Monthly Archives: February 2013

“There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman” – Self loathing and psychopathy in ‘American Psycho’

Early on in Mary Haron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ controversial, blood drenched satire of American Psycho, we are informed in voiceover by the eponymous psycho, Patrick Bateman (played to perfection by Christian Bale), that “there is an idea of Patrick Bateman,” and he continues, saying that he simply “is not there,” and that is, in a way, very true. A man defined by his excess and designer suits, Bateman lives the high-life, and has the ego to reflect it.

And that’s why, whenever Bateman’s ego is bashed or deflated, he comes crashing back to reality in catastrophic fashion. We see in one of the first scenes that the only reason he has his job is because “he wants to fit in.” But he says it with such disdain, that it feels as if it’s not at all genuine, the he loathes the job, his coworkers, and even perhaps himself. It is this self loathing, whether based around something that he himself does (for instance, in the novel, he breaks down crying because he feels like he isn’t correctly cooking the bodies of two women he’s recently murdered), or something that someone else says or does (when Paul Allen mistakes Bateman for someone else over dinner, and then goes on to call Bateman a “loser” and a “dork”, Bateman kills him with an axe after the meal).

For the duration of this piece, we will assume that the murders in American Psycho did happen, rather than being figments of Patrick’s imagination, rather, that they were acts of revenge, while looking at simple instances of self loathing (i.e. the loathing he holds for himself, his lifestyle and therefore what is expected of him), and how they begin to culminate in his murderous fury, which begins to eclipse the motive, and becoming nothing more than unbridled bloodlust.

Self loathing is linked to his psychotic tendencies from almost the first scene of the film. When Bateman goes clubbing with his friends, and the item he uses to try and pay for drinks is described as being “no good here”, then we cut to a reflection of Bateman, who then says “you’re a fucking ugly bitch. I wanna murder you, and then play around with your blood.” But he does not kill this woman, perhaps because they are in the public eye, and, as we are assuming that these murders did happen, that he did not want to be caught.

Reservations and restaurants

Early on in the film, when Patrick goes out on a date with Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon), he says that he is “on the verge of tears, because I’m sure we won’t have a good table.” This is a very earlier manifestation of Bateman’s loathing of the expectations of his lifestyle, the good tables at the fancy restaurants and so on, and that a failure to conform to this brings itself on in Patrick with a feeling as if he will cry. And of course, there is the infamous Dorsia, and when Bateman tries to make a reservation there, he is simply laughed at over the phone.

But what’s most interesting about this self loathing, about the kind that Bateman seems to bring almost entirely on himself, is that they don’t lead to his revenge killings because indeed, there is really no one for him to exact revenge upon. Instead, when other people belittle him or make him insecure, his “mask of sanity” begins to slip.

The business card scene

Ah, the business card scene. Iconic, hilarious, and parodied to death, it is here that we first see the real relationship that Bateman has with his co-workers. We see that they mistake one for another easily, because of their almost clone-like similarity in appearance. But even when admitting to the physical similarity between himself and another co-worker, Bateman, being the egotist that he is, needs to one-up this co-worker, saying “we go to the same barber. But I have a slightly better haircut.”

What the business card scene does, is illuminate Bateman’s insecurity around his co-workers when they are shown as being, even in the most trivial ways, superior to him (in utter horror, Bateman comments on Paul Allen’s business card, “oh my God. It even has a watermark.”)

And after being subjected to such abject humiliation, once again by Paul, who leaves the office saying that he has a reservation at, that’s right, Dorsia, Bateman is shown, that night, stabbing a homeless man to death. Here we see the loathing of Patrick Bateman manifesting itself in the form of his first killing. And of course, he only gets worse from here, as he then goes on to kill one of his co-workers…

“You like Huey Lewis and the News?”

Bateman, still being mistaken by Paul for another co-worker, is going out to dinner with Paul. The first thing that Paul does when Patrick arrives is slate his choice of restaurant, saying that they should have gone to Dorsia, since Paul could have gotten a reservation there. This is the beginning of Bateman’s self-loathing for the evening, which reveals itself as an insult to the waiter, saying he shouldn’t read the specials if he wants to “keep his spleen.”

