In 1991, author Bret Easton Ellis shocked the literary world when he published the novel American Psycho. The novel follows an unhinged, narcissistic yuppie named Patrick Bateman as he narrates his way through materialistic behavior, Valentino suits, meticulous beauty routines, and his insatiable blood lust for murder, rape, torture. The novel proved incredibly controversial for its graphic description of violence. Many denounced the novel as torture porn with no substance. Many feminist groups denounced the novel for its perceived misogyny and its brutal violence directed towards women. Ellis himself received many death threats after the book was published. It seemed peculiar, then, when talks of a movie adaptation arose soon after. Who would want the movie form of torture porn? How would they even film it in the first place? Due to this, a potential movie struggled to get made for nearly a decade. Directors Oliver Stone, Danny Boyle, and David Cronenberg were all considered to helm the adaptation at one point in time. Leonardo DiCaprio was slated to play the lead Patrick Bateman. Eventually however, Christian Bale showed interest in the project and committed to the Bateman role, even discouraging actors from trying out for the role. Mary Harron ultimately became the director while she co-penned the screenplay with Guinevere Turner. After many years in development hell, American Psycho premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2000. Like the novel, the film was highly polarizing for the same reason as the book. “The violence was too much”, some would say. Others lauded it and recognized it for the work that it was: A highly satirical dark comedy commenting on the excesses of late 80’s Wall Street. Easton had the same end game in mind when he wrote the novel in 1991. His account was meant to be intentionally over the top and overbearing to prove his point. Unfortunately for him, people were quick to disregard this and crucify it as smut instead. Since the film’s release, however, it has gained a large cult following. Many people now consider American Psycho among the best dark comedies of the 21st century.
Me personally, after a personal record of 15 complete records, American Psycho is easily my favorite film of all time. I’ve spent hours and hours analyzing it, interpreting it, appreciating it. I’ve looked at YouTube videos, interviews, behind the scenes footage, all related to discussing and giving unique and varying interpretation. Now, I figured it was my chance. I am going to be as comprehensive as possible. I will be going scene by scene, explaining their relevance and what it means in the grander scope. Maybe most importantly, I will going into my own personal thoughts and interpretations and why I personally consider this my all time favorite film. This is going to be an epic read of an article, so hopefully I make my points engaging and clear enough for people to keep moving. My end goal is to explain my genuine praise of a film that, in my opinion, is a remarkable achievement in satire, black comedy, and character study all rolled into an entertaining story that’ll keep you thinking and guessing for a while after viewing it. This is my comprehensive analysis and love letter to Mary Harron’s American Psycho. *SPOILER WARNING* I’m going to be going into a lot of major details concerning the story, so it’s only fair I issue a major spoiler warning. After that, I will devote the rest of the essay to explaining the meaning of things and interpreting the themes and messages of the film. I will conclude this essay with my objective and subjective thoughts on the movie, ending it with my final rating. I would suggest watching the film or reading the Wikipedia article on it before continuing so nothing feels ruined. A lot of the arguments I am going to make will make much more sense after having seen the movie. Anyway, let’s begin.
Patrick Bateman is the central focus of this story. American Psycho devotes itself to understanding and exploring Patrick Bateman’s existence. In the film, he is a 27-year-old Caucasian male living in New York City as a wealthy investment banker for Pierce & Pierce. He works as a “Vice President” in Mergers & Acquisitions. He is quite fit physically, as we see around the 5-minute mark when we are formally introduced to Patrick Bateman. His narration begins with which apartment complex he lives in before he even tells us his name. He spends a solid 3 minutes detailing his daily workout routine and his daily beautification routine. He uses a superfluous amount of cleansers and lotions to maintain as perfect skin as he possibly can. This in itself is fairly hypocritical as he indulges in cocaine and alcohol semi-frequently. He takes delight in meticulously detailing which products he specifically uses, even giving us some advice along the way. He ends his description of his routine with an unsettling reflection on his identity. That is, his lack thereof. He might appear physically in front of you, but on the inside, there is nothing to Patrick Bateman.
Patrick Bateman spends most of his downtime with his coworkers who work in the same division as him. They are Timothy Bryce, David Van Patten, and Craig McDermott. He is engaged to a woman named Evelyn Williams, a dainty socialite with little concern but for her social status and connections. Patrick openly admits (in narration) that he knows that Evelyn is cheating on him with Timothy Bryce, going as far to admit that Bryce is the most interesting person he knows. He does not care about this, however, nor the fact that Evelyn might know he’s having an affair with her best friend, Courtney Rawlinson. Courtney herself is engaged to “the biggest doofus in the industry”, Luis Carruthers, who is clearly homosexual and attracted to Patrick. However, Patrick strongly dislikes Luis.
Patrick spends most of his time either in clubs, fancy restaurants, or looking for reservations at said restaurants. To be blunt, Patrick Bateman is probably the most narcissistic, pretentious, material obsessed yuppie businessman in the entirety of New York City. His daily routine and wealthy lifestyle are all that matter to Patrick. He defines himself on how expensive his suits are, or how fancy the restaurants he goes to are, or how organized and pseudo-artsy his apartment is. One of the earliest scenes in the film has the camera slowly pan through Patrick’s swanky apartment. We don’t even see Patrick yet. The stylized art, the completely white design, the cleanliness of it all. This is us vicariously viewing Patrick’s existence for the first time. At night, however, lies something quite different. When Patrick isn’t busy commenting on colleagues attire or hero worshipping affluent celebrities (Donald Trump is mentioned as one of these people in the film), he’s out murdering, torturing, raping, eating, and all in all terrorizing other people. Patrick Bateman is one part yuppie scum, one part brutal serial killer. He has murdered homeless people, women, old girlfriends, coworkers. He kills, rapes, and tortures indiscriminately. Those who anger him or those he is envious of are especially targeted. Those who he sees an inferior (a lot of people you might guess) are also victims. It is implied that his crimes become more brutal and graphic and he begins to lose his sanity. He is seen apparently eating one of his longtime friends during sex and later tries to bite a prostitute who had joined them that night. During his tearful phone confession to his lawyer, he admits eating some of his victims brains and trying to cook a little. All in all, he ends up confessing to the murder of 20-40 homeless people, his ex-girlfriend, a model he met in Central Park, a homeless man and his dog, and especially Paul Allen (A lot of these are not shown in the film as they were described in the novel alone). In the end, Patrick attempts to cure himself of his psychotic behavior. However, nobody believes him. His lawyer thinks he’s playing a prank. Nobody hears him admitting to dissecting girls or for his love of murders and executions (heard as mergers and acquisitions). Patrick is right back where he started at the beginning. His blood lust remains, likely stronger than ever. All he can think about is harming other people and inflicting as much pain as possible. He knows he can get away with it forever. However, he is not content with this. He does not feel any better realizing this. He has made a complete 180 and it is left ambiguous on purpose where he is going from there. The movie ends on this ambiguous note.
