A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that American Psycho is based on Bret Easton Ellis's controversial 1991 novel, which is set in the 1980s and deals with materialism, narcissism, and the amassing of great wealth to be spent on personal pleasure. It's also a story about a callous murderer, with several gruesome killings shown, and lots of blood, as well as shots of severed heads and body parts. Sex is an issue, since the main character has both a fiancée and a lover, and then participates in a threesome with a prostitute and yet another woman. Not much nudity is shown, even if sex is strongly implied, although there are some breasts and bottoms on display. Language is also strong, with many uses of "f--k" as well as many other strong words. The characters quite often drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and cigars, and sometimes snort cocaine or take pills. These characters are clearly irredeemable, and do not learn much of anything during the course of the story. The movie is entertaining in a horrific, comical way, but is certainly not for kids under 18.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) makes a lot of money in some kind of financial job that doesn't seem to require much work. Instead, he spends time drinking with friends, snorting cocaine, keeping up appearances with his fiancée Evelyn Williams (Reese Witherspoon), sleeping with other women, and -- oh yes -- indulging his psychotic urges to kill people, going so far as to invite prostitutes, and even his loyal secretary (Chloe Sevigny) to his apartment for some deviant behavior. Things take a turn for the worse when a cop (Willem Dafoe) begins investigating the disappearance of one of Patrick's acquaintances. But even then, Patrick can't seem to stop, pursuing his devilish hobby until the breaking point.
Is it any good?
Adapted from a novel by Bret Easton Ellis, AMERICAN PSYCHO largely misses some of the book's more pointed critical and satirical points, going more directly for dark comedy and shocking horror. It's too bad that director Mary Harron and her co-screenwriter, actress Guinevere Turner (who plays one of Patrick's victims), couldn't have given it a fresher, more feminist spin. As it is, the movie's depiction of a young, wealthy culture looks almost as appealing as it does repellent.
Fortunately, the way the movie mixes these ingredients makes it subversively fun to watch. Certain scenes -- especially when Patrick listens to banal pop music (Phil Collins, Huey Lewis and the News, etc.) while preparing for his murders -- push the envelope so far that the only breaking point is laughter. And Christian Bale's performance helps a great deal; he's never been so fearless in a role, or so in touch with a character's darkest fears and desires. However, many movie fans will not like the twist ending.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's bloody violence. Does it seem to go over the top? What reactions do these scenes cause? Laughter? Squeals? Shock?
How does the movie connect sex with violence?
What does this movie say about the male body image? Does Patrick represent an impossible physical ideal to live up to? What does he mean when he says he could still improve his looks?
What does this movie have to say about money, materialism, and consumer culture? What do these people spend their money on? Do they seem happy?
- In theaters: April 14, 2000
- On DVD or streaming: September 5, 2000
- Cast: Christian Bale, Reese Witherspoon, Chloe Sevigny
- Director: Mary Harron
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Horror
- Run time: 102 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong violence, sexuality, drug use and language
- Last updated: March 13, 2020
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