People still ask Harron and Turner if Bateman’s murders really happened, or take place in his imagination.
Mary Harron: I would never answer that. As Quentin Tarantino says, ‘If I tell you that, I take this movie away from you.’ I will say there’s a moment where it becomes less realistic, and that’s the moment when the ATM says Feed Me a Stray Cat.
Guinevere Turner: To me and Mary, the book left it up in the air, too, what was real and what was not real. We didn’t think that everything was real because some of it is literally surreal. But we just decided, together, that we both really disliked movies where the big reveal is that it was all in someone’s head or it was all a dream. We just both find that annoying. We just said we’re going to make a really conscious effort to have it be real, and then at some point… he’s sort of perceiving things differently, but they’re really happening.
Like he shoots at a cop car, and it just bursts into flames, and she just directed him to look at the gun like, Hmmm, how did that happen? But we did want it to be, at the end, that you really did think that he did these things.
‘American Psycho? American Suck-o’
Harron said a friend overheard someone on the ski slopes in Park City, during Sundance, proclaim: “American Psycho? American Suck-o!” After the premiere at the festival, and a fight with the ratings board over the film’s three-way scene, American Psycho made its way into theaters on April 14, 2000.
Mary Harron: The tone just completely confused people. When you do something that mixes genres, in this case you’re mixing social satire and horror… people don’t know how to take it at first. I think it took years for people to think it’s okay to find these scenes funny.
Christian Bale: I was totally oblivious to any reaction to the film. I didn’t notice. I was happy.
Mary Harron: The New York Times review had a huge impact on the reception, I think. And Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman’s review, that was a big thing. There were certain key reviews that were very favorable and that really helped.
Times critic Stephen Holden wrote in his review of American Psycho:“In adapting Bret Easton Ellis’s turgid, gory 1991 novel to the screen, the director Mary Harron has boiled a bloated stew of brand names and butchery into a lean and mean horror comedy classic.” He and added that the film “salvages a novel widely loathed for its putative misogyny and gruesome torture scenes by removing its excess fat in a kind of cinematic liposuction.”
Bret Easton Ellis: I think that could be the flourishing of woke-ness in the culture—me being the dark prince of literature, and I write this book that upsets so many people, I need to be put in my place. And what better narrative is there than that two women did it? That’s very appealing.
…When I first saw the movie, and whenever I see parts of it now, I like it. It’s about half an experience for me, because I wrote the novel. And it’s not the full American Psycho. It is kind of the greatest hits. … It’s in some ways a complicated movie for me. But overall I like it.
Willem Dafoe: Years before branding and recognition by your average person about how things were being sold and how society was becoming so obsessed with surface reality and consumerism… here was this strange movie about this psychopath businessman that really touched upon that. And also the ugly aspects of capitalism. So it had real politics to it, in a very present way, but not in a didactic way. … It was a movie that was weirdly entertaining and disturbing at the same time.
I think the movie is a scathing critique of a certain kind of lifestyle, a certain kind of society, a certain kind of point of view, and that includes attitudes towards women. Sometimes in depicting those lives you have to show things that are ugly. It’s not enough just to say, oh, this is a forbidden image, we can’t show it… Sometimes we have to show negative behavior to see other possibilities.
Christian Bale: Everyone had told me it was career suicide, which really made me want to do it. And I guess I was a little bit disappointed that it didn’t end up being career suicide. I kind of hoped that maybe that was it, and I’d have to find something else to go do… I’m perverse. They told me I shouldn’t, so of course—that’s human, isn’t it?—you want to even more.
Harron and Turner have made two more films together: The Notorious Bettie Page, released in 2005, and Charlie Says, released in 2018.
Guinevere Turner: What happened recently is our film Charlie Says premiered at the Venice Film Festival, a year ago, and our out-of-the-gate, next-day reviews were not particularly good.
And Mary and I were in Venice sort of pouting in the lobby of the hotel and Mary’s husband was there, and he’s like, ‘Hey you guys—Google, Google, Google—I’m gonna read you a review of American Psycho when it first came out.’
And he read one of them and it was so similar that we were like, “Oh! We’re just ahead of our time. We have to get used to being misunderstood.”
This story was originally published in January, 20 years after the Sundance debut of American Psycho. It was updated on April 14, 2020.