American Psycho is a film that is far more that what is presented on-screen. It is a movie that has sparked countless debates on what it all meant. What was the point of everything that had happened? If Patrick ends up right where he started, why were any of these events even relevant? For me, most of my love for this film comes from these answers I’ve discovered. As I’ve watched and rewatched over and over, I feel I learn something new every viewing. I’ve come to very solid conclusions about what I took away from this film. Here, I will be comprehensively analyzing the entire film, using nearly every single scene to generate as much evidence as possible for my claims. I will attempt to leave no evidence or points of analysis/interpretation behind. After this section, I’ll be going into my personal reasons for ranking this as my number one film, though the analysis plays a big part of that love. Anyway, let’s get into it.
Satire Of Late 80’s Excessiveness Through Dark Comedy
Bret Easton Ellis had one critique in mind when writing the source material of the film. He wanted to comment on yuppie culture and excessive greed present on Wall Street in the Late 1980’s. He derided the shallow aspects of capitalism and believed that a continuance of this lifestyle would lead to moral and social decay of society.
The film version utilizes the same techniques to establish this message, albeit to a much less violent and gruesome extent. Both works are effective satires of the time period and location they are trying to satirizing. The world of American Psycho is one that is an almost complete lack of subtlety. In fact, it sets to demonstrate the opposite, wherein everything is over the top, in your face, and to the extreme. Mary Harron wanted a visual experience of excess that would end up so ridiculous and out of touch with reality, it could never exist. Perhaps more importantly, the film wanted to be very humorous in a dark comedy kind of way. Successful satires are often quite comedic, making you laugh in a way where you’re thinking about why you laughed at something rather than letting you remain laughing at something with little substance. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with laughing at what you please. I’m merely arguing that it takes talent to incite laughter from a generally uncomfortable subject. Let’s examine the ways in which the film effectively accomplishes this goal.
The very first scene takes place in an upscale restaurant. Waiters are going over the food selection in great detail. We’re able to understand that this is a high-class establishment for only the very wealthy. Here we meet Patrick Bateman and his friend group. One of them, Van Patten, remarks out bluntly and matter-of-factly that there’s not a good bathroom to do cocaine in. The final bill ends up as $570, which is declared reasonable by the group. Inherently, this shouldn’t be laugh out loud hilarious. So, why do I find it funny? Because, to put it simply, it’s ridiculous.
Quick reminder that this scene was literally the first 5 minutes after the opening title. The entire film bases its satire and dark humor around being ridiculous and outlandish. Subtlety is not key (though there are many cases of subtlety being used in the film I will explore later). Patrick firmly and clearly admits to his fiancée, “Because I want to fit in”, after she asks why he doesn’t quit his job. Later on at dinner with Paul Allen, Patrick states, “I like to dissect girls. Did you know I’m utterly insane?” The look on his face is almost matter-of-factly. As if it’s something you would say during a speed dating session. Of course, Paul is too drunk to notice or care. Like the previous quote, it goes unmentioned and unacknowledged. This culture is incredibly blunt and in your face, but it doesn’t matter. Nobody is listening. They’re too involved in their own selfish lives that they don’t react or respond. Patrick is allowed to get away with being blunt and in your face. At an early scene in the club, Patrick loudly proclaims to the bartender, “You’re a fucking ugly bitch. I wanna stab you to death and play around with your blood”. She does not hear and it’s almost as if Patrick is saying this to himself. Perhaps it’s more cathartic in this case to loudly insult someone you know can’t hear you or won’t listen. Which brings up an interesting point. Is this culture of excessiveness and bluntness trying to find its identity and reach out? Maybe these so-called selfish people just want to be heard. Personally, I feel the film is somewhat sympathetic to the same people it’s trying to critique. Maybe they’re trapped in their materialistic culture while desperately trying to get out. The film certainly makes the case for this.
Throughout the film, Patrick is often ignored, misheard, and misinterpreted. The model hears his love for murders and executions as mergers and acquisitions. Luis sees Patrick carrying the suspicious looking bag but merely asks where he obtained it. The most relevant example is the ending phone confession and subsequent discussion with his lawyer. His lawyer initially assumes the whole voicemail was a huge prank and takes it lightly (he doesn’t even recognize Patrick Bateman and calls him Davis. More on this later). Even when pushed by Patrick, his lawyer states that the confession can’t be true because Paul Allen is still alive, having dined with him in London a week before. Everything comes to a head for Patrick after this revelation. His final words ring as the movie ends.
“There are no more barriers to cross. All I have in common with the uncontrollable, the vicious and the evil, all the mayhem I have caused, and my utter indifference towards it, I have now surpassed. 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. But even after admitting this, there is no catharsis. My punishment continues to elude me, and I gain no deeper knowledge of myself. No new knowledge can be extracted from my telling. This confession has meant nothing”.
The final scene shows a sign displaying “This is not an exit” in the background. Patrick is right back where he started. He tried his best to tell people of his psychopathy. His narration to us as the audience fruitfully described his mask of sanity slipping, whether directly or indirectly. His final monologue is one final confession to us about his desire to cause and inflict pain as much as possible. There is no going back. He does not tell us this as a way to reach out and escape his culture. He knows he is right back where he started and that all his efforts to “fit in” were fruitless. His confession meant nothing because he knew nobody was listening. There is no exit out of this lifestyle. I have an interesting interpretation about this revelation. I won’t assert whether it’s absolutely right or completely wrong, but I feel it’s never been mentioned in interpreting this film.
