Film Cinematography Appreciation: American Psycho

How could an era so decadent and abundant turn a man into an insecure, depraved, psychopathic killer? These are the questions asked and explored through the lens of Mary Harron in American Psycho; developed from the acclaimed novel by Bret Easton Ellis, Harron showcases famous method-trained actor, Christian Bale, as Patrick Bateman.

It’s 1986 and Patrick works on Wall Street in Mergers and Acquisitions at Pierce & Pierce during it’s prime. Self-obsessed yet disciplined, Patrick adheres to a strict morning routine to stay in top shape with the perfect skin, perfect hair and perfect body. Wall Street was known for it’s extravagant lifestyle, Patrick and his coworkers, who display a frat-like unity, spend their days splurging on Madison Avenue lunches, and their nights, snorting cocaine in 80’s synth-pop heavy night club bathroom stalls. Patrick and his fraternity brothers bond over chastising the poor and criticizing the ugly. What begins as a daydream of Patrick’s, turns into a reality. Bateman begins to kill women and eventually a fellow coworker for fun and for self-validation that he’s good enough and rich enough to do what he wants. This materialistic era was shot in 2000, fifteen years after it’s portrayal and famed Cinematograper, Andrzej Sekuła, does an incredible job of exemplifying the poshness and bleakness of Patrick’s lifestyle.

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The first few shots of the film set the tone of the movie and portray Patrick’s lifestyle at the hands of Andrzej Sekuła’s cinematographic technique. Patrick and his colleagues share that their $570 dollar lunch was reasonable as all men throw their credit cards on a golden plate, adjusted for inflation, According to the CPI Inflation Calculator, 1986, $570 after adjusted inflation, equals $1,237.49 for today’s economy. The movie then introduces Patrick’s day-to-day activities before work as he explains each product he uses and goes into detail about where he lives, how nice it is, and how much stomach crunches he can do. Andrzej Sekuła makes it a point to showcase each of Patrick’s step’s as he explains as the focal point of every shot. The camera work fixes upon all of the art and posh aesthetic’s within Patrick’s amazing apartment to let the viewer sink into Patrick’s extravagant world. The set designer’s and architects have constructed Bateman’s apartment in black and whites with very little color, this makes it easy for Sekula to paint Bateman’s reality as one-dimensional and hollow with no room for vibrancy- only greed and bleakness.

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Cinematography By: Andrzej Sekuła Image Provided by: Flooby Nooby
Cinematography By:
Andrzej Sekuła
Image Provided by: Flooby Nooby

The last two shots are marvelously framed by Mary Harron’s direction along with Andrzej Sekuła’s cinematography. The use of color is still only black and white, with the stark contrast of red. Sekula follows the same technique in nearly every murder shot, a clear image of the mangled body with a complete disregard for sympathy to their existence. Sekula geometrically positions his image from Patrick’s perspective, that these aren’t people he’s murdering, these are lifeless things for him to shrug off after his stress is relieved.

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