Part III: Is Patrick Bateman Really A Square?

‘”GREAT SCENE – American Psycho” Video Clip

The scene that I chose to analyze was from the classic movie called American Psycho. While I was watching it the first time with no sound, I counted roughly 20 jump cuts during the two-and-a-half-minute scene. I found this interesting because the jump cuts typically occurred while Bateman was preparing to murder the man in his living room as opposed to when he was committing the heinous act itself. At that point, the camera fluidly followed his movements as opposed to cutting at all. There were very few jump cuts at the beginning and end of the scene, possibly to represent the continuity and severity of his actions in its conclusion. While he was using the ax on the man, there was not a single jump cut in sight, but during the buildup, there was a jump cut almost every few seconds. This to me indicates the tension and adrenaline rush building up as the rising action comes to a head. The climax of the scene in this miniature plot line occurred during the murder, and the lack of choppiness and chaos via jump cuts supports and represents that idea. As for the frequency of changing angles and perspectives, almost every time there was a jump cut, the scene would change its viewpoint for the audience. Whether we were now watching Bateman condescendingly explain a piece of music, his drugged and confused victim, or his murder preparation, every jump cut was associated with a new angle that complimented the content of the scene in that moment.

However, what stood out to me most due to said angles was the scene where Bateman was hovering over his victim right before murdering him. The camera was positioned from the perspective of the victim. Bateman was looming over us brandishing a dangerous weapon that would lead to our demise. We were supposed to feel fear and doom as there was no escape for us as the victim at this point. This camera angle tactic was discussed directly in the article by Robert Ebert. He explained that, when we are viewing someone from a low angle, they are meant to be perceived by us as gods, or people with total power and control of the situation. However, if we are seeing the victim from Bateman’s perspective in this case, then we are supposed to see him as puny and weak. In terms of lighting, it did not really change throughout the duration of the scene. The lighting was generally fluorescent, cold in appearance, and uninviting due to its harshness. However, I did notice a bit of dominant contrast, also referenced by Robert Ebert. Bateman’s black suit continually stood out to me in comparison to how monotone and white the rest of his apartment was, especially with the coverings on all of the furniture and the newspaper splayed across the white floor. Therefore, because of this one dark spot in the primarily light backdrop, my eyes were drawn to him. Ebert refers to this concept as “the area we are drawn toward. Sometimes it will be darker, further back, lower, and so on” (Ebert, 2008). Bateman being featured as this dominant contrast was enhanced by the fact that he was essentially the only moving entity in the scene besides the brief twitching and adjustments made by his victim.

Lastly, when thinking about character placement in this scene, there are only two characters on screen to consider. Paul remains stationary for the majority of the scene, so his placement does not vary. However, when he is on the screen, he is usually either in the center or slightly to the left of the center. This implies that he is either perceived as positive or an object by the audience, according to Ebert and the Rule of Thirds that he explains in his article. Both of these interpretations would make sense because if he is to the left, he is seen as someone who we know is about to be murdered, so we are rooting for him to escape and stay alive. However, when he is in the center of the screen, he is more so seen as an object to us, and Bateman is about to treat him as such. As for Bateman, when he is on screen with Paul, he is typically on the right side of the screen, which means we are intended to perceive him negatively. This of course makes sense because he is quite literally a psychopath who is dancing to music while getting ready to savagely murder an innocent man. Therefore, I think that Ebert’s discussion of placement is very much exemplified and proven to be effective within this scene in particular.

As I was listening to this scene without the video element, I noticed a variety of things that I had not paid attention to when viewing this part of the movie previously. The audio started out with Bateman having a somewhat casual, seemingly run-of-the-mill conversation with his future victim, Paul Allen. After only talking for a brief period, there would be pauses in Bateman’s grandstanding and glorification of normalcy. During these dialogue-free moments, the audience could hear footsteps, clinking of glass, heavy objects being moved, and plastic wrinkling. When Bateman would begin his lecture on social conformity each time in between periods of nonverbal sounds, the clues that indicated a not-so-subtle murder setup faded into the background, landing in the periphery of my focus. Something else that I noticed was the tone of Bateman’s voice all the way until he began attacking Paul. He sounded extremely upbeat, excited, casual, and almost charismatic with both what and how he said his words. This came off as a way to distract both the audience and Paul from the nefarious sounds that we heard fading and re-emerging in the scene. However, this uncharacteristically cheery voice morphed into one that embodied pure rage and fury as I heard him violently axing Paul to death. There was also a musical element in this scene. As Bateman’s murderous intentions became apparent to the audience, “Hip to be a Square” began playing. This was meant to emphasize the irony between Bateman’s soon-to-occur act and the idea that he desperately wanted to fit into society and come across as ‘normal’ to the outside world. Therefore, hearing this soundtrack playing behind his animalistic screams of an insane person as he murdered Paul was very impactful to me as a listener, even without the video element to enhance the idea that he was delusional. 

As I watched this scene for the final time, both with the video and audio , I was able to connect the two elements of the clip in a way that was slightly disturbing, given its eventual outcome. Seeing the steel and white-coated background of Bateman’s apartment in contrast with his pristine, pressed suit alongside his speech about how being normal, or a ‘square’ as the song states, is a positive attribute, was chilling when put together. The ability for us as the audience to foreshadow Paul’s downfall due to Bateman’s voice, words, and actions put together was almost frustrating because I felt helpless in warning him of his fate. Watching Bateman prepare for and set up the area in which he would murder this man by getting the ax, taking a sip of water, putting on his raincoat, and approaching Paul from behind with said ax while simultaneously discussing social norms and music tastes with Paul was heavily impactful. His placement on the screen alongside both his actions and words made him the clear villain to the audience. The song playing in the background and what Bateman did when hearing the song also stood out to me. The fact that he was dancing light-heartedly to the upbeat music further emphasized the sensations that the audience was intended to experience during this scene, being terror and disgust. Therefore, combining both the audio and video aspects of this scene was particularly useful in conveying the overall message and energy behind it, in my opinion. Another example of this could be how the dismal yet harsh lighting contributed to the idea that Paul’s future was dim, abrasive, and dreadful. Another example could be how Bateman’s screams and the camera angle being below him as he murdered Paul worked well together in portraying a sense of fear and hopelessness for the audience as a life was lost.

This concept of connecting the two basic parts of a scene connects to a point in Ebert’s article when he states that, when analyzing a movie scene in its entirety, “You and those joining you will also find yourselves discussing color, lighting, shadows, construction, characters, dialogue, acting, history, sources, influences, and messages both obvious and buried. Anything and everything. It truly is a democracy in the dark. Everything worth noticing on the screen will eventually be seen by somebody” (Ebert, 2008). To this point, there are most definitely elements of this scene which I did not pick up on. However, if I were to analyze its video and audio elements in a group of interested people, it is likely that my capacity for critical thinking and generating ideas would be expanded by the input of those around me.

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