It seems Patrick is doomed to be the deranged yuppie serial killer we had come to discover in the film. He will never be punished, and as a result, will never change or gain deeper knowledge of himself, thus growing as a person. “This confession has meant nothing” has a totally different meaning when approaching this theme from a different angle. Perhaps Patrick is finally content with his life and the culture he participates in. Perhaps it is fate that Patrick will continue to live this life exactly how he has been. It must be more than a stroke of luck that he has continued to elude punishment. Thus, this confession is utterly meaningless. It is meaningless because what he has done and what he will continue to do is right for me and for society around him. A better word may be an epiphany or a revelation in this instance. Patrick Bateman is meant to be the chaos in a meticulous, rigorously structured, shallow society. Perhaps others like him are experiencing the same things. The only thing to break this society out of its current state, then, is disruption through chaos. The same unsubtle and over the top chaos that has been permeating it for some time. For Patrick, there may not be an exit, but for his world, he might be its exit.
Conformity & Individuality
When watching this film, a viewer might sense a feeling of homogeneity in the film. That is, an extreme lack of diversity and a large proportion of likeness. Certainly, that’s how the society within the film is intended to be portrayed as. Patrick and his social group act virtually identical. They share the same positions at the same division within the same company. Fitting in and being comfortable with complacency are big themes in the movie, no doubt about that. This begs the question, how does Patrick stand out within the universe of the film? Why is Patrick the focus of the character study if he’s just like everyone else? Sure, we know he’s actually a serial killer and we won’t just assume everyone else is. What’s more important, however, is to understand how one can obtain individuality through conformity. In this case, how Patrick can stand out so significantly beyond the whole “serial killer by night” distinction. First, I will discuss the overarching desire of conformity in this world and how it might or might not be broken. Let’s discuss.
I already mentioned how everybody in this shallow society seem identical, so let’s back it up. One very noticeable trend that occurs multiple times in the movie is a case of mistaken identity. In the very first scene, Craig McDermott mistakenly calls one of the diners by the wrong name (Mason). He is correct by Timothy Bryce who says that the person is actually Paul Allen. However, then Patrick Bateman correct Bryce and says that this person isn’t Paul Allen either. He points to another diner elsewhere and claims that this person is really Paul Allen. However, based on the decent glimpse we get of this person and when we discover later who Paul Allen really is, Patrick is also mistaken. That’s 3 cases of mistaken identity within the first 5 minutes.
I will briefly mention each occurrence of mistaken identity. Paul Allen thinks Patrick is actually Marcus Halberstram. Patrick’s coworker Hamilton calls Patrick “McCoy” at the Christmas party. During the famous business card scene, Paul Allen thanks Craig McDermott but calls him “Baxter”. While out and about with his friends at a bar, Patrick mentions serial killer Ed Gein, whom David Van Patten mistakenly refers to as the maitre D’ at Canal Bar (somewhat different but the confusion remains relevant to the argument). Patrick’s friend Elizabeth says “Paul Normand” after Patrick tells her to use the name Paul Allen. During Patrick’s rampage, the doorman refers to Patrick as “Mr. Smith”, almost as if he knows him. Finally, Patrick’s lawyer Harry Carnes thinks Patrick is someone named “Davis” before Patrick insists he is Bateman. Though not related to mistaken identity, it’s also worth nothing Patrick gives names to both prostitutes he hires, Christy and Sabrina, and only refers to them by these names. We never learn their real names. As mentioned previously, it seems that Patrick and all of those with similar social status are essentially the same person. I personally believe that they genuinely don’t know they are getting their names wrong because they don’t know any better. It’s easy to get people mixed up in a homogenous culture like this.
Patrick and his friends pride themselves on having the best business cards. One scene devotes itself to fawning over each other’s cards in a display of pure vanity. What’s the kicker? You’ll notice that there is very little difference in the cards. They all contain the same type except for their individual names. They are all Vice President at Pierce & Pierce working in Mergers & Acquisitions. There’s little difference when it comes to texture, font color, lettering, borders, and so on. However, it is apparent only to this group how superior one’s card is to the other. Their desire to have the best card is intentionally laughable. How appropriate is it that these characters recognize these nearly identical cards as completely different, but don’t see themselves as near identical as well?
Patrick’s music taste is a vital aspect in understanding this section’s claim. We know how obsessively he tends to rant about music. On the surface, it’s merely off-putting and somewhat out-of-place. But what’s the relevance of the music he listens to? To answer this, we need to examine who he listens to and why. First, he discusses Huey Lewis and The News. He praises them for their comments on the importance of trends in their music. Specifically, Hip To Be Square is a personal favorite of Patrick’s, for good reason. As Patrick axes Paul Allen, we can clearly hear the lyrics playing over the scene.
“I like my bands in business suits, I watch them on TV
I’m working out ‘most everyday and watching what I eat
They tell me that it’s good for me, but I don’t even care
I know that it’s crazy
I know that it’s nowhere
But there is no denying that
It’s hip to be square”
The second line directly parallels Patrick’s remark about his daily routine of working out and eating well. The line after reflects the attitude Patrick Bateman most likely carries. He doesn’t workout and eat well to be healthy. He does it to look good and impress people with his physique. Patrick knows it’s crazy and pointless to obsess over such things, but like the song, it’s the cool thing to do these things. Being as boring and predictable and cliché as possible is what’s in. Patrick strongly identifies with this song.
The next musical reference is Phil Collins. Patrick goes on another long diatribe about Phil Collins and Genesis while bizarrely instructing the prostitutes to do various acts. He notes that before Phil Collins, he didn’t enjoy Genesis’ apparent intellectual and artsy style. Of course, once they become more mainstream with Phil Collins, he found their music a lot more relatable. Patrick can probably understand Genesis’ older thought-provoking music, he simply chooses not to. It’s easier to fit in and talk about music when everybody else likes the same stuff. Patrick stresses his admiration for Phil Collins’ solo career, in which he furthered himself as more of a mainstream artist (and I stress the word “artist”).