And then Paul goes on to belittle Bateman as an individual (all the while not knowing that he is in fact talking to Bateman), calling him a “loser” and a “dork”. From here, we cut to Patrick’s apartment, and he begins to deliver a rather impassioned  monologue about his love of Huey Lewis and the News, and particularly the song “Hip to Be Square.” This monologue culminates in Patrick simply saying, “hey Paul,” and killing him in spectacularly gory fashion.

It is worth noting what Patrick says, or rather, screams as he hacks up Paul – “Try getting a reservation at Dorsia now you stupid fucking bastard!” We see here that it is indeed Patrick’s self loathing and inadequacy compared to his co-workers, and Paul in particular, that leads him to his moonlighting as a serial killer.

“My mask of sanity is beginning to slip…”

Directly after killing Paul Allen, we once again return to Patrick Bateman’s inner monologue, as he begins to say that his “mask of sanity is beginning to slip.” It is here that the self-loathing is no longer important, that instead, he is becoming focused simply on killing. And this reflects in his personality and demeanour around his co-workers. When they meet and one of them tries to touch Bateman’s suit, he simply says “touch me again and you’ll draw back a stump,” and even beginning to do bizarre things like referencing serial killers in conversation, saying, “you know what Ed Gein said about women? He said, ‘when I see a pretty girl, I think two things. Part of me wants to take her out to dinner, be real nice'”, and when asked on what the other part of Gein thought, Patrick replies, with almost sickeningly glee, “what her head would look like on a stick!”

This increasing madness even reflects itself in how he interacts with Jean, his secretary who is in love with him. While he is never exactly kind to Jean, his secretary who is in love with him (insulting her outfits and so on), when they go out together, he once again references serial killers (he mentions that Ted Bundy’s first dog was called Lassie), he also points a nailgun at the back of her head.

There is, however, a moment of humanity after Evelyn leaves a message on his phone, and he says to Jean that he cannot control himself. She leaves, and he is left alone. It is here that we see that Bateman is perhaps beyond saving, that he is so deep in self loathing and psychosis that even Jean, his one possible chance at redemption, is indeed, “not an exit.”

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Casting the Classics – The Changeling

The Changeling, or, to be more precise, a rather strange and post-modern production if it that I saw last autumn, was, as I mentioned in my first post in this feature, was the thing that sparked the idea of recasting classics texts.

Now, for those who don’t know, The Changeling is an old, Elizabethan revenge tragedy, although it also has within it a subplot, much more comic one about a madhouse and the idea of ‘performing’ madness. And, as interesting as that idea is, in this version of The Changeling, I’d likely remove the comic subplot and focus on the dramatic one, for the best escalation of dramatic tension and so on throughout the film.

And so, here are how I would cast the three principle characters in the dramatic storyline of The Changeling.

Patrick Wilson as Alsemero

Alsemero is very much a typical romantic lead, and something of a crux of sanity throughout the film, until it’s final moments where he, for want of better phrasing – snaps, and in his delivery of a passage on how, and this is my interpretation of the passage, on how living can overcome grief (perhaps best illustrated in the line “your only smiles have power to cause relief”) stands at odds with this message.

Wilson looks like he could be a romantic lead, and he can very much play the ‘normal’ one (just look at him compared to Roy or Harper in Angels in America) exceptionally well, and of course, we’ve all seen him at the end of his tether in Hard Candy. Watching Patrick Wilson slowly, and finally fall apart would be fascinating to watch.

