Welcome to the blog from the bog, bringing you my love of American Psycho(1) (not the novel) and why it says everything Wolf of Wall Street tried to, but failed.
Both feature sex, drugs, violence, Wall Street and money, lots of money. Both are based on novels, but I won’t touch on the novels, except to say that both of these films are much better than the novels, in my opinion. America’s psycho is Patrick Bateman, played by pre-Batman Christian Bale while the wolf on Wall Street is Jordan Belfort, played by golden boy, Leo.
Director vs Director
Wolf of Wall Street is directed by Martin Scorsese. It is hard to criticise our beloved Marty. I love the guy as much as the next film grad. But Wolf of Wall Street feels like I am watching a 179 minute film of the most hatred Instagram account. Everything looks fun and pristine with parties on boats and people in big houses.
American Psycho is directed by Mary Harron, a woman. Yes that is right! Film critic, Roger Ebert wrote in his review of American Psycho, ‘it’s just as well a woman directed “American Psycho.” She’s transformed a novel about blood lust into a movie about men’s vanity'(3). And this is where her film just gets it right, compared to the boys club that is Wolf of Wall Street. American Psycho has us watching in shock where Wolf of Wall Street has us staring in awe.
I find myself laughing more at American Psycho. It’s comedy is dark and brilliant. A murder scene is accompanied by a witty monologue on Huey Lewis And The News as Hip To Be Square plays out. Bateman does a little jig as he cues up his victim, leaving you chuckling at his antics. Bale’s timing is brilliant throughout, blurring the lines of comedy character and maniac villain. Wolf of Wall Street, on the other hand relies on Jonah Hill and a set of shallow comic stereotypes to bring the laughs.
Greed Is Good?
Which film represents the truth of greed better? We have Jordan Belfort, going out and getting what he wants with his ape like army performing jungle-like chants, versus the ever professional Bateman and his young, new money, happy camper business buddies. Nice cars versus reservations at the classiest restaurant in town. Beautiful wife versus beautiful business card. Ludes versus cocaine.
It all seems so shallow, kind of like a gratuitous selfie on someone’s Instagram. But it is what lies behind the shallowness which is key and what we learn from it. Belfort wants a new wife, he goes out and he gets her. Simple. Bateman wants the best, most attractive business card, but how can he beat his opponent’s watermarked business card? By killing him. What message is scarier and more thought provoking? Greed is not good when it pushes you to murderous thoughts, kids.
The Final Shot
The Wolf of Wall Street’s final shot has got a lot of people talking. After all the limousine riding and jet flying, Scorsese does well to leave us with something to think about. ‘Scorsese puts the film’s viewers face to face with themselves, charges us with compensating for our lack of imagination and fatal ambition’ (4), wrote The New Yorker. American Psycho does the opposite, slowly tracking in towards Bateman’s shiny, pale complexion as the creepy voice over toys with us:
“My pain is constant and sharp and I do not hope for a better world for anyone. In fact I want my pain to be inflicted on others. I want no one to escape. And even after admitting this there is no catharsis. My punishment continues to allude me and I gain no deeper knowledge of myself…This confession has meant nothing.”(1)
In the end we are left staring into the eyes of a mad man with a murderer’s ambition. We hear his twisted voice over, know that he is free to roam and are left wondering could this man be out there for real?
Wolf of Wall Street wanted to be a satire on the American dream and the lust for money, but instead is a shallow representation of what we all really desire. Yes, in the end we are shown ourselves, but it is no secret that all we want is more money, wealth and fame. You just need to look at our glossy selfies to see that. We cannot laugh at the wolves because we so want to be them.
American Psycho creates the perfect blend of satire and fear. The idea of Patrick Bateman is a scary thought – behind all that money, nice suits and business cards with Silian Rail font is a lunatic who wants to see the world burn. We see what kind of urges could be behind the richest and most powerful. Whereas the characters depicted in Wolf of Wall Streets and their confessions ultimately mean nothing, leaving us with no true catharsis.
- American Psycho 2000 Directed by Mary Harron
- Wolf of Wall Street 2013 Directed by Martin Scorsese
- http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/american-psycho-2000 Roger Ebert Review published April 14th 2000
- http://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/the-lasting-power-of-the-wolf-of-wall-street The New Yorker published 2nd January 2014
Thanks for reading,