Lastly, he brings up Whitney Houston while casually watching two women make out on his couch. He is clearly more focused on discussing the success of Whitney’s debut LP. Elizabeth makes fun of him for listening to Whitney Houston and questions if he’s being serious, being the first time somebody actually noticed the type of music Patrick would listen to. Of course, Patrick goes on about Whitney’s career, showing his admiration for her songs based around monogamy and true love. This intentionally ironic statement from Patrick, who couldn’t be further from monogamous, is meant to demonstrate the lack of genuine feelings Patrick has towards the music he listens to. This itself is the main point of this particular characterization of Patrick. All three artists listed are usually seen as generic, shallow & soulless music that’s popular in the mainstream. A lot of people listen to it, but merely for the sake of listening to it. There’s little meaning in the lyrics from the artists. Arguably, some of these lyrics are intentionally meaningless and generic to visualize how easy it is to appeal to the average music listener without actual depth. Patrick is not a victim of this trend, though. He knows what soulless garbage he listens to. He just listens to it because everybody else does. He wants to fit in with his music style. He rants and lectures about it to make himself seem intelligent and well versed in the field. He intentionally uses superfluous and hyperbolic language to describe his love and feelings for the music to make it sound like he has something insightful to say. The people listening to him either don’t know any better or are too intoxicated to say much. Once again, Patrick achieves a smug sense of individuality and superiority by falsely hyping up music that should not be hyped up as such. Just another vain effort to relate to “the mainstream” and get on their level, while ironically coming across with a superiority complex.
So how does Patrick stand out within this identical society? Well, let’s think about what we’ve seen in the film with Patrick. Since the film is a character study on Patrick, we’ve mainly seen his interactions with those around him. We’ve seen his interactions with his peers, but also we’ve seen his interactions with those outside of his selfish culture. We see him interact with Jean, Detective Kimball, prostitutes, models, random people on the street. What does this mean in comparison to the rest of his peers? I mean sure, we can assume his peers have interacted with “normal” people as well, but we rarely see this. If anything, Patrick and his peers will interact with others as well with different results.
I believe the most obvious evidence of this is Patrick’s relationship with his secretary Jean. Throughout the entire film, it is strongly suggested Jean is the only one to truly care about Patrick. She seems in love with him and spends a lot of effort trying to help him or just talk to him. On the flip side, we figure that Patrick only truly cares about Jean as well. The issue is, he isn’t good at expressing this at all. He’s used to caring about material things and routines rather than relationships and emotions. To him, people are used to keep up social appearances and appear as someone important and well liked. Patrick is awkward and unintentionally offensive towards Jean. When he berates Jean to dress prettier on multiple occasions, he’s speaking to her in his own language. This is his way of complimenting her on a shallow level and a way of lightly suggesting how she could reach even more of her potential, in terms of physical attractiveness. To Jean, Patrick is insulting her plain and ugly wardrobe but since she likes Patrick so much, she takes it in stride. What’s interesting about their dynamic is that it becomes clear Jean is very sexually and physically attracted to Patrick as well. One might argue that her infatuation isn’t rooted in genuine care but rather sexual desire or a desire to become part of Patrick’s society. Personally, I don’t agree with this assertion. Jean became Patrick’s secretary and started to idolize him and yes, did gain a sort of crush on him. However, the way she talks to him in her tone shows me that she is truly looking out for her boss. She seems more saddened than disgusted when she discovers Patrick’s horrifying drawings. Even after being rejected romantically, she still shows concern over the phone when Patrick is in the midst of his mental breakdown. As for Patrick’s perspective, well, to put it bluntly, Jean is as close as Patrick has ever gotten to a normal life. That is, normal society that isn’t ravaged by greed and narcissism. Patrick cared for her genuinely as a way of vicariously living and experience healthy thoughts and emotions. He wanted to kill her but that would be the same as killing his opportunity of escape. In the end, he cares for Jean as a person too much to attempt to end her existence in hopes of a better one for him. Signs of selflessness appear in Patrick, but they do not last long.
Patrick’s encounter with the homeless man is the earliest example of an interaction with a non-elite. His choice of words and tone are quite out-of-place. He makes a reference to insider trading and seems baffled why the homeless mad doesn’t just get a job. He even offers false hope in promising to help the man, but is really moving into kill mode. Essentially, he gave up on trying to relate to the man and decided he would just end his life and move on. The homeless man did not really offer Patrick a way into a normal life, however. This was a case of an extremely nonideal life for anyone to live. Patrick recognizes this and quickly escapes. Another big example are his interactions with Donald Kimball. Aside from Jean, Kimball is clearly the most adjusted and thriving member of the society Patrick wants to be in. Patrick acts nervous and unintentionally suspicious around him. He tries to be funny and insists on giving Kimball drinks even when Kimball politely refuses. He realizes his defense mechanisms don’t work on Kimball, spiraling him further into uncertainty and paranoia. Kimball, aside from Jean, arguably has the biggest impact on Patrick’s decision to escape his current mindset and lifestyle. It’s uncertain whether Kimball truly believes Patrick is Paul Allen’s killer. For their first interview, Mary Harron had Donald Kimball actor Willem Dafoe doe the scene in three separate ways. For one, Kimball was sure Patrick didn’t do it. For another, Kimball was suspicious but not certain that Patrick did it. For that last, Kimball was absolutely certain Patrick did it. Harron combined footage from the three and edited them into the one scene that appears in the movie. Thus, Kimball and Patrick’s relationship remains ambiguous as to whether Kimball is out to get Patrick or believes something entirely and has Patrick’s back. When Detective Kimball arrives for a second time, Patrick is thrown off his track. It appears that Kimball sees through all of Patrick’s bullshit, but doesn’t acknowledge it. He could have known Patrick looked suspicious but let him play it out in order to get Patrick to admit it on his own. Near the end, Kimball mentions being a fan of Huey Lewis and The News. He asks Patrick if he’s a fan and Patrick denies such after a bit of hesitation. Kimball is trying to relate to something that we know Patrick loves . Patrick’s defense mechanism is to prevent any connections between him and Kimball. To Kimball, Huey Lewis and The News is casual listening. We, however, know Patrick obsesses over his music and does not want to give any of his character away to the detective. I would go as far to say that Kimball was one of the movie’s main antagonists, in terms of Patrick’s perspective. He intimidates and flusters Patrick the most out of any other character, even though Kimball seems like a genuinely friendly guy. To Patrick, however, Kimball is his ultimate downfall and his main obstacle between beating his violent tendencies and falling deeper into insanity.