Peter Dinklage as De Flores

Now, the thing with De Flores is that Beatrice is not meant to find him attractive. Which isn’t by any way a slight against Dinklage in terms of his appearance or his height, but considering the modern standards of what is considered attractive, Dinklage could work as casting (it’s tough to explain his casting here without it sounding exploitative, but it really isn’t. And here’s why)

Dinklage would be incredible in this role. De Flores is something of a wordsmith I suppose, not quite in the manipulative way that Tyrion Lannister (the role Dinklage is most known for playing in HBO’s Game of Thrones), but his language, his sickening and venomous tongue, conjuring images of “a woman dipped in blood”, and slowly seducing the increasingly frantic Beatrice. De Flores is also attracted to Beatrice in a masochistic way, he revels in her disgust at him, and watching Dinklage play a character that is perhaps, a little less sympathetic than he is The Station Agent and Game of Thrones (at least compared to most of the other characters, especially as the series progresses) would be very interesting.

 

And finally….

Carey Mulligan as Beatrice

Beatrice is of course the centre of The Changeling and perhaps the first tragic heroine (in a genre largely focused on men in power), who is eventually brought down by her lust, as puritanical as it sounds.

Now, Beatrice is a woman who is practically made of conflicting dualities. She is at once romantic and shy in her arranged married, something that comes into direct conflict with her verbal sadism aimed at De Flores as well as, eventually, her lust. Beatrice’s character development is very much based around becoming more haphazard after having De Flores kill the man she is betrothed to, and her more furious side comes to the centre, and Carey Mulligan, who we’ve all seen wearing her heart on her sleeve in Shame, would be able to show Beatrice unravel in spectacular fashion.

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SONSOFBITCHES Blogathon – A Decade of Oscar Snubs

So, with the Oscars around the corner (these are my final predictions on the winners), I saw the idea of a blogathon on Oscar snubs over here, and I decided that I’d do my own list of the most despicable Oscar snubs of the last decade.

2012 – Denis Lavant (Best Actor – Holy Motors)

Perhaps the best performance I’ve seen all year, and one my favourite male performances of many, many years, the excellence of Lavant’s performance in the French mindfuck that is Holy Motors simply cannot be understated. The performance is nothing short of a transformation in every sense of the word. Lavant embodies around 12 different characters, each of them note perfect, and what is even more fascinating is that, whenever he returns to his ‘main’ persona, a man called Oscar, the strain on him is fascinating, as he himself seemingly becomes more unaware of where the performance ends and the man begins.

2011 – Nicolas Winding Refn (Best Director – Drive)

Ah, Drive. I’m gonna come clean here: I didn’t expect to like Drive. In spite of glowing reviews and word of mouth (particularly in regard to Gosling, who, Blue Valentine or not, I’m still not sold on as the talent so many say he is), I was utterly indifferent to the whole thing leading up to watching it. But boy was I wrong. Not only does Drive contain Gosling’s best performance to date, but the work that Refn does in making this film not only come alive, but stand out as an excellent achievement in terms of filmmaking and visual style. I dare say that Refn is the reason that I wound up loving this film as much as I do.

2010 – Barbara Hershey (Best Supporting Actress – Black Swan)

Black Swan was one of my favourite films of the last few years, from the fluid cinematography, the assured directions and Portman’s landmark, and, to use that often overused term, ‘career defining’ performance. But you know who got left out of the spotlight? Barbara Hershey. Lots of people seemed to single out Mila Kunis, although why they did so was a mystery (perhaps it was like with Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love and everyone was just shocked that he could actually act). Hershey’s performance as the driven to a fault stage mother, alternating sickly sweet and sickeningly smothering, is a fascinating and somewhat unnerving sight to behold. Perhaps she has her daughter’s best intentions at heart, or perhaps she’s compensating for her own failed career. An enigma of a character that fits perfectly into the twisted, duality focused world of Black Swan.

2009 – Tom Ford (Best Director – A Single Man)

When I first watched A Single Man, I had no idea what to expect. I’d heard that Firth’s performance was critically adored (and rightly so, he’s better here than he was in The King’s Speech) so that was my main motivator for the film. But I was utterly blown away by it, by the heart-rending silence and subtlety and the ingenious use of colour that Ford’s direction brings to film. Proving that silence can speak much louder than words, Tom Ford created a gentle, heartbreaking and beautiful film.

