This a movie review containing spoilers. American Psycho is a disturbing film that leaves the viewer with a head full of questions at its resolution. DO NOT LET CHILDREN WATCH IT. It’s full of gore, sex, drugs and literal women in refrigerators. To answer my title, I believe that the character’s obsession with status and hierarchy and his extreme vanity make this psycho American. He is vain to the point that he only looks at his own muscular frame in the mirror while he has sex.
The depiction of the psychopathic violent behavior of Bateman is grotesque, therefore, having skimmed the Wikipedia page, I was surprised to see that it was considered to be darkly comedic when it came out in Y2K. I didn’t so much as snicker throughout the whole film.
The movie is set in the late ’80s in NYC a few years before the novel that the movie was based on was written. I find it strange that the movie rights were sat on for nearly a decade before it was created. However, even today, the caricatures of Wall Street employees seem valid. The movie is mostly unremarkable in its cinematography, use of music, and voice-over characterization of Bateman. Christian Bale’s performance of the Patrick Bateman character is the dramatic core of the movie, as it delves into the mind of a madman.
From the opening credits, the movie plays with ambiguity. Is that blood dripping from the knife onto the plain white screen? No, it’s raspberry sauce being drizzled onto a dessert plate. Here the movie declares a subtle warning about its conclusion–not everything is what it seems.
The film explores the binary relationships between form versus function, inside versus outside, compassion versus apathy, and appearance versus reality. So who does Bateman appear to be? A Wall Street player who cavorts with his colleagues. These men act like fraternity jerks with money and anti-Semitic and misogynist views. These men are terribly superficial and competitive, always trying to outclass one another down to the smallest thing such as having a nicer business card. This is a prime example of the psyche of Patrick Bateman. Each business card provides the same function–the same information. However they are crafted slightly differently–with different fonts, textures, and hues. Patrick fixates on these cards to the point of murderous rage at men who carry fancier cards than he does. See, to Bateman, form is everything because form can be used to hide function in American society. That’s what Patrick wants to do, hide in plain sight. However, the question arises, “If one spends much of their time doing something or crafting a persona–even if it is only an act intended to fool others–does this “actor” really not become this character they portray to others to some degree?” To state it more simply, at what point does one become what they pretend to be?
As Bateman and his fiancee Evelyn are riding in a limousine talking, she questions why he will not take time off of work for their wedding. She is just a part of his front and he has no feelings for her. So long as they are engaged, he has his fake fiancee. Because of this, he replies to her, “I want to fit in!” He, like the rest of us, wants to fit in. Most people want to “fit in“ in order to be a part of a community and feel the security that accompanies being part of one. Bateman and other psychopaths want to fit in like a wolf in sheep’s clothing (never really thought about this idiom, sounds very strange to say that sheep wear clothing).
Aside from the killings, just about everything Bateman does is to maintain his image as a fit and well-to-do Wall Street executive. He exercises, uses tanning beds, and applies numerous skin products to create his ideal physical appearance. Early in the film, and probably the most visually moving shot, (despite the amount of gore in the movie), is a close-up of Bateman as he peels a transparent layer of skin product off to reveal his bare face. This visual metaphor for revealing one’s true self by their actions is compelling.
Bateman also uses false compassion to gain the trust of others as he did with the homeless man, Al, who Bateman stabs to death after pretending to offer him help. Also, at a dinner with his colleagues he decries the evils of the world and says that world peace, world hunger and even women’s rights should be addressed. It’s clear he doesn’t mean any of this. Perhaps saying that he believes women deserve equality with men is the only line of the movie that could draw laughter due to its blatant dishonesty.
Towards the conclusion of the movie, things spiral out of control as Bateman kills every witness and police officer chasing him. Things become more and more incredible, for example the prostitute runs screaming down the hall in the middle of the night in Bateman’s apartment building and no one wakes up as he gives chase revving the motor of a gas powered chainsaw. Later, he shoots at police cars and they explode almost instantly.
By the end of the movie, it appears that Bateman may have imagined most or all of the events of the movie up until the end where he is faced with realities that contradict the murders. However, in maybe the only scene of the movie which excludes our main character, his secretary Jean finds a notebook in his desk drawer full of sketches of murders and dismemberment of the people that the viewer watched Bateman kill earlier. If our narrator as it were is not to be trusted, maybe this scene is the only one that happened as the audience saw it.
If one concludes that the murders did not take place, then the question remains, is Bateman dangerous? Fantasizing about something may be a necessary step for some people to take certain actions, but other times fantasies are just that and not premeditations of heinous actions. Bateman spent all that time pretending he was killing people in his mind. He sketched one of the murders on the tablecloth at a restaurant when he broke up with Evelyn. Maybe his delusion is not that he wouldn’t kill someone but that he’d get away with it if he did. One problem with this viewing of or perspective on the movie is that of the private investigator who questions him multiple times about the disappearance of one of Bateman’s presumed victims, Paul Allen. First, if Bateman really is a psychopath, why would his delusions contain a sort of conscience figure? Is it just to serve as a tool to help him cover his tracks?
Bateman says that he only feels two emotions: greed and disgust, but the movie proves he feels envy, rage, pride, and anxiety as well. The movie’s conclusion shows the viewer that he ultimately lost the conflict of man versus his own mind or man versus insanity. While the movie attempts to end on a note as ambiguous as it began on, I believe it fails to hit that note. Bateman’s descent into madness, paralleled by his literal descent in the city from tall buildings to the ground is confusing because it happens in the course of a few seconds while he is withdrawing cash from an ATM. One could view this as a metaphor that “money makes Americans (or people) crazy,” but that’s just a humorous coincidence. The ATM’s absurd command, FEED ME A STRAY CAT, sets off Bateman’s most insane delusions.
For me, Bateman’s delusions, being that he thinks he killed all of those people when he didn’t, is oddly disappointing. Now I know that sounds terrible, but without the murders actually occurring, why does Bateman behave as he does in terms of trying to hide in plain sight in the social construct of Wall Street? That’s one question I didn’t want to ask myself at the end of the film. How boring.