Friday, April 29, 2011

The Birth of "American Psycho:" A Perspective Into Mary Harron.

What makes a female filmmaker an outstanding filmmaker? Is it the way in which she direct her films? Is it the fundamental values that she is instilled with? Is it the particularly unique sense of direction that empowers her on set? Mary Harron, a Canadian filmmaker once said, "I like subjects that are enigmatic and contradictory, ... and expressed these interesting contradictions between something we associate with shame and sexual oppression, something sinister, something hidden, powerful...." In other words, Harron argues that female filmmakers are unique in the sense that they bring forth feministic ideals and morals through their films and execute a parallel connection between the audience and the protagonists they follow. My written discourse attempts to focus the spotlight on Mary Harron and uses auteur theory to understand Harron's perspective within her 2000 psychological thriller, "American Psycho," starring Christian Bale.

Prior to engaging my analysis, I would like to dissect the apartment scene from "American Psycho" in order to help establish the film's chilling atmosphere that clouds the idea of women oppression. When the scene begins, Harron, gives a medium-close up shot of Jean facing away from the intended audience as she suddenly turns her focus from Bateman’s eloquent view of the adjacent and opposing high rises towards Bateman himself. The camera suddenly captures Bateman as he offers Jean sorbet and turns his attention to the inside of his refrigerator. During this moment in spatial and temporal continuity, we are shown a quick point of view shot of inside Bateman’s refrigerator through his eyes showing us a severed, decayed, bagged head of a woman resting next to the pint of sorbet in which Bateman gladly acquires. As the audience, we perceive the event as that of surprised. Why? One reason is possibly because we have been exposed to decapitated head within the refrigerator that has occurred. This short-lived segment has taken us by surprise. However, we are left to question what is possibly going to happen next? We not only understand through this point of view shot that Bateman is clearly a psychotic mess by being able to obtain a pint of a sorbet from his refrigerator and still maintain a gleeful attitude about the situation at hand, but we are also alerted at the fact that Jean remains oblivious to the decapitated head herself.

Now one would ask themselves this question. What would film critics think of this scene? Of course Maggie Humm would second Harron in her essay, "Author/Auteur: Feminist Literary Theory and Feminist Film," as she states, "feminist literary theory is extensive and reflective, receptive to all those nauances of framing, inflection and authorial viewpoint. No concept of gendered media representation can function without a concept of authorship. (92)" With this in mind, we could deduce that "American Psycho" does not actually convey what is objectively displayed on screen. Harron, instead uses Bale's character of Paul Bateman as a prime example of the conflicting dichotomy between one's confinement to masculinity roles and the desire to reflect upon one's own feminist existence. In other words, Harron uses "American Psycho" to evoke the conformity to and disconnection from insatiable erotic voyeurism. To this end, we could argue this because it has been a recurring theme throughout the entirety of the film ranging from Bateman's desensitized use of sheer, physical brutality towards prostitutes to his conscious desire for yearning love and affection.

Harron's underlying struggle with self conformity versus liberation depicted in "American Psycho" also provides basis for gynocentrism, or as Humm defines it, "the separation of the female way of thingkin, and a recognition that women's experiences have been effectively silenced by a masculine culture. (95)" Humm establishes truth beyond a reasonable doubt as Harron does allow for the male protagonist to satisfy his uncontrollable blood lust all the while allowing his unjustifiable actions to go without say or punishment despite his desire to willingly break free. On another interesting note, Harron herself becomes the victim of her own creation on an authorial level. In her critical essay, Remembering "Barbie Nation": An Interview with Susan Stern," Stern states that "Mary Harron, director of American Psycho and I Shot Andy Warhol and Paul Thomas Anderson both had critically acclaimed first features. But Harron was virtually ignored, while Anderson was hailed "new talent bursting on-screen." (195)" That is the true meaning of irony. Harron's ruined image could be frowned upon by most and argued by feminist literary theory that despite the fact that she was shunned as a filmmaker, Harron was able to effectively address the experience of women through visual cinema and interpretation. In addition, "feminist literary critics have already made a firm decision that gender shapes sinature and that there is an aesthetic difference in the way in which gendered signatures write. (110)"

“You suffer rejection, and you think, ‘Wow, I must really suck.’ Then you get into a group, and you realize it’s about something bigger than you. As a group, women filmmakers have been quiet for a long time. Now it’s time to raise consciousness, to say to people, ‘Look at what you’re seeing. At the end of the year, how many of the films that you’ve seen have been directed by men? All but one? Think about that.’”
- director Nancy Savoca

Work Cited

Humm, Maggie. "Author/Auteur: Feminist Literary Theory and Feminist Film." Feminism and Film. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1997. 90-110. Print.

Stern, Susan. "Remembering "Barbie Nation:" An Interview with Susan Stern." Looking Across the Lens: Women's Studies and Film. New York: Feminist, 2002. 189-95. Print.

Phillips, Jennifer. "Unreliable Narration in Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho: Interaction between Narrative Form and Thematic Content." Current Narratives. Web. 26 Apr. 2011. .


  1. I love the last quote! We do need more women in the film world and thank goodness that these women directors are willing to teach young women how to create films. I like your stream of consciousness style of writing. It makes for an easier read.

  2. Women as directors is amazing but I love it even more when women make these films that go against every stereotype. You would never guess that a woman directed American Psycho but thats what makes it so great!

  3. His name is PATRICK Bateman, not PAUL.