“A horrifying and comedically gory deconstruction of toxic masculinity.”
2020 marks the 20th anniversary of Mary Harron’s American Psycho. Since its $34 million theatrical release, the film has gained a serious social media cult following full of Patrick Bateman profile pictures and shared images. However, this film has more to offer than really good memes. In American Psycho, writers Harron and Guinevere Turner take a story about a corporate sadist and turn it into a horrifying and comedically gory deconstruction of toxic masculinity.
American Psycho is the story of Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale). Bateman is a New York Wall Street banker in every physical form of the word, but behind it all he hides a fiendish secret life. The film resides in and is narrated through the mind of the main character, and with that the audience gains insight on his corporate world, his public façade and his nightly murder escapades. Having the story narrated through Bateman’s mind is one of the cleverest and most telling points of the film. In Patrick’s mind, the audience finds out that he not only has the incapability of any human emotion but he also has an innate need to compete with colleagues in any way he can find, and he brutally criticizes, mimics and threatens every woman he meets.
Harron and Turner take the concept of toxic masculinity and satirize it so that it is thoughtfully digestible. First, they deal with the primal ‘big d*’ contest amongst men. The human male is no longer beating their chest and seeing who can grunt the loudest or comparing who can catch the largest game, they’re now in thousand-dollar suits, comparing business cards and dinner reservations. Just like having the smallest knob of the group, having the most incompetent business card is detrimental to the male ego.
Male fragility in competition is just the tip of the iceberg for Harron and Turner’s venture into the toxicity of men’s machismo nature. The film surrounds Patrick with women – a class of humans he deems beneath him. From the very beginning, Patrick mentally insults and threatens a female bartender who tells him he needs to pay cash. He then goes off to verbally assault and belittle his assistant Jean (Chloe Sevigny), for her clothing, and explicates how much he doesn’t care about his girlfriend Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon.) He sleeps with his coworker’s fiancé because he can, and he murders multiple sex workers throughout the span of the film. He and his ‘friends’ spend most of their time mansplaining the vapidity of women. With every moment Patrick interacts with a new woman, the audience is able to draw a conclusion about his general attitude towards women and how it is a direct effect of toxic masculinity embedded deep into the foundation of society.
Without Bale’s contained and magnetic performance, the vision of the American Psycho could not have been brought to life. It is his loss of grip when he says “try getting a reservation at Dorsia now” that initiated a slew of hilarious memes, solidifying the pop culture importance of that specific scene forever. The logistical dialogue and emotions are brought to life and made more menacing with Bale’s almost unnatural porcelain looks. His beauty is polluted by how brilliantly evil the character is written, reinforcing the fear in the ‘Average Joe.’ Like Ted Bundy himself, Patrick is widely admired and undoubtedly accepted. He’s ‘too attractive’ to be anything other than a worker in mergers and acquisitions, but his sinister nature is displayed to eliminate those safe feelings we try to associate with white-cis men.
The overall direction of the film creates an experience every time you watch it. The screenplay exudes a sense of hilarity at the insanity of it all which only makes it that much more enjoyable. Harron and Turner created more than just an American horror story, they created an anecdote for the male enigma. They crafted society’s perfect man, from career down to his pore-less face and perfectly coiffed hair, and said that there is a menace residing in the perfect façade. It’s truly a brilliant film that rightfully will continue to gain new generations of fans and remain the topic of conversations for the unforeseeable future.
Dir: Mary Harron
Prod: Lauren McLaughlin, Christian Halsey Solomon, Chris Hanley, Edward R. Pressman, Joseph Drake, Michael Paseornek, Jeff Sackman
Cast: Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, Josh Lucas, Samantha Mathis, Matt Ross, Bill Sage, Chloe Sevigny, Cara Seymour, Justin Theroux, Reese Witherspoon, Guinevere Turner, and more
Release Date: April 14, 2000
Available On: Netflix