The next major example are his interactions with the prostitutes he hires and also the blonde model in the club. The prostitutes are introduced to Patrick’s way of life through his large sums of money, fancy apartments, and expensive drinks and accessories. They are noticeably uncomfortable with all of these, to Patrick’s chagrin. He becomes visibly annoyed when they show no interest in what he does for a living. They stay away from the expensive alcohol Patrick has poured for them. Patrick attempts to make small talk and seem charming but really comes across as creepy and pushy. Christy and Sabrina are likely able to recognize Patrick’s life as fake and manipulative, and are thus reluctant to participate in it. Even the allure of money isn’t as convincing once their second encounter occurs. Patrick has to bring in his equally shallow and wealthy friend Elizabeth and what a surprise, Christy cannot relate to her at all. Obviously, Patrick has no desire to escape into a society populated by these prostitutes. It’s clear he demeans them and looks down on them as mere sex toys for his pleasure. Unfortunately for him, his attempts to relate and appeal to those outside his circle fail once more. They are just tests for him to practice being relatable and down to Earth.
In regards to the model he meets at the club, it looks like things are going well on the surface. The model admits to liking Patrick and feeling strangely connected to him. My interpretation is that this model is really part of a shallow society like Patrick. As a would be stereotypical model, she values looks and attention over meaningful connections. Unlike the prostitutes who refused, she asks Patrick what he does for a living. She’s interested in people’s wealth and social status. Thus, upon further inspection, we realize this model is not outside Patrick’s social circle, but at the same time isn’t exactly a part of it either. Perhaps Patrick realizes this at some point and thus kills her off-screen. No reason is given for why he killed her. I think it’s safe to say that once he received his sexual gratification, he tossed her aside by killing her, relieving the pleasure by crunching a piece of her hair back and forth the next day.
One last example is a brief scene near the beginning. Patrick, Evelyn, Timothy, Luis, Courtney, Evelyn’s cousin and her boyfriend meet to have dinner. This is the first time Patrick has met Evelyn’s cousin and her boyfriend and they appear to be part of the goth culture, very different from Patrick’s. During the night, Bryce goes on a rant about how certain events in the world don’t affect their group and culture and that there are other important things to worry about. Patrick quickly cuts in to oppose Bryce, explaining, “Well, we have to end apartheid for one. And slow down the nuclear arms race, stop terrorism and world hunger. We have to provide food and shelter for the homeless, and oppose racial discrimination and promote civil rights, while also promoting equal rights for women. We have to encourage a return to traditional moral values. Most importantly, we have to promote general social concern and less materialism in young people.” At this last part, Bryce chokes on his water laughing. Even he sees how incredulous such a statement sounds like coming from Patrick. Herein lines the point of this scene. Patrick is attempting to seem genuine and caring about issues and people, because that’s what’s been told is the right thing to feel. It doesn’t matter if you truly believe in it or actually do something about it. It’s easy to relate to “normal” society if you appeal to their emotions. There’s no substance in his words and he knows it. He believes that if he comes across as how one in society should act, it’ll get him closer to becoming a part of it. His need to escape his current society outweighs any desire to truly reform as a person.
So, what have we learned about Patrick through his interactions with people? What sets him apart from the rest of the society he lives in? Well, in my view, I believe Patrick shows more desire to escape his culture than anyone else in it. He is frustrated and tired with how things are going. He breaks up with Evelyn simply because he can’t keep the facade going. Just another step in the process of purging himself of his psychopathy and entering the “real world”. His attempts to relate to others and impress them go from simply bragging about his current lifestyle to attempting to becoming one of them. The homeless man was merely a means of venting frustration. Patrick got to gloat about how rich and successful he was and achieved pleasure in goading the homeless man into temporarily idolizing him. Initially, his interactions with Jean were short and rude. He craved the attention and virtually got off on it. When Detective Kimball arrived, he was thrown off his track. It appeared that Kimball saw through all of Patrick’s bullshit, but didn’t acknowledge it. He could have known Patrick looked suspicious but let him play it out in order to get Patrick to admit it on his own. In their second encounter, Kimball mentions being a fan of Huey Lewis and The News. He asks Patrick if he’s a fan and Patrick denies so, after a bit of hesitation. Kimball is trying to relate to something that we know Patrick loves. Patrick’s defense mechanism is to keep any connection between him and Kimball broken. To Kimball, Huey Lewis and The News is casual listening. We know Patrick obsesses over music like this and does not want to give any of his character away to the detective. I would go as far to say that Kimball was one of the movie’s main antagonists, in terms of Patrick’s perspective. Without reiterating my points about Patrick’s interactions with the prostitutes, I will conclude that the evidence to support my claim that only Patrick seemed to desire to escape his culture far outweighs any lack of information or ambiguity supporting any of his cohorts.
