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From Under A Rock: American Psycho

October 17, 2015 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
7.6
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From Under A Rock: American Psycho  

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There’s a first time for everything in a person’s life: your first time murdering a coworker. Your second kill, your torturing of prostitutes, and then lots more killing. Eventually, maybe you drop a chainsaw down a stairwell onto some screaming prostitute. Maybe you don’t. I don’t know.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show (determined at the discretion of my writing partner, Aaron Hubbard and I in alternation). This column is a companion piece to my podcast of the same premise, which you can check out here.

Last week Michael put Aaron through the woodchipper commonly referred to as Fargo. This week Aaron takes Michael out from under the proverbial rock and puts him under the proverbial chainsaw as we watch and review American Psycho.

American Psycho

Aaron Hubbard: This is the first time where I’ve picked a movie that’s also new for me; I watched American Psycho minutes after finishing last week’s pick Fargo. It’s one of those movies that left me with a feeling of “What the hell did I just watch?” So after researching the film a bit, I wanted to discuss the movie with Michael and get it off both of our “to watch” lists while it was still fresh in my memory.

Michael Ornelas: “Ridiculous” was the word that popped into my head when the movie finished. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I didn’t dislike the experience, but I think it’s far from an all-time great movie. Bateman was far from a believable character, and his portrayal by Bale was equally as unbelievable…but maybe that was the point? It’s weird that I’m giving this movie that benefit of the doubt, but it felt like there was something else going on that I couldn’t put my finger on, and I’m guessing you know exactly what that is.

Aaron: Well, there are several things. I think the most obvious is that, as the movie goes on, we start getting clues that all of the murder is just in Bateman’s head. Nobody notices the insane things he says. And then there’s the extended shot near the end of the film where he kills about a dozen people that is obviously not possible. So, I don’t think we are supposed to believe that everything we see is real because it isn’t real. It’s in Bateman’s mind; that’s his psychosis. So for me, the question becomes; why the hell does he think the way he does, and what is the movie trying to say?

Michael: That’s the thing: while it was all done intentionally, I don’t know how much I cared because the presentation was so over the top. A quick Google search shows me that Bale’s performance won a couple minor awards, and I know you seem to have been a fan of it, but it was jarring for me. He was so blunt in ways that went unnoticed, but not necessarily because it was in his head. At points he was being talked over, others he was saying things in ways that may be interpreted in less hostile ways. To me, it just made everyone around him look like an idiot. Plus, the dry cleaning lady does react when he says he wants to “play in her blood” (he’s quite the charmer).

Aaron: I think that’s one of the reasons I enjoyed the performance; he is so blunt and forward about what he is feeling, but he fails to make any sense. But let’s explain what the film is actually about; conformity and the ruthless tactics of the 1980’s big business and politics. Because, odd as it may seem, that’s what the movie is actually talking about. It’s set in the 1980’s and gives us a look at how the rich, elite people care only for themselves and not at all for the people beneath them. They were every bit as ruthless in their business tactics as Bateman is as a killer. The reason it’s called American Psycho is because it’s a condemnation of America during its time period. Everything from President Reagan to the vapid pop music of the time is criticized as being impotent and oblivious to the real problems of the world. Which, I think, is hard to see if you either didn’t grow up in the 1980’s, or aren’t familiar with how the everyday American felt at the time.

Michael: That, and I usually need others to do the deeper thinking for me. My first viewing of most movies is usually very surface-level (although for some reason I understood all of Inception upon my first watch).

Labception

Aaron: It’s understandable; and I mean, this is a result of me doing research on things, so don’t feel bad. That’s just kind of an impulse I have these days whenever a film strikes me as “good, but confusing”. The other major issue the film addresses is conformity. Patrick is obsessed with the illusion of blending in and being like everyone else. That’s why he has a girlfriend that he hates, that’s why he talks about social issues that he doesn’t care about, and why he listens to music that everyone listens to. He can talk at length about these subjects but none of them matter to him. All that matters is that he fits in with everybody else. Which of course, is impossible, since he’s psychotic and doesn’t think like anyone else. Do you remember the scene with the business cards that all look exactly the same, and then the gay man in the group goes and gets a card that’s different, and this drives Patrick to murder him?

Michael: Hard to forget my favorite scene (Not the murdering, but the business card comparison). It felt so out of place, yet seemed like it was symbolic of what the movie was about. I didn’t really know what to make of it, but it stuck with me. It’s indicative to the depth of the movie, because I knew there was more to it, even if I wasn’t exactly piecing it all together. What I do want to talk about though is what is clearly there: the violence (and by “there” I just mean “on-screen”). The movie was very bloody, but not very slashy. The effects were mostly just blood-covered “after” shots. I don’t want to say it disappointed me, but I was hoping for something more. I’ve been watching a different horror movie every day this month because it’s October, so why not…and I’ve seen some very impressive gore effects in movies much older and with much smaller budgets than this. That said, the imagery and the set-ups to the violence were very creative in American Psycho.

