THE PSYCHO SPEAKS UP
There is no escape: For better or worse, Mary Harron’s satire American Psycho is the most controversial movie of the year – and it hasn’t even been released yet.
“I sort of hoped the misunderstanding would be cleared up by the time the movie came out,” the Welsh-born Christian Bale offers on the phone from his home in Los Angeles, just before flying to New York for the movie’s debut there.
Bale plays the insane Manhattan yuppie protagonist Patrick Bateman in the film, which is set for release Friday.
Bateman embodies all the worst qualities of modern living in the 1980s: He is obsessed with self, looks, status, money and exercising absolute power over male rivals and all women. When he can’t have what he wants, he kills for it.
“I think what Mary has done,” says Bale, “is focus on the best elements of the novel.”
American Psycho was adapted by screenwriter Guinevere Turner from Bret Easton Ellis’s savage, ultra-violent novel. The Toronto-born Harron directed the movie, shooting in her home city last year.
“People will be quite surprised,” says Bale, “if they allow themselves to look at it for what it is. Lots of people are expecting a gruesome bloodfest. But Mary has omitted most of the violence. At the Sundance Festival, some people actually accused us of not being violent enough. It has become a comedy of manners in many ways. This isn’t going to be a Scream movie.”
And it is funny – sometimes hilariously so – even when Bateman is committing a murder. For example, he dispatches a co-worker and ‘friend’ with an axe while playing and explaining the cultural significance of Huey Lewis’s song Hip To Be Square.
“It’s the only murder that’s played entirely for laughs,” says Bale. “After that, they are treated seriously. But there is always something entirely absurd about Bateman. His behaviour is bizarre. In the end, he is reduced to this ball of confusion.”
There is also a secret to the movie. Bateman is our narrator and his information may be flawed. Bale says some journalists have “actually blown the lid off the whole thing.” But he is pleading with critics for restraint before everyone knows too much to enjoy the film on its own terms.
There is also the fuss of the three-way sex scene, which was ordered trimmed in the U.S., but not in Canada, in order to earn a Restricted rating. Bale thinks the Americans are immature. “Can’t we allow books and music and movies to grow up? But they’re constantly having to go back to childishness.”
Bale says the scene in question – the sexual part of a sequence in which he has a romp with two prostitutes while preening and watching himself in a mirror – is tame. “It doesn’t really show anything. The cuts are unnecessary.”
Meanwhile, the original controversy over the making of the film has been somewhat overblown, Bale says, citing the so-called “protests” during theTorontoshoot.
“It was isolated. I personally never witnessed a single thing.”
Instead, he was on a strict regimen of going from the gym – where he spent three hours a day honing the perfect Patrick Bateman physique – to the set.
“The gym work required an insane amount of discipline and time,” Bale admits. “There is no way I could maintain that now. It is a very bizarre form of addiction.”
It is also difficult to imagine Leonardo DiCaprio doing the role. At one point, both Bale and Harron were out of the project in favour of DiCaprio and Oliver Stone – with a hugely inflated budget. DiCaprio lost interest and the original plan – for a modest production – was back on track.
“Obviously, I was frustrated as hell,” says Bale now. “I felt that it was very unfair. But it woke me up in a business sense. And there is no lingering bitterness.”
By Bruce Kirkland.