TV Wednesday - Alias Grace - American Psycho & Away from Her
Having finished up my monthly series on Alias Grace, I wanted to revisit the works of the show’s creators, Mary Harron (director) and Sarah Polley (writer).
American Psycho (2000)
I had been a fan of the original novel by Bret Easton Ellis, so when I first saw this movie, I felt it didn’t hold a candle to the original. Much of the allure of the book for me lay in its fragmented nature and how the different bits worked together to provide a portrait of an empty shell of a man who had filled himself with the godawful yuppie culture of fancy business cards and high-end restaurants. For me, Patrick Bateman remained an abstraction, a collection of tropes and stereotypes. Mary Harron’s greatest accomplishment with this film is to make Bateman an understandable monster. She gives him a physicality that had only manifested itself in the book through the products that he uses. There are long shots of Bateman exercising, showering, picking out clothes that makes us keenly aware of how the culture impacts the body, a dimension that only a visual medium like film could explore. We see Christian Bale play Bateman with a sort of shrill hollowness that plays at swagger to help him escape the fact that there is nothing inside him. Harron also manages to convey just how funny the book is and how heightened most of Bateman’s interactions are. If this movie had been made a decade earlier, it definitely would have been Nicolas Cage delivering long, unsolicited reviews of Huey Lewis and the News and Whitney Houston. While I still like the book better, this is about as good an adaptation that I think possible because it clarifies certain elements of that fragmented, difficult book.
Away from Her (2006)
While I remembered the basic plot of this movie, a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s is put into a convalescent home by her husband only to fall in love with another patient there, I was surprised at just how much of an emotional wallop this film lands on a rewatch. Though seemingly melodramatic and tragic on the surface, the film is much more than some sappy melodrama. It’s frank, clear-eyed and often humorous about the situation, yet the tragedy of the situation plays out in Grant’s (Gordon Pinsent) stoicism as circumstances force him to witness his wife Fiona (Julie Christie) romance a similarly ill patient. I thought originally the ambiguity of whether Fiona was faking to get revenge on her husband’s previous infidelities was of greater importance to the story, but even if it had started out that way (no indication that it did), it quickly gets subsumed by his realization of how fragile his wife really is and that such emotional issues need to be second to her health. As an experienced and accomplished actress herself, Sarah Polley really knows how to work with actors and both Pinsent and Christie easily play a couple with a lot of history. Christie is equally convincing as a woman with Alzheimer’s, especially when we see how much of a young, childlike woman she is at her heart, and we can seen why her husband would let her do what she is doing ultimately, no matter how much it hurts him.