‘American Psycho’ (2000) is a must-watch presentation of American consumerist culture in the 1980s. This is the story of Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), a wealthy investment banking executive, pretending to live his life as a normal white-collared upper-class New Yorker while having a much darker, violent second identity that sometimes takes control and commits fearful crimes. As the film tells us the story of a man with two completely different identities, living in a world of pretentiousness and lies, the cinematography of the film portrays this duality perfectly. Here are four steps to understand the cinematographic perfection of ‘American Psycho’:
1. Masked reality
When you take a look at this scene, what do you see? A man in the middle of his skin care morning routine? I doubt that.
As you see, the film keeps dropping hints that Patrick Bateman is not the person that he shows to the outer world! He is deep inside someone totally different and he is obviously masking the reality!
2. Light vs. dark
Let’s take a look at Patrick’s house! A clean, well-lighted, decent apartment with white walls and mostly white furniture. This house is a representation of Patrick’s identity that everyone around him sees.
And here we see Patrick, arriving at his office that is also quite well-lighted with a white design just like his house. He seems chill, right?
This is the exact same office, but this time there is nobody around. And Patrick is not the same chill Patrick as the previous photo. It is a scene where the violent second identity takes control. And the office does not look that well-lighted anymore.
Patrick is sitting in the backseat of a cab with his date for the night. But wait a second, we can’t actually see him. It’s just a shadow of him, as if it’s not really the person we think we know.
Again, here we think that person is nobody but Patrick Bateman himself. However, it may not be the Patrick that we think we know. It is just a silhouette of him. He could be anybody: a psychopath killer, or a wealthy New York gentleman.
4. The Chiaroscuro effect
Why do you think only the half of Patrick’s face is visible in this scene, and the other half is almost completely dark?
Not once, not twice… We can see this very lighting technique a lot throughout the film.
We call this the chiaroscuro effect in cinematography. It means creating a strong contrast between light and dark sides of an object or person via lighting techniques.
This way the film actually visually describes the duality inside Patrick Bateman: a lighter half that he shows to everyone, and a much darker half that he keeps as a secret most of the time.
Sometimes the tiny details we don’t pay attention to while focusing on the main story of the film actually tell us so much about it. Try to focus a little bit more on the visuals of a film next time you are watching one. Who knows, perhaps the next cinematographic analysis post will belong to you!