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American Psycho relives 80s excess

Drop any reservations you might have about American Psycho. Pitch 'em all out the window right now - the gory details, the exploitative sexism, the 80's, Bret Easton Ellis -there aren't any excuses left, huh? Now, relax and put down the picket signs.
All the controversy stirred up by Ellis's novel scared me away from reading it. Whether it turned out to be misogynistic or disgusting, or both, I didn't really care, and I definitely didn't want to stay awake nights hallucinating serial killers in the closet to find out. But Mary Harron's (I Shot Andy Warhol) film adaptation will probably only offend WASPy Wall Street guys, people with no sense of humor, and maybe Tipper Gore and company. If that doesn't peak your curiosity, well, I'm at a loss.

The story's told from the twisted point of view of a handsome, utterly superficial, wealthy young broker called Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) who's like Jeffrey Dahmer's high society doppelganger. Bateman's a shell of a man- literally. He's vacant, vacuous, amoral, devoid of human feelings-he'll tell you so himself. On the outside, though, he's the poster boy for good old, ideal U.S.A. manhood: rich, handsome, fit, well dressed, impeccably groomed, self-assured, and he can get reservations at lots of nice restaurants. He's got a pretty, wealthy, extremely clueless girlfriend (Reese Witherspoon), a strung out, Valium-addled mistress (Samantha Mathis), and an adoring, sweet-natured secretary (Chloe Sevigny), and of course he has enough left over for the prostitutes. But Bateman differs from the Armani-clad herd in only one respect - he kills people, violently and, seemingly, joyously.

Bateman's victims are mostly women (which is why the book elicited so much negative publicity from justifiably wary groups like NOW), but seen through Harron's socially perceptive, feminist-tinged lens, American Psycho turns out to be an utterly original satire about the damage that a materialistic, soulless society (where people value a $500 haircut over an intelligent opinion) can inflict on individuals. Harron subtly depicts Bateman as a victim of his surroundings, and that's why you're able to laugh at it all. When he's preparing for a murder, the guy puts on Huey Lewis or Whitney Houston and recites the ridiculous, banal 80's lyrics like they're written by Leonard Cohen or god or something.

But the most frightening thing about American Psycho - the thing that leaves that bitter taste in your mouth despite all the laughter - is that no one cares whether Bateman actually wields the hatchet or not. His colleagues refuse to see past his tan, well-scrubbed exterior. Without getting preachy, Harron's film puts a crafty, stimulating magnifying glass up to a society (then AND now) bloated by wealth and teetering on its illusions.


American Psycho
rated R
1 hour 44 minutes

Christian Bale
Chloe Sevigny
Willem Dafoe
Jared Leto
Guinevere Turner
Reese Witherspoon
Samantha Mathis