American Psycho

American Psycho

Based on Bret Easton Ellis' notorious 1991 novel, American Psycho follows the life of rich, handsome and empty 27-year-old stockbroker Patrick Bateman (a perfectly cast Christian Bale) as he plays with his fellow Manhattan Yuppies during the greed-drenched late '80s (as opposed to the greed-drenched late '90s?) and then goes on endless murder and mutilation sprees when nobody's looking.

Director Harron and her coscenarist Guinevere Turner have stated on record that their primary task in adapting the novel for the screen was to remove most of the graphic violence (much of it against women) that sparked so much protest from feminist groups back in '91. Turner claimed that she and Harron were plagued by nightmares after reading the book's sickening murder scenes and thus had to take them out. Well, like them or not, those scenes are what made the novel so pointed and memorable in the first place; by reducing them to a few off-camera splashes of blood, the audience is prevented from being truly disturbed by anything the story has to say.

A larger problem, though, in adapting the book comes from gutting its first-person narrative, where Bateman endlessly categorizes everything in his life from skin care products to designer wardrobes to the gory details of his crimes. The book is a hurricane of sex, drugs, anger, violence, paranoia, and name-dropping; reading it is an exhausting experience, but it shows how a serial killer could thrive in an environment of excess and soullessness: Patrick Bateman was both a product of and a reaction to his times. (Remember that the novel was written a mere three years after its timeframe; hardly the "period piece" that Harron has given us.) Without the nonstop narration, as headache-inducing as it might be, the film can only show us Bateman's world – and what a dull world it is, cinematically speaking. There's nothing here to overwhelm the audience.

In the end, both of the common assessments of Ellis' novel are wrong: it's neither misogynist nor feminist. By focusing in on these two non-issues, Harron has given us a film that doesn't have much to say. Which, at a time when young professionals are more in love with money and status than ever before, makes American Psycho reek of missed opportunity.