Twenty years later, American Psycho hasn’t left the culture, because the culture hasn’t left American Psycho. The only difference is that Bateman seems more electable now than he might have been then. Not that he’d be interested in politics: when he goes off on an enlightened disquisition to his Wall Street buddies on apartheid, the nuclear arms race, the fight against world hunger, equal rights for women and the return of traditional values, Bateman echoes whatever popular sentiments he’s pulled from the ether. It’s no different later when he and a Valium-addled second girlfriend work catchphrases from Saturday Night Live characters like Fernando Lamas and The Church Lady into casual conversation. He’s crudely approximating what a human might say.
As Bateman, Bale exudes just the right kind of anti-charisma. It’s hard to play a character without a soul, so Bale focuses on giving a face to the void within. He disappears into the role in all but the most literal sense, and when his eyes aren’t completely vacant, they’re filled with a panic and fury that Bateman only knows how to extinguish through violence. Bale doesn’t want the audience to pity his Bateman, but as he becomes completely unmoored from reality, his misery comes through as strongly as his sociopathy. Bateman wants so badly to be the prototypical capitalist douchebag, but he’s getting worse and worse at faking the human part.
The final joke of American Psycho is that nobody seems to notice that anything is all that wrong about him. They weren’t really listening anyway.
Mary Harron’s divisive adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel is a shrewd articulation of the source, with a star-making turn from Christian Bale