American Psycho (2000), a perversely comic horror film based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis, introduced us to homicidal investment banker Patrick Bateman, played by Christian Bale. The absurdly irrelevant concerns of the powerfully rich form both the backdrop to and motivation for Bateman’s psychopathy and murderous frenzies.
In an infamous scene, Bateman invites his rival Paul Allen back to his flat. Allen has clearly had too much to drink. He is sprawled on the couch, his voice slurs. He is indifferent to the music of Huey Lewis and the News, unlike Bateman, who proceeds to lecture him.
‘Their early work was a little too new-wave for my taste,’ Bateman states as he paces across the room, his steps measured and calculated. A geometry of corporate pinstripes, he pauses, legs reorganising under sloping shoulders, hands gesticulating at mid-body height. His body language seeks to inform, oddly persistently.
A quick turn afoot and he dashes out of the room. It’s a room excessively carpeted with newspapers, and eerily lacking any noteworthy characteristics bar extreme wealth. Bateman continues to articulate, explain, propose, extrapolate the band’s brilliance as the camera follows him into the bathroom and he dons a raincoat in front of the mirror. He pops a pill and for a moment he is still. Body poised, his eyes bore back at him; he is focused, not presenting, and we wonder what he is planning.
And he’s back! He reverses into the living room, a jolting switch back to his earlier emphatic state as one arm swings upward to initiate a loose backwards moonwalk, discombobulatingly jolly. The other arm holds then places down an axe (an axe?). ‘Is that a raincoat?’ a blithe, scornful Allen asks. ‘Yes it is!’ Bateman’s face distorts into a painfully keen expression.
Bateman eagerly glides back to the shelving unit to press play. You can almost hear the ‘ping!’ as his hand circles round and reverbs as it hits its final pointing position, the deciding spin on Wheel of Fortune. We cut to a longer shot and Bateman breaks into dance as he praises what is, in his opinion, the band’s greatest hit, ‘Hip to Be Square’. It’s both a thoroughly weird and highly infectious moment, Bateman squeezing out every drop of insistent normality from this culturally prevalent dance move, through each hip slice, elbow jab and ass shake. Looping back round behind Allen, he is poised on the brink of something, some diabolical act (or possibly another shimmy).
Snap. An irredeemable swing and the axe sinks into Allen. Bateman’s head flicks up, carnivorous. The mood has broken, and an animal now inhabits the screen, its adrenaline-strained limbs result driven and zealous as it hacks away and screams: ‘Try getting a reservation at Dorsia now, you fffucking stupid bastaard!’
Hair undone but gaze clear, Bateman’s breath heaves as he contemplates his work. Purged and seemingly momentarily unburdened, he calmly removes his raincoat and sits down. His suit remains immaculate. He lights a cigar, crosses his legs and leans back in the chair, a position he might just as comfortably assume at his club, a hunk of meat in the foreground. ‘Hip to Be Square’ continues on, insistently. ●