American Psycho Film Analysis: Mary Harron and Conclusion
Mary Harron was born on January 12, 1953 and began her career in pop culture as a journalist for Legs McNeil’s PUNK magazine, the first woman to interview The Sex Pistols. After her stint with PUNK Magazine, Harron wrote a piece about London undeground for the VILLAGE VOICE. As a staple in pop culture, Harron found herself in the midst of the Studio 54 era which gave rise to her preternatural interest in Warhols underground scene. Back in London, she worked for “The South Bank Show”, coincidentally it was also when she came across a used copy of Valerie Solanas “The Scum Manifesto, jumpstarting her career in film production.”
Mary Harron’s first-hand experiences within New York society provides a greater understanding of the subject matters in her period films; having been in New York during the Studio 54 era, being introduced to Warhol and his underground group, including Valerie Solanas, her experience as a female in the predominently male film business which aided in the productions of “The Notorious Bettie Page”, I Shot Andy Warhol, and Bret Easton Ellis’s “American Psycho.”
Costume Designer Isis Mussenden and Makeup Artists Margot Boccia, Sandra Wheatle, Hair Stylist Lucy Orton, and John Quaglia recreated Power dressing for Patrick Bateman: three piece suits by Valentino Couture and the atypical haircuts of powerful men of the decade. The scene in which Bateman is sitting in a boardroom with his colleages, Bateman narrates, Paul Allen has mistaken me for this dickhead Marcus Halberstram. It seems logical because Marcus also works at Pierce & Pierce and in fact does the same exact thing I do and he also has a penchant for Valentino suits and Oliver Peoples glasses. Marcus and I even go to the same barber, although I have a slightly better haircut.” The designer wardrobe is simply a costume, Bateman and the men in his circle are merely playing the part in order to conform to the normalities of Wall Street.
Director and Co-Writer Mary Harron explained that John Cale was “going for a soulful, even melancholy sound to compliment the soundtracks poppy brightness.” The irony of each scene, however is set by the contradictory tone of the music within it. Bateman’s curt demeanor and unpredictable bouts of violence is emphasized by the dialogue between his Co-Workers and his interaction with Paul Allen. Take, for example a scene in which the camera hones in on the office building of Pierce & Pierce, “Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves is playing on Bateman’s headphones as we walks through the lobby with an expressionless face. One of his Co-workers passes by,” Good Morning. Good Morning, Hamilton. Nice tan.” Bateman removes the headphones, and tells his assistant, Jean, “Late. Aerobics class. Sorry. Any Messages?” “Walking on Sunshine” symbolizes the yuppie in idealistic form. On the surface, Bateman appears to have it all, he is a successful invest banker specializing in mergers and acquisitions, dines in expensive restaurants and engaged to a beautiful woman, however it is the constant competition amongst his peers that leaves him unsatisfied. Following dinner at Texarcona, Paul Allen goes back to Bateman’s apartment when Bateman asks Allen, “Do you like Huey Lewis and the News?” Allen replies, “um, they’re okay.” Bateman tells Allen, “They’re early work was a little too new wave for my taste. But when Sports came out in ‘83, I think they really came into their own, commercially and artistically. The whole album has a clear, crisp sound, and a new sheen of consummate professionalism… that really gives the songs a big boost. He’s been compared to Elvis Costello, but I think Huey has a far more bitter, cynical sense of humor.” Allen interrupts, “Hey, Halberstram, Why are there copies of the Style section all over the place?” “Do you— Do you have a dog ? A little chow or something ?” No, Allen, says Bateman as he puts on a raincoat. Bateman then continues his analysis of Huey Lewis and the News, “In ‘87, Huey released this— Fore, their most accomplished album. Bateman does the moonwalk as he continues telling allen that, “I think their undisputed masterpiece is “Hip To Be Square.” Bateman picks up an axe as he says, The song’s so catchy, most people probably don’t listen to the lyrics. But they should, because it’s not just about… the pleasures of conformity and the importance of trends.” Following his speech, the opening verse of Hip to Be Square starts to play as Bateman bludegeons Paul with an axe:
" I used to be a renegade, I used to fool around But I couldn’t take the punishment, and had to settle down Now I’m playing it real straight, and yes I cut my hair You might think I’m crazy, but I don’t even care Because I can tell what’s going on It’s hip to be a square.
The opening verse of the song, is in fact a direct representation of Patrick Bateman and the grotesque acts he will commit in order to keep up with the pressures and norms within his social circle. On the contrary, it is Cales’s symphonies played during three of Bateman’s monologues that offer a sense of reality to Bateman’s character, it is in these monologues in which Bateman acknowledges that, There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman. Some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me. Only an entity— something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze… and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours… and may be you can even sense our life styles are probably comparable, I simply am not there.