2008 – Evan Rachel Wood (Best Supporting Actress – The Wrestler)

The Wrestler is very much a film of lost character, and while Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson, Rourke’s faded wrestler lost in a world outside the ring is the core of the film, and perhaps that theme, his estranged daughter Stephanie fits that bill very well. There is something about her interactions with her father, the bitterness is of course genuine, but at the same time, there just seems to be something about her that is missing, and something is not her father now, but rather, her father when she was a child. Her loss has manifested in this anger towards him, and there is something very raw and powerful about that.

2007 – Tom Swartwout (Best Film Editing – Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead)

The beauty of the editing that Swartwout does in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead lies in the way that it mirrors the mentality of its characters. These characters are frantic, every second taking them closer and closer to their breaking points, and it is here that the editing succeeds. A mirror of the way these characters are being pushed to the edge, it is an exceptional piece of work that truly helps to elevate the film.

2006 – Laura Dern (Best Actress – Inland Empire)

In the bizarre, surreal nightmare of Inland Empire, Laura Dern may have given us the best ever embodiment of one of David Lynch’s favourite character types – the woman in trouble. Cast as an actress in a cursed film, Dern’s descent into paranoia and madness is utterly engrossing, the range and depth of her performance is incredible. From her loss and desperation, to a strange, understated malice (perhaps best seen in this incredible monologue). Perhaps a little like Holy MotorsInland Empire was a film that’s a little too… Odd, shall we say, for the Academy’s sensibility, but the sheer power of her performance warranted considering, even though Lynch’s campaign for it, was, well… David Lynch.

2005 – Robert Rodriguez (Best Cinematography – Sin City)

Now, I probably could have picked him for directing Sin City rather than shooting it, but for me, the way that the film is shot is the cornerstone of it’s style and tone. Using a colour scheme that I’ve known people to describe as “black and white with lots of red”, the colour scheme and the shots are incredible, creating the sleaze ridden and blood drenched underworld that is Sin City, and presenting it with tonal and atmospheric perfection.

2004 – Patrick Marber (Best Adapted Screenplay – Closer)

In adapting his own, incredibly written Broadway play, Marber has done perhaps the best thing that can be done when creating a cinematic adaptation of a play – and that’s to make it, well a little cinematic. Now this does mean sacrificing some of the staging conventions of the original (something that didn’t work in the film adaptation of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), it retains the stripped back nature that simply allows Marber to draw attention to his words, and boy oh boy are those words exceptional.

2003 – Gus Van Sant (Best Director – Elephant)

Watching Elephant was an interesting experience for me. I watched it in an A Level class (there were about 6 of us). No one else liked it. They bemoaned the lack of dialogue and ‘action’. But for me, these were obviously Van Sant’s intention. To create a strange and detached feeling, to distance the audience, perhaps making those final moments all the more disturbing. Slow burning and disturbing, Elephant crawls under your skin and won’t come back out.

 

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Final Oscar Preidictions

So, today is the day. The final night of awards season, and perhaps the biggest night of the cinematic calendar – The Oscars.

Now, the Oscars aren’t for everyone, but I love them (although I may do a different post on that in itself), so here, for your viewing pleasure, I present to you, my final predictions for the films, writers, filmmakers and performers that I think well win the major Academy Awards.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Chris Terrio for Argo
Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlen for Beasts of the Southern Wild
David Magee for Life of Pi
Tony Kushner for Lincoln
David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook

Likely winner: Tony Kushner for Lincoln
Possible winner: 
Chris Terrio for Argo
Should win: Kushner for Lincoln
Should be here: Stephen Chbosky for The Perks of Being a Wallflower

This category isn’t my strongest suit, especially considering that I haven’t seen Argo, which I really should at some point. Although it seems that it won’t be winning picture any more, I do think that Lincoln will take home, among a few other major Oscars, Adapted Screenplay, because, for me at least, Kushner’s writing was probably the best bit of the film.

