Christian Bale stars as Patrick Bateman in ‘American Psycho, based on one of the most hated books of the last decade. Its gory depictions of women are sure to provoke protests.
Nearly a decade after its depictions of violence against women left both feminists and family-values conservatives raving mad, ‘American Psycho’ is back. For presidential candidates on the lookout for the next moral outrage, the arrival of Bret Easton Ellis’s gore-soaked bestseller to the big screen this month couldn’t be better timed. But Christian Bale, who stars as the’80s Wall Streetserial killer Patrick Bateman, says the films foes–of which there are many–are missing the point. “It’s not a deep, analytical look at a serial killer,” says the Welsh-born 25-year-old. “Bateman’s the product of an era when there was no regard for individuals. This movie takes it to farcical proportions.”
The literary community wasn’t chuckling when ‘American Psycho’ first surfaced in 1991. Simon & Schuster hastily dumped Ellis’s manuscript after gruesome details such as Bateman’s penchant for eating life rats were leaked to the press. But another publisher, Knopf, picked up the book. Then, when the National Organization for Women threatened to boycott bookstores that carried the novel, and critics universally branded Ellis as depraved and irresponsible, the extended publicity drove the book onto the best-seller list.
Bale hopes that his performance in the Lions Gate film will defuse protests this time. “Seeing the story on-screen helps you see the humour properly,” he says. “Maybe that’s because the director, Mary Harron, is a woman.”
Good luck. Feminist activists argue that Harron isn’t redeeming a misunderstood novel, but, rather, betraying her sex. “I think they were hoping they would get a pass from the feminist community if they had a woman do the film,” says Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “There are no redeeming qualities to a misogynist product like this. You never know the impact of a film like this could have. It could stimulate similar behaviour with real women victims.”
Bateman isn’t sexist, says Lions Gate co-president Mark Urman: He’s an “equal opportunity killer,” who wields his axe and electric chain saw on 18 men and women, including Wall Street yuppies, starving prostitutes, helpless old ladies, and naive debutantes. “He’s repulsive, but that doesn’t mean ‘American Psycho’ is a celebration of misogyny or violence,” says Bale. “Bateman is such a dork that I can’t imagine that anyone would want to copycat him. The real message of the movie is that it’s men who stink, not women.”
Whether ‘American Psycho’ is merely a disturbing sadism romp or a surreal critique of Ronald Reagan’sAmerica, the movie is sure to provoke lusty memories of bad pop music, platinum credit cards, and self-indulgent, coke-filled nights. “It shows how the practitioners of that time had no regard for humanity,” Bale says. “The 1980s were a celebration of pure profit and capitalism without any regard to spiritualism whatsoever. And a lot of the people think we’re going back to that now.” That’s something that the films critics and defenders can get really scared about.
By Matthew Cowen.