Aaron: I think that’s an important clue; the most disturbing scene for me is the scene where the prostitute runs away and you start seeing this enormous body count of people he’s killed. But, at the end of the film, we get a look at his journals where he has just covered everything in violent drawings. See, my guess is that drawing these scenes is all Bateman actually does. But in his head, he’s actually done them. The fact that we don’t see so many of the murders, to me, is a clue that they didn’t actually happen.

Michael: ….I’m giving you a slow clap right now. I’m impressed, and now I feel stupid for not considering that option considering that I constantly spout the horror rule that if you don’t see the body AND the murder, there’s reason for doubt.

Aaron: One last thing that I think is interesting; the writer of the novel that the movie was based on was a closeted homosexual who hated the fact that he was gay. He never fit in, he felt like the fact that he was repulsed by women made him abnormal and strange. And he’s always felt that if people knew he was gay, they would read his novel a little differently. And it did make me notice a few things. Bateman watches a lot of porn and has a lot of sex… with two women. But even when they are having sex, he is disinterested in anything except showing off his muscles to himself in the mirror. It is not uncommon for repressed homosexuals to show an interest in homosexuality of the other gender; they fear being sexually aroused by someone of their own gender because they have to face reality. Bateman also is clearly misogynist and has violent tendencies towards women, but rarely towards men. And when confronted with a proposal from a gay man, he freezes and fails to kill him. So, combined with his obsession with fitting in: could the film simply be an exploration of what it’s like to be “outside the norm” and have nobody around you understand you? And believing that nobody possibly could? That’s what I got out of it.

Michael: We get it, Aaron: you’re smarter than me. Man, if people don’t like our reviews, at least they learn something. And if not, at least I learn something. But those are all excellent observations, and really puts a new lens on this movie for me. You’ve actually talked my rating for this movie up quite a bit. I’m now interested in watching this again some day, when my initial reaction was “Okay, I’ve seen it once. I’m glad I did, but that’s enough.” But it’s still all very subjective in that what’s presented on screen is one thing, and what people interpret from it isn’t necessarily the intent. I think Prometheus is a genius film and a lot of people I know despise that movie. But I read some articles after seeing it that pointed out some things that to me are now clear as day when I watch the film…but was it all intentional? I feel like that matters when judging the quality of the movie, and I’m not entirely sure a lot of what you suggested is contained in this movie was supposed to be there.

…but I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt.

B-

Aaron: That’s the cool thing about art; it often transcends the intent of the creator. Sometimes the creator’s life informs the art even without their consent. And sometimes the viewer brings something new to it that nobody else would have seen. Sometimes art is just there to make us feel something. And while I don’t think American Psycho is truly great film, I think it is a good film that means a lot to different people.

B+

What interpretation of American Psycho rings true for you?

Next week:

Michael: Finally! I have been waiting to make this pick since we started, but it made sense to postpone it until the month of Halloween where horror gets to run rampant…just like the infected in this Danny Boyle masterpiece.

28DL

Aaron: I don’t know a whole lot about this movie except its impressive pedigree. Boyle directed Slumdog Millionaire which I loved. The screenplay is by Alex Garland, who also wrote the screenplay for Dredd and for Ex Machina, which he also directed. So that’s a pretty good track record. And hey, the Ninth Doctor is in this movie, so that’s a plus in my book.

Michael: Well that last thing just blew my mind, but yeah. He’s in the movie around the midpoint going into the third act. Anyways, this is one of my ten favorite movies of all time. There are a couple I have higher on my list that you’ll get to see in this column in the months to come, but this is the one I haven’t seen in the longest. I hope you love it as much as I do.

…or my heart will break.

What’s your favorite movie to watch around Halloween? Let us know below!

On this week’s edition of the “From Under A Rock” podcast, Steven selected Signs and Michael expected to hate it. He didn’t!

Giveaway!

E-mail the podcast (listed below) a discussion question about our next movie pick – The Babadook – and be entered into a drawing to win a copy of Alien on Blu-ray!

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And if you want to read Aaron’s thoughts on movies, professional wrestling and comic books, check out The Shelf is Half Full.

7.6
The final score: review Good
The 411
American Psycho is part slasher film, part black comedy, part psychological thriller. The film sees us get into the head of Patrick Bateman, a man with murderous tendencies and an obsession with fitting into the norm. As the film unravels, we start to see that perhaps Patrick's reality is not in line with the real world, and we are left trying to figure out what exactly is the cause of his psychosis. The film has multiple interpretations and means many different things to a wide variety of people. Despite this, Michael and Aaron feel that the film falls a bit short of true greatness. But it is certainly a catalyst for interesting conversation.
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