Best Original Screenplay

Michael Haneke for Amour
Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained
John Gatnis for Flight
Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola for Moonrise Kingdom
Mark Boal for Zero Dark Thirty

Likely winner: Tarantino for Django Unchained
Possible winner: Boal for Zero Dark Thirty
Should win: Haneke for Amour
Should be here: Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon for The Cabin in the Woods

I’ve seen the majority of the films here (apart from Flight which I haven’t seen since it’s UK release date), so I can comment that this is a pretty strong category. I suppose it’s more than possible for Haneke to get a surprise win, especially considering how ZD30 lost a lot of it’s Oscar buzz in the final stretch.

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams for The Master
Sally Field for Lincoln 
Anne Hathaway for Les Miserables
Helen Hunt for The Sessions
Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook

Likely winner: Hathaway for Les Miserables
Possible winner: Field for Lincoln
Should win: Hathaway
Should be here: Samantha Barks for Les Miserables

I’ll be honest here, how Weaver got in is nothing short of a mystery (but then I’m a little shocked by the major love SLP got on nomination day), which isn’t to say that she’s bad in the film, because she isn’t, but she has very little to do, and just isn’t that memory. And while we’re being honest, I’ve only put a possible winner here out of custom, because Hathaway is a lock, and she sure as hell deserves it.

Best Supporting Actor

Alan Arkin for Argo
Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook
Phillip Seymour Hoffman for The Master
Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln
Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained

Likely winner: Waltz for Django Unchained
Possible winner: Jones for Lincoln
Should win: Hoffman for The Master
Should be here: Dwight Henry for Beasts of the Southern Wild

This is an incredibly strong category, and I’ve actually seen all of the nominated films. It seems that Waltz and Jones have had a fairly even split of the precursor awards, and this is probably one of the closest races. It’ll be interesting to see which of them wins, although I suppose if the whole night becomes peppered with love for SLP (which I kind of hope it doesn’t), then De Niro could take the Oscar, but I’m still hoping for a totally unexpected Hoffman win.

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook
Emanuelle Riva for Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts for The Impossible

Likely winner: Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook
Possible winner: Riva for Amour
Should win: Riva
Should be here: Rachel Weisz for Deep Blue Sea

Oh, Silver Linings Playbook, what are we gonna do with you? Again, I liked the movie quite a bit, but a lot of it, the performances in particular, seem a tad overrated. Now, Lawrence is good and covers a lot of range, but compared to Riva, this should even be a race. Riva’s performance is subtle, nuanced, and utterly heartbreaking. She needs this Oscar, and she really deserves it too.

Best Actor

Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln
Hugh Jackman for Les Miserables
Joaquin Phoenix for The Master
Denzel Washington for Flight

Likely winner: Day-Lewis for Lincoln
Possible winner: Phoenix for The Master
Should win: Day-Lewis
Should be here: Denis Lavant for Holy Motors

This is a very strong field, and there’s plenty of award worthy acting in there. Day-Lewis is perhaps the runaway winner for his mesmerising work as Abraham Lincoln, although if I had to pick a ‘second place’ then it’d be Phoenix, for his raw, powerful work as Freddie Quell.

Best Director

Michael Haneke for Amour
Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild
Ang Lee for Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg for Lincoln
David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook

Likely winner: Spielberg for Lincoln
Possible winner: Lee for Life of Pi
Should win: Haneke for Amour
Should be here: Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master

This is an interesting category, if just for those who aren’t there as much as those who are (No Bigelow and no Afflcek), which of course, to me at least, kind of seals Spielberg’s win, especially considering his film won’t be winning picture. However, lots of people had been saying for a long time (back when Lincoln was the pick for Picture, so that’d be pre-PGA) that director was a two horse race between Spielberg and Lee, so an upset win could still happen.

Best Picture

Amour
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Likely winner: Argo
Possible winner: Lincoln
Should win: Zero Dark Thirty
Should be here: The Master

Again, this is a very strong category, although I suppose it’s a bit of a lock by now. I’m still hoping ZD30 pulls a surprise win because, as much as I loved Amour, and as pleasantly surprised as I was by Lincoln, ZD30 is currently still my top film of the year.

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