I will mention, though, that I believe someone comes quite close. It wasn’t apparent to me at first, but after analyzing this character’s actions, behaviors, and personality, someone can make a case for Luis Carruthers not truly fitting in. He is described as the biggest “doofus in the industry” by Patrick himself. Patrick loathes Luis, possibly because Luis is fairly different, even though he works as the same position in the same division of the same company as the rest. It’s obvious Luis stands out among this group. His admiration of Patrick’s disingenuous tirade comes to mind first. The lack of respect he receives from everyone, including his own fiancée, suggests to me that he secretly doesn’t buy into a lot of the crap they spew. When Patrick freaks out over Paul Allen’s business card, Luis is the only one to notice something wrong and ask if he’s ok. Later, Luis gets a new business card and attempts to show it off the same way everyone else had earlier, to a lukewarm reception. This pisses Patrick off and he wants to kill Luis, but eventually decides he can’t. Why? In my view, Patrick may have realized how different Luis was and how he should have belonged to a more “normal” society like Patrick wanted. It appeared to me that Luis said whatever he wanted to and that he wasn’t bound by this selfish society’s pressure to conform and stay silent and be cold and emotionless. His obvious love for Patrick is always hinted at until he confesses it himself. At the end of the day, it’s hard to say what was going on with Luis due to the lack of focus on his character. He was in maybe 10-15 minutes of the entire movie? I won’t come to any conclusions about Luis’s conformity, individuality, or the lack thereof.
Patrick Bateman is the ultimate individualist among conformists in the film. That might be super obvious as he is the main character and focus, but it’s important to understand his character aside from the obvious. We already know Patrick kills. We know he looks down on people. We know how insecure and jealous he can be. What we should want to know is what influenced Patrick to desire to combat his criminal ways, so to speak. We should want to know why he ultimately ended up failing in escaping his culture. At the end of the film, does it really matter? He’s apparently doomed to be stuck as a conformist forever. But as I mentioned before, is that really such a bad thing for Patrick?
Ambiguity, Detachment, & Disillusionment
There’s no question that the constant debate around the film revolves around its intended ambiguity. The film ends on a sort of cliffhanger for many viewers. “That’s it? What’s he gonna do now?” Let me just address the elephant in the room. “Did Patrick really commit all of those murders? Were they all in these head? If neither, how many were real and how many were delusions?” This is the biggest topic of debate regarding the film. Many people have different observations. Some people think their answer is 100% right, no argument. Some people think none of the popular arguments are right. What do I think? Before I answer, let me explain what the author of the novel and the director believe.
Bret Easton Ellis and Mary Harron both said their intentions were never to assert that Patrick didn’t kill a single person and that he was completely nuts. Patrick Bateman did horrible things in both book and movie. The extent of what he did, is certainly up for debate. I will be offering my own perspective on this with as much detail as possible. I’ll discuss what I believe really happened and also how the themes were illustrated.
Let’s get this out of the way. Patrick Bateman killed a lot of people. He killed all of those homeless people. He killed the blonde model. He killed his friend Elizabeth. He killed Paul Allen. What he didn’t do in reality was attempt to feed an ATM a stray cat, or shoot a random woman, or blow up police cars, or shoot a doorman and a janitor. He did, however, leave the confession voicemail on his lawyer’s answering machine. Let’s go into detail
Patrick really did kill and rape and torture a lot of people. That’s integral to the main points of the film. Patrick got away with all of his heinous crimes because nobody gave a fuck enough to investigate. Their own lives were more important and since they requires such focus and attention to detail, nobody noticed. I’ve already discussed the inherent selfishness, the mistaken identity, the miscommunication between characters. Patrick killed the blonde model because she was expendable. Plenty of hot blonde models in this culture. Patrick killed Paul Allen and got away with it. Patrick’s lawyer Harry did not dine with Paul in London, he just thought he did. Paul Allen was mistaken the most for someone else out of anyone else in the film. The first scene makes it so that you know that somebody else was mistaken as Paul Allen. You just didn’t understand its relevance until later. Patrick killed both Elizabeth and Christy. The scene in which Patrick chases Christy with a chainsaw and magically drops it on her perfectly accurate is very silly and preposterous, for sure. I am of the opinion that Patrick killed her either the first time or in another unspecified way. The whole chainsaw bit, the discovery of the bodies, the “Die Yuppie Scum” on the wall were all delusions or hallucinations of Patrick’s. The entirety of Patrick’s climactic rampage was completely delusional minus the phone call. I remember when I first watched the film and wondered to myself, “This guy just took out a bunch of cops and some random people and they never found him? They even had the helicopter light on him and he just got away”. Over time I realized how it was a manic induced delusion. In my opinion, the sheer ridiculoness and over the top unlikelihood of it all was a way for Patrick to try to purge his system of his evil feelings. This is why he immediately calls his lawyer to confess after it all happens. Perhaps in his mania, his subconscious created this overly violent and gruesome scenario as a way for Patrick to realize where he was going with his crimes. This is portrayed as the climactic tipping point of Patrick’s sanity, but it only occurs in his head as a last-ditch effort by his conscious/soul/guilt/subconscious to get him out of this mindset. At first, Patrick does not realize this. The next morning, he goes to Paul Allen’s apartment to literally clean up his mess, only to find it’s already been cleaned for him. The realtor there dismisses Patrick’s claims and suspiciously tells him to leave. There’s a theory that the realtor herself discovered the bodies and cleaned it up in order to preserve a sale on an expensive property. It would not be surprising seeing as the movie wants you to understand the large selfishness and greed people possess. Another theory is that Patrick’s lawyer actually did help him out by cleaning up his mess and covering up his crimes. He took the voicemail seriously and when Patrick confronted him in person, tried to play it off as a joke in order to not implicate his client and maintain his innocence. While both of these are certainly valid and interesting, I personally believe all of that carnage that Patrick thought would be there was never there in the first place. During the scene when Christy was running around and saw a lot of bizarre stuff, I feel the filmmakers wanted US as audience members to feel like we were seeing things, like we were in the mind of Patrick and this was how he was starting to interpret things. Patrick had killed many more people than shown in the movie and thus probably had experience and knowledge in disposing of bodies. The only victims Patrick is shown killing at Paul Allen’s apartment are Elizabeth and Christy. So, where did all the bodies and carnage come from? Did he store victims there? It seems plausible, but very impractical and unlikely.
