One of the dozens of things I keep track of in feature films is the language used in reference to female characters. Part of the reasons for this is that language is very revealing about filmmakers. It tells us a lot about how well or poorly they think of women. American Psycho (2000), a horror movie based on the novel of the same name by Bret Easton Ellis, contains four named women who appear in more than one scene. It boasts A-list actors like Christian Bale, Reese Witherspoon and Jared Leto and is now available on Netflix.
The language in this deeply disturbing and pornographic film adaptation of Ellis' equally disturbing and pornographic novel merits attention. Women are referred to as chick, honey, doll, bimbo and a hot number. Bale says to a woman who cannot hear him, “You’re a f*cking ugly b*tch. I want to stab you to death then play around with your blood.” Shouting, he calls an immigrant woman a fool and a “stupid b*tch-ee.” He calls Cara Seymour a b*tch and a “piece of b*tch trash!” He calls Chloë Sevigny a “dumb b*tch” and says to her, “Be a doll and just get me a mineral water, okay?” He says to Samantha Mathis, “You’re f*cking me, and we haven’t made plans. What could you possibly be up to tonight?” To Seymour he says , “I want you to clean your vagina. […] from behind. Get on your knees” and “Christie, get down on your knees so Sabrina can see your asshole” before saying to Krista Sutton, “Sabrina, don’t just stare at it. Eat it.” On the street he whistles at Seymour as if she were a dog. Bale says to Leto, “I like to dissect girls.” Three men say in unison, “There are no girls with good personalities.” A man says to Bale, “A good personality consists of a chick with a little hard body who’ll satisfy all sexual demands without bein’ too slutty about things and will essentially keep her dumb f*cking mouth shut.” Bale quotes an American serial killer of the 20th century who wondered what women’s heads “would look like on a stick.” He says in a phone message to his lawyer in which he admits to killing people, “I killed Bethany, my old girlfriend, with a nail gun. […] I guess I’ve killed maybe 20 people, maybe 40. I have tapes of a lot of it. […] I ate some of their brains.”
Cinematic history is full of misogynist films but even still, this one is shocking. Ellis' novel's appalling treatment of women and misogyny voiced by its male characters makes one wonder why a film adaptation was ever considered. It boggles the mind. Surely it wasn't necessary to show more misogyny to prove that misogyny is horrendous. Watching the daily news should have taught us that. Sitting through this movie to analyse it was a sickening experience and a reminder that our societies are comfortable with books and films in which women are held very cheaply.
I look forward to sharing my findings about the language used in mainstream movies of the 20th and 21st centuries in my upcoming film guide for women.
© 2019 Alline Cormier