During the Reagan administration, the importance of self preservation, opulence, flagrant disregard for moral values,and the constant rat race among cohorts was personified within yuppie, Patrick Bateman. These archetypical characteristics are evidenced by the dialogue between Patrick Bateman and his “supposed fiancee” Evelyn Williams. When Patrick and Evelyn are in a taxi en route to “espace,” Evelyn begins discussing her plans for a wedding, “thousands of roses and lots of chocolate truffles. Godiva, and oysters in the half-shell,” to which Bateman’s response, thinking, “I’m trying to listen to the new Robert Palmer tape, but Evelyn, keeps buzzing in my ear.” Evelyn continues, “Annie Leibovitz. We’ll get Annie Leibovitz. And we’ll have to get someone to videotape. Patrick, we should do it,” to which Patrick responds, Do what?” Evelyn says, “Get married, have a wedding.” Bateman retorts, ” No, I can’t take the time off work,” to which Evelyn says, Your father practically owns the company. You can do anything you like, silly,” Bateman doesn’t want to talk about it however Evelyn reminds him that, “You hate that job anyway. I don’t see why you just don’t quit.” “Because I want to fit in”, says Bateman. It is Reagan’s ideals that were instilled in Bateman, and perhaps by his upbringing, which lead to his eventual assimilation and immersion within New York high society and Wall Street. In another scene, walking down the darkened street corner, Bateman introduces himself to the man and first, appears sympathetic towards him, “You want some, uh money?” “Some food?” He pleads, “I’m—I’m hungry,” to which Bateman replies, “Yeah. Cold out too, isn’t it?” “If you’re so hungry why dont you get a job?” He then tells Bateman, “I lost my job, Bateman responds, “Why? “You drinking, is that why you lost it?” “Insider trading?” “Just joking.” Listen, what’s your name ?” In a low tone, he replies, “Al.” “Hmm? Speak up. Come on. Al. Get a goddamn job, Al.” “You got a negative attitude. Thats whats stopping you. You gotta get your act together. I’ll help you.” Al joyfully says, “You are so kind, mister. You’re a kind — You’re a kind man. It’s okay. I can tell.” “Please, you gotta tell me what to do, you gotta help me.” “I’m so cold, I’m hungry,” to which Bateman bluntly states, “You know how bad you smell? You reek of shit . Do you know that?” “Al. “I’m sorry, It’s just that— I don’t know, I don’t have anything in common with you. Bateman retrieves a knife from his briefcase to an unassuming Al, who believes Bateman is going to give him money. “Oh. Oh, thank you, mister.” Bateman’s final remark, “You know what a fucking loser you are?” Bateman then stabs Al to death. This scene is indicative of the budget deficit in 1980s, “the blacks and the poor were clearly economically worse off and the living standard for the bottom fifth of the population dropped by eight percent while the top fifths standard of living rose by about sixteen percent.” The abhoration and metaphorical annhilation in extreme form of the lower class was indicated by this interaction between Patrick Bateman and Al.
Throughout history, films have served as a mirror, albeit a surreal and distorted one of history, society and pop culture. Take, for example, Mary Harrons period films such as The Notorious Bettie Page(2005) about sex symbol of the fifties, Bettie Page; I Shot Andy Warhol(1996) based on Writer Valerie Solanas and her attempted murder of Andy Warhol in the 1960s. In harrons film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel American Psycho, Harrons blatant satire illustrates the effects in extreme form of Ronald Reagan’s political philosophy during the 1980s, “greed is good, the beautiful was the expensive,the good was the costly,” which gave rise to predominent subculture of the decade,the yuppie. Though the premise of American Psycho utilizes the same themes as its predeccessors such as George A. Romeros dawn of the dead(1978) or Oliver Stones Wall Street(1987), however it is Harrons exemplary directorial style exhibited through the consistent use of a subject matter dealing with the trials and tribulations of isolation within a subculture,the score by John Cale which further reiterates the films satiric tone, choice of wardrobe and makeup by Costume Designer Isis Mussenden and Makeup Artists Margot Boccia, Sandra Wheatle, Hair Stylist Lucy Orton, and John Quaglia, serving as an external symbol for Patrick Bateman’s presumably clean cut, vacuous image that solidifies her innate ability as an auteur that sets her films apart.
“I’m always myself. But I’m not very good in crowds. I don’t really think of myself. I don’t like to look at myself in the mirror, which is why my eye makeup is always crooked.”—Daphne Guinness (via daphneguinness)