Monday, September 6, 2010

"I'm Not There"

"I'm not there," happens to be the words out of the mouth of the humble narrator of American Psycho, the 2000 film adapted from the Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same title.

Patrick Bateman, a perfect picture of yuppie greed, has layers of identity hidden behind an empty persona. A sleek Wall Street player on the outside, Patrick is secretly consumed by a need for carnage. In the beginning of his narration he explains that he is not Patrick Bateman and that there is no Patrick Bateman, that he is simply a compilation of what other people see and the products he buys.

In class, we were asked what has created Patrick Bateman? And, for that matter, what has created any of us? Someone volunteered that what makes us is language. I can absolutely agree that this is a starting point. We start with a language and then build upon it, separating everyone into categories so that it is easier for our minds to process. We create categories so that people know what to do and what not to do, somewhat losing autonomy. Patrick Bateman is an assortment of material, a hollow being draped in Armani. He wants what others in the category want and does what others in his category do.

That is not to say that anyone who fights against materialism or gender binaries has a better concept of who they are. They too are defined by what they don't own and what they don't believe in, which is just as constricting.

Patrick Bateman, however, is very aware that he is nothing apart from his things. He goes so far as to say that there is no Patrick Bateman. Is there no Patrick Bateman? Or are our definitions different? If everyone is made up of what we make them, then no one is anyone. If, though, Patrick Bateman just happens to be the name of one of countless drones, then there is a Patrick Bateman, he just happens to be made of raw material.

When Patrick said that he was, "not there" it reminded me of the Todd Haynes's 2007 Bob Dylan biopic, I'm Not There. From my experience, you have to know a lot about Bob Dylan in order to fully appreciate the movie, but if you know the slightest bit about Dylan you know that he is considered an original, a visionary and a "man who worked for no man." As an artist who was (and still is, though he's slowed down in later years) always reinventing himself, Dylan knew that he was whatever the people made him out to be, and knew that who he was changed on a daily basis. Because of all of these factors, you can never know who you really are. Patrick Bateman, a fictional character, and Bob Dylan, a real person, are similar in that neither of them exist to others the way they exist to themselves, even questioning their existence altogether.

Here is the trailer for I'm Not There. If you're a Dylan fan, it's a great film. Todd Haynes does a wonderful job (and his DVD commentary is some of the best I've ever heard). I implore you to at least watch the Cate Blanchett scenes. Her performance is fantastic.

Fun fact: Christian Bale stars in both I'm Not There and American Psycho.

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