Another thing worth mentioning is that I do believe 100% Patrick had the nail gun up to Jean’s head and was prepared to kill her. Based on that scene alone and what we know about Patrick and Jean’s relationship, Patrick was likely in a clear state of mind at the time. His desire to kill was still there, but he stalled and delayed the actual killing. He conversed with Jean and acted like a “normal” person. Patrick was very close to the threshold between psychopath killer and functioning conversationalist. Ultimately, a surprise intervention from Evelyn left him more so in the normal state, but close enough to where he could slip into a killer at any time. Hence, he urged Jean to get out before the negativity overpowered his compassion.
Consider one of my favorite scenes in the film: when Patrick breaks up with his fiance Evelyn. After finally understand the scope of things, Evelyn tells Patrick, “You’re inhuman”, to which Patrick quickly replies, “No, I’m in touch with humanity”. There is a sheen of desperation in his voice as he says this. Even he has to convince himself out loud that he’s in touch with reality and not slipping away. Evelyn’s comment made him quite noticeably defensive and flustered. When someone as detached as Evelyn calls you inhuman, it must be fairly eye-opening.
I also want to bring up something I did not notice until a recent viewing. A subtle moment identifying Patrick’s entire character arc throughout the film up to that point. Near the end, Patrick is having a panic attack and calls Jean from a payphone. They have a bizarre conversation where Patrick is clearly losing. Jean remains calm and mentions that his friends want to meet up for drinks later and asks Patrick what she should tell them. He yells, “JUST SAY NO!” into the phone, scaring Jean. If we go back to a very early part of the film, we have a basic scene where Patrick arrives to his office and Jean starts going over his schedule for the day. Jean mentions he was invited to dinner with someone, which Patrick tells her he does not want to go. Jean asks what she should say and Patrick replies, “Just say no”. The same exact thing he says to Jean in the phone-booth. However, in the first instance, he says that phrase calmly and cooly. The sharp distinction between calm & cool and loud and desperate is a fitting representation of the character development and arc Patrick had undergone over the course of the film. This usage is not apparent at all unless you’ve seen the movie enough like yours truly to realize what was said both times was the same thing, just in two different manners. In a movie packed with lack of subtlety and tact, I give props to the film for incorporating some nuanced character change.
All in all, I believe American Psycho’s ambiguous ending was the perfect way to end the film. Viewers aren’t sure whether they should be worried for Patrick, worried for more potential victims, or that they shouldn’t be worried at all because things would remain exactly the same.
Patrick Bateman is both detached and disillusioned with his social circle and the society they inhabit. His psychopathic ways are a means of lashing out and expressing his desire to become something else. At first, he is in denial, and thus murders and rapes to take his frustration and anger out on those he perceives as threats. Each victim is a glimpse into the life he eventually realizes he could have. Even Paul Allen, who lives a more affluent, egotistical, and shallow lifestyle than anybody else. Patrick kills Paul to effectively keep denying how fucked up their culture they live in is. Patrick loathed Paul Allen at first for being more successful than him. In my opinion, however, Patrick may have killed Paul while secretly admonishing Paul for encouraging and spreading the decadent lifestyle he had come to hate. He probably didn’t realize it at first, but eventually, Paul’s death became the most significant for Patrick. “I killed Paul Allen…and I liked it” he tells his lawyer, gloating and taking pleasure in the fact. How many of his other murders could Patrick say he really liked? To him, they were just easy ways of relieving temporary stress and increasing his own denial. Think of Paul Allen as a final boss in a video game. He’s at the top of the world, clearly in charge of everyone else. He’s the apex predator of Patrick’s society. His actions and attitudes directly contributed to the fall of normal society and the rise of shallow society. People worshipped him and idolized him like a God. Only Patrick saw him as a false prophet, as a final boss to beat. Though Paul Allen’s murder occurs before several murders, his has the most impact on the plot. The investigation into his disappearance is the most conventional aspect of the story and the most influential on Patrick’s sanity. After he kills Paul Allen, he begins to become more “free”. He interacts more with non-elite people. His sanity begins to slip, but this is just the cleansing part of his spirit. You have to be broken down to be able to rise up stronger than ever. The final boss of this cruel society was gone. Maybe someday he would be replaced. The film certainly argues that there’s no difference among the residents of this society and that anybody could be this alpha male type and society would remain the same. This interpretation doesn’t concern itself with that aspect. American Psycho is first and foremost, a character study. The film manages to explore the depth of Patrick Bateman’s psyche better than I could have ever asked for. A movie that entertained me with a completely unlikable character, then made me gradually more sympathetic for him as the movie progressed. I began to think of who Patrick really was as a character. Who was he intended to represent in reality? The messages the film brought forth over consumerism, capitalism, selfishness, and so on were very clear and well done. I do, believe, under the surface, the film had something to say about characters. I won’t go as far to say as the film wants to be optimistic. I still firmly believe the film’s ambiguous storytelling, morals, and ending are perfect the way they are. Perhaps we’re supposed to wonder how much Patrick Bateman relates to us. Not in the sick and twisted way obviously, but on a deeper level. Are we living among people who we can’t stand? Yet, why do we still crave their attention and acceptance anyway? How far would we go to escape society and live among those who better you and help you grow? How do you know what society is best for you?
My two cents: Patrick Bateman is a tragic anti-hero. I will never condone the things he did or things other people did similar to his. Those types of things are only detrimental in real life. It was never Easton’s intention to glorify violence and encourage it. Violence and graphic content was merely the vessel for a point, or many points. Sure, we could try to get you to understand by being safe and nice and not stepping out of our comfort zone. Or we could demonstrate our feelings and critiques by shoving them in your face and being uncompromising. Ellis and Harron believed that by portraying the ridiculous and absurd, more people would become aware of the true ridiculous and absurd. Could society be so fucked up that it drove someone or some people to commit horrible acts? Maybe we as people would be more likely to reflect and ponder issues that inhabit our livelihoods. Perhaps they weren’t as apparent before we were exposed to them in such a shocking manner. Otherwise, would we have even noticed? Or even cared? “No worries, I’m safe here in my comfort zone. I’m complacent with my role in society. There’s nothing wrong with excess or greed or violence or selfishness because I’m not THAT affected”.
