MOTW: The Many Quirks and Mishaps in the Making of "American Psycho"

Photo Credit: Lions Gate Films
March 13th, 2013

MOTW: The Many Quirks and Mishaps in the Making of "American Psycho"

-- "American Psycho" was a shocking film for its time-a psychological thriller satirically told from the perspective of a wealthy serial killer. The 2000 film starring Christian Bale was based on the novel of the same name by author Bret Easton Ellis and directed by Mary Harron. Bale plays an agitated Wall Street investment banker in the late 1980s who acts out violent sexual fantasies with prostitutes and other unsuspecting women, often concluding with murder. The engaged Patrick Bateman is laughably methodic and vain in his normal life, while hiding his twisted hobbies from his fiancée and friends.

The film didn't quite live up to its literary origins, but "American Psycho" grossed nearly $5 million in its US opening weekend and has garnered moderate critical acclaim. One factor that has made the film a cult hit for many viewers is its many factual errors and slips in cinematography. From disappearing props to items that shouldn't show up in the final edit, "American Psycho," like all films, has its mishaps. For example, in several scenes cameras or their lights are visible or reflected in other objects.

Staging Bateman's office also seemed to be a problem for the film's set director. In one particular scene where Bateman is speaking with Detective Kimball, played by Willem Dafoe, a phone behind his desk is visible in one shot and removed in the next. In the same scene, Bateman's secretary brings the detective a glass and a bottle of water, both of which shift positions throughout the scene. A mysterious ashtray also appears over the course of the scene, making it obvious that the layout was changed throughout filming.

Directors have to be careful to avoid conflicts in chronology when making period films. "American Psycho" is set in 1987, but various references in the film aren't consistent with the time period. For example, Bateman offers chocolate to two of his female victims from a company that wasn't established until two years after the film's setting. In another scene, Bateman passes by the 9 subway train, a line that didn't exist until 1989. Several pop culture references, such as the famous "Terminator" quote, "Hasta la vista, baby," also came about after 1987.

Production companies often look for clever ways to promote a film, especially for adapted stories that already have a loyal literary following. In the case of "American Psycho," expectant fans were treated to a round of fictional emails from the movie's lead character. The emails were biographical and detailed events set after the film, such as Bateman's marriage to the secretary he contemplated killing in the original story.

Another promotion involved an Internet game modeled on Bateman's investment banking career. The game invited players to make Wall Street-inspired investments in pop culture films and famous entertainers. Christian Bale was reportedly at odds with some of those methods and felt the marketing didn't match up with the tone of the film.

The infamous business card is one of the most iconic elements of "American Psycho." Patrick Bateman views it as the ultimate status symbol and continually compares his card to that of his peers. Bateman silently rages when his friends show off their pale nimbus- and eggshell-colored cards with superior lettering. For such an important part of the film, it's surprising to note a glaring error on Bateman's own card. Underneath Bateman's firm name, his department is listed as "Mergers and Aquisitions." The word "acquisitions" is spelled incorrectly.

Some production choices are the result of unexpected obstacles. The creators of "American Psycho" experienced that fact when planning the movie's soundtrack. A prominent moment in the film occurs when Bateman murders one of his friends, dressing up in plastic gear and preparing the room for the kill right in front of the drunken victim. In the background, the Huey Lewis song "Hip to Be Square" is playing as Bateman spouts trivia to distract his intended victim, Paul Allen. "Hip to Be Square" was removed from the soundtrack before it was released, forcing the distribution company to recall thousands of copies at the last minute. The proper publishing rights hadn't been obtained because Lewis's camp reportedly decided against being associated with the disturbing film.

"American Psycho" is no exception to the flaws of movie magic. Sometimes, the final cut is close to perfect. At other times directors, editors, and producers overlook small errors that affect the film in hilarious ways. In the end, the film came together and elevated the careers of multiple actors who now dominate the screen, including Christian Bale, Chloë Sevigny, Reese Witherspoon, Jared Leto, Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas, and Samantha Mathis.