the beauty of "Hip To Be Square" and its personal statement celebrating conformity before chopping off his head. (Reason? Because Allen has a better business card than he. His rage when he sees the card is a masterpiece of petty angered privilege in all its queeny glory; the audience couldn;t stop laughing at this when I saw it) The scene is hilarious, though I could've done without the little jig Bale does before killing Allen. Interestingly, it's quite similar to the notorious "Singin' In the Rain" scene in A Clockwork Orange, both in the juxtaposition of a banal song with a violent act and in the amusing behavior of Bateman(Bale is very funny in this scene) contrasted with the grotesquerie of his target. It's the only time you are glad to see one of his victims die; Allen(Paul Owen in the book) is an even worse dickhead than Bateman.
Harron has done a splendid job of integrating one aspect the book--because it's from Bateman's perspective--lacks; the personalities of the women. From Bateman's mistress to (most particularly) the doomed, sad, and absolutely unromanticized prostitute he first beats and later drops a chainsaw upon from several floors up, we see the humanity in these women(especially contrasted to Bateman's inhumanity) which makes his cold misogyny all the more apparent. Cara Seymour's hooker character particularly stands out. The second time Bateman finds her on the street(in the rain, with her looking cold, miserable, desperate and hungry, not the usual hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Hollywood--most odiously Woody Allen--still shows us), she doesn't want to get in, having been very badly injuried by him the past occasion. He rides alongside, dagling a huge amount of money, whistling at her as to a dog. You see the humiliation in her face as she accepts(which ultimately dooms her) as you can tell she's poor and hungry and has little choice; she's as much victimized societally as the homeless man, and people like Bateman are allowed to feed off all these wretched of New York at will, just like a Victorian Lord exploiting child prostitutes. Cara Seymour deserves a supporting award for this part; she's brilliant. Almost a symbol in a nutshell of everything the Batemans of the world did to the poor, and to women, with no fear of punishment. Because they could.
Much has been made of whether the murders really occur or are merely in Bateman's mind. Toward the end, for instance, Bateman receives a message from an ATM telling him to feed it a cat. Following is a scene where he shoots everyone he comes across on the street, culminating in a shootout with the cops which ends with the cars exploding(and hilariously, his setting off every BMW car alarm in his path as he runs as a diversion), like in a typical Hollywood film, but this is absurd and even Bateman notices it. This may be hallucinatory. But then he goes to Allen's apartment(to his chagrin, better than his own) where the corpses are kept, only to find it spotless, newly painted, and being shown to new tenants.
Some might take it as a clue the murders are all in his mind. But a deeper, more disturbing point may be discerned in the cold, seeming-to-know-something look of the realtor as she ejects him. The murders did occur. The bodies were there. But the importance of that pales beside the prospect of the realtor never being able to rent this prime apartment again because of its recent past. The implication is that the murders are kept quiet and ignored in this case just so as not to ruin the apartment's value. People are more dispensable than money. There's the 80s in a nutshell.
As I mentioned, the production design is flawless, as is the cold cinematography and excellent script by Turner(who is very funny as a coked-out yuppie whom Bateman later kills, a part she demanded to play because she and the character both attended Sarah Lawrence; a joke is made that all SL grads are lesbians, which Turner herself, of course, is) Toward the end we see Reagan speaking, and we notice how similar he and Bateman really are, in looking normal outside and having nothing--NOTHING--underneath.This film is a triumph, and the best released this year. Its guts and humor(this film is laugh-out-loud funny straight through) put all Hollywood product to shame. See it. If you hate yuppies, you'll remember why. If you are one...you may reform.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=1380&reviewer=151
originally posted: 04/16/00 09:21:57