At the end of the day, I’m not attempting to bring about social change or start a revolution with this essay. All I wanted to do was talk about a film I love and what I think it meant, and what it meant to me. Thinking about film and really analyzing it is a true passion of mine that hopefully I will be able to pass onto people one day. I poses many rhetorical and hypothetical questions in this essay on purpose in hopes of inciting many different answers. I don’t claim that all claims of mine are 100% fact. It’s the beauty of leaving things up to debate. I would highly encourage debate for anything like this. Films are meant to be talked about and discussed and analyzed. I love hearing new interpretations on things I’d never heard before. Even for this film, I discovered new possible interpretations I had never considered myself. Some I even believe very strongly now. If anything, even if you don’t agree with what the film was arguing or what I’m arguing and interpreting, all I would want is for you to understand the importance of putting effort into your passions as I’ve done here. At best, I hope you’ve come to gain a new understanding of the film and that I’ve truly opened your eyes to many different things. I’m looking forward to doing this more in the future so hopefully this was a quality piece of writing.
My Own Objective & Subjective Observations
Thus ends the lengthy and extensive analysis part of the essay. No more theme interpretations, analysis of character moments, or anything of the sort. I believe I have covered every possible track with what I wanted to talk about. Now, I offer my views on the film from both objective and subjective perspectives. I believe both are important things to consider when rating a film. Neither is more important than the other, although if one were to subjectively enjoy an objectively terrible film (AKA guilty pleasures), who am I to take that away from someone? Enjoy the films you want to enjoy. Don’t let anybody take that away from you. Anyways, here are my thoughts.
For a movie without a huge budget or big name talent at the helm, the technical aspects of this film are absolutely fantastic. Ok honestly, regardless of budget or talent, this movie was very well put together. To this day, Christian Bale’s performance as Patrick Bateman is the greatest performance I’ve ever seen on film. This performance alone deserved 10 Oscars, let alone one. When you become the character so accurately, it’s hard not to recognize talent and hard work. To this day, it’s difficult to see Christian Bale and not see Patrick Bateman. I’m happy to say that everybody in this film is pretty excellent. Chloe Sevigny as Jean is excellent and really captures the timid and reserved girl well. Jared Leto as Paul Allen is the perfect combination of cocky swagger & austere confidence. Reese Witherspoon as Evelyn Williams is great as a socialite obsessed with extravagance and her over-the-top fashion sense. Patrick’s 3 main friends (Bryce, Van Patten, McDermott) do their best to give their nearly identical characters their own unique personalities and mannerisms. Willem Dafoe wasn’t in the film much as Donald Kimball but I feel he really came across as ambiguous when it came to his true perception of Patrick Bateman.
The film itself would not have worked without the genius screenplay by Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner (Fun fact: she plays Elizabeth in the film). Of course, I’ve read that most of the dialog was taken directly from the source novel, so I give props to Bret Easton Ellis for originally coming up with it. A screenplay that focused solely on the horror aspect and violence would not have worked at all, but the decision to go into the satirical route could not have been implemented better. Sharp dialog, hilarious dark humor, and lack of subtlety have cemented this as one of my most quotable movies. I was able to get my hands on the screenplay and finally read it in hopes of inspiring me and providing me with insight to apply to my own writing. This film has cult classic written (pun intended) all over it.
For an inexperienced and relatively unknown director, Mary Harron’s direction really went above and beyond. It’s easy to just frame a shot and shoot and then move on, but Harron had a vision. She understood the source material well and figured how it should translate into film. Certain sound effects, close-ups, focus on certain things, and many more creative decisions really make this film unique. I cannot praise this film enough for its originality and uniqueness when it comes to story and direction. The decision to let the viewer think and ponder over what they had seen was ultimately the right choice. Subversive material like this should never be so straight forward, and Harron knew what she was doing in making it different from most movies. It’s pretty sad that she’s looking to be a one hit wonder. None of her other films look particularly appealing and they haven’t received the best reviews. Oh well, if this is her legacy, then so be it. I can’t complain.
This movie is the closest movie I’ve seen to utterly flawless. The only issue I really have is pacing at times. Sometimes, I felt scenes were too short and that transitions from scene to scene weren’t the smoothest, but those are very minor nitpicks. Definitely not enough to significantly ruin the movie for me. Overall, a very well constructed film. I could tell those working on it really cared and put in the effort. It definitely showed.
I’ll be honest with you guys. Subjectively, I find American Psycho an absolutely flawless film. Utter perfection in my mind. No, I’m not exaggerating. People tend to use hyperbolic language when describing their favorite things, I get it. While objectively it is a 9.1/10, I have no qualms giving American Psycho a 10/10 subjective rating. It’s the only film I’ve ever rated a 10/10 subjectively (no film will ever be a 10/10 objectively, in my view). I’ve seen this film more than 15 times from start to finish and it has never waned in quality or entertainment factor. The film is the perfect length of about 102 minutes. Not too long and drawn out, not too short and rushed. I quote this film so often in everyday life, I’m sure it pisses off or confuses a lot of people I talk to. I’ve used the name Patrick Bateman for when I play online games anonymously. For me, American Psycho is a cultural phenomenon. I never knew I could become this invested in a film. I like plenty of other movies for sure, but I’ve easily spent the most time thinking about or analyzing or talking about this film. It’s been my number one film for a couple of years and for the time being, I see it remaining at the top for quite a while. I always recommend my friends watch American Psycho no matter what type of films they like the most. Never before have I watched such an outstanding achievement of satire, horror, dark comedy, character study, and thought-provoking intelligence all combined in one film. Anyway, I’ll stop gushing before it gets too out of hand.
Film is something I’ve become truly passionate about over the past couple years. I’ve devoted a lot of time and effort into research and analysis for this essay. This is my first in-depth analysis so I decided to start with my favorite film. I had a lot to say as you can tell but I promise for other analysis/reviews, they will not be nearly as long. Of course, if you have any comments, questions, disagreements, constructive criticisms, compliments, requests, or if you feel I missed anything with this essay so I can add it, please feel free to let me know! That’s it for this cinematic essay. Thanks for reading!