Patrick Bateman, that happiest of happy campers and a Huey Lewis fan for life, remains every inch a creepy example of toxic masculinity and white privilege at its most… well, psychotic. Why should one ruminate about the malevolent protagonist of American Psycho? Because the film version of it is suddenly available now to stream on Hulu, and if you give it a rewatch, you’ll find that the movie not only holds-up but that the lens of time has made the themes of the film feel more relevant than ever. In fact, American Psycho has retroactively become like some of the darker episodes of Black Mirror. (Think: “USS Callister” or “The National Anthem.”) Or did they, pardon the pun, mirror the movie?
The Christian Bale-starring film, directed by Mary Harron, holds up remarkably well. It’s a decadent period piece awash in ’80s music, ’80s fashion, ’80s greed, ’80s big-screen violence, and ’80s style, all based on a book published in 1991, fueling a film produced in 1999 – after years of delays overs stars and directors and content and arguments about commercial viability – and released in 2000. Story-wise, given what’s happened in the world since it opened, American Psycho is not just as timely as ever, but scarily prescient.
As played by Christian Bale with what we can only call magnetic detachment, Bateman epitomizes white privilege, violent misogyny, extreme narcissism, and pure self-loathing. Bateman is a soulless machine, driven by vanity and a quest for money and the power that comes with it. In his world, the size of his penis doesn’t matter (OK, maybe it does given his ego) because a flashy business card is the new big penis. Harron whips the sequence in which Bateman and his pals pull out their cards, Old West-style, and try to outdo and impress each other, into a sweaty, discomforting few minutes for the characters and the viewer. It’s arguably the best scene in a movie loaded with great scenes.
There’s much more to unpack about American Psycho. So much more. Psychologists and behaviorists have devoted countless reams to papers and hours to lectures on the subject. In an essay of a few hundred words, you can’t begin to scratch the surface. Everybody knows that. But consider: A woman directed this film. Female characters suffer some terrible fates, but we see and even hear, their derision of Bateman (“You actually listen to Whitney Houston?”). He’s literally laughed at. And it’s happenstance, for sure, but ominously prescient (there’s that word again), that Bateman worships Donald Trump. We can’t help but wonder if our now former president is a Bateman fan, though he’s never seemed to care for books or movies.
Anyway, this is all to say that American Psycho is a brutal, tough watch, but ever so worth it as a cautionary tale for the ages.