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Analysing the insanity of Christian Bale's performance in ‘American Psycho'


Once a reasonably simplistic concept defined by a stable job and a nuclear family, the contemporary concept of the American Dream muddles this reverie and suggests such an illusion may no longer exist at all. Disorientated by the advent of consumerism and modern metrosexuality, this blinding pursuit of such a dream is violently smashed to pieces in Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho starring Christian Bale as the titular egotistical, hedonistic madman. 

An obsessive maniac with a passion for personal perfection, Bale plays Patrick Bateman, a wealthy New York City investment banking executive living among the business elite in the towering skyscrapers of the city. With slicked-back hair, a fitted black suit and perfect untainted skin, Bateman’s description fits with that of each and every one of his co-workers who each look, act and strive toward the same eventual financial goal.

Going mad from the intricate game of modern capitalism, Bateman’s insecurities get the better of him, mutating into narcissism as his inner turmoil rears its ugly head as acts of brutal murder. Translated to the audience in a rambling, though coherent, inner monologue, it is never quite clear what Bateman experiences as fantasy and as reality, with his inflated ego and self-evident psychopathic tendencies skewing his perception of life. Just like the confusing enigma of capitalist society that purports further consumption will solve your problems, Bateman’s life is one of illusion where we, nor the character, himself knows truly what is reality and what isn’t. 

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Delivering a theatrical, often overly sincere performance as the psychotic lead character, Christian Bale embodies the mind of an individual on the edge of a total nervous breakdown, unable to properly understand and deconstruct the unnatural order of 21st-century life. Flitting between different identities without his own control, Bale well reflects Bateman’s mental existence lodged between either side of the brain; the personal pleasures of his ID and the social expectations of the ego. 

The greatest illustration of this nuanced performance comes in the iconic scene in which Bateman and his banking colleagues share their business cards at a roundtable meeting. Whipping out his business card like a knife from a sheath before sliding it across the boardroom table, Bale’s character reclines in his chair with smug delight, the victor of the corporate ‘dick-measuring’ contest. In response, his co-worker slides his own card to Bateman stating, “eggshell with Romanlian type” before the titular psycho seethes, “I can’t believe that Bryce prefers Van Patten’s card to mine”. 

With an audible heartbeat and a clenched fist, Bateman simmers with rage as sweat develops on his forehead, bottling the rage he is so close to unfurling, remaining professional in the face of what he considers to be a personal, moral insult. This mental volatility rears its head throughout Mary Harron’s American Psycho, with Christian Bale proving to be the perfect actor to elicit the insanity of Bateman, with the protagonist’s violent hedonism being repressed by Bale’s dull eyes and gripped mouth.

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