“I like my bands in business suits, I watch them on TV
I’m working out ‘most everyday and watching what I eat
They tell me that it’s good for me, but I don’t even care
I know that it’s crazy
I know that it’s nowhere
But there is no denying that
It’s hip to be square!”
As Huey Lewis sings these wise, profoundly un-hip words over the stereo, Christian Bale’s unhinged, upper-class psychopath Patrick Bateman moonwalks through the room and slaughters a rival with an ax in his tastefully decorated apartment.
Newspapers line the floor – “Do you have a dog?” his guest asks, before gushing blood – and Bale is protected from the blood by a transparent poncho. Moments earlier, he holds forth on the relative merits of Huey Lewis and The News throughout their career (the early work was “too new-wave” for his taste, though they really hit their stride later on). Like much of American Psycho, it’s ludicrous, bitingly satirical, ghastly, and hilarious.
Throughout the film, expertly adapted by Mary Harron from Bret Easton Ellis’ notorious novel, the emphasis is on surfaces, glosses, veneers. The newspapers on the floor and the shiny, blood-spackled raincoat are the tip of the iceberg – for instance, there’s a recurring theme about the look and feel of business cards, eroticized to the point of absurdity, the nearly identical suits the men wear continually leads to people mistaking each other for someone else, and Bale’s constant, increasingly comic refrain when confronted with situations he wants to escape: “I need to return some videotapes.”
Bateman, clearly, could be hiding in plain sight. Alternately, maybe Bateman is simply venal American capitalism and status-seeking taken to its logical conclusion.
Huey Lewis’ hyper-produced, glossy 80s pop scores this world appropriately, and Bateman’s monologues about it, the seriousness and maniacal enthusiasm with which he approaches songs most people would just laugh at, are satirical gold. In Ellis’ book, it’s even more clear – pages and pages are devoted to analysis and close readings of throwaway pop garbage, as Bateman goes over the edge into total madness.
Or does he? Both the film and novel leave open the possibility that none of this is real, except in the mind of a frustrated and deeply troubled man.
But in moments like this, you get the horrifying sense of what it might feel like to Bateman, who just has simple needs, like anyone: as much money as he can amass, the nicest apartment of all his friends, the most sophisticated business cards, and a quiet night at home, murdering people with axes while Huey Lewis and The News cheer him on with pop odes to the importance of conformity.