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  • Jackson LeJeune

American Psycho

A film analysis by Jack LeJeune

-You like “American Psycho”?

-Eh, it’s ok.

-The book version, by Bret Easton Ellis, is a little too wordy for my taste. But when the film came out, Patrick Bateman really came into his own, both comedically and psychotically. The whole movie has a crisp, biting edge of satire, and enough funny elements to offset the horrific acts of violence that makes the movie more comedy than horror. It’s been said that Patrick Bateman is a “sigma male,” but I think he’s more representative of the alienation and rot that lies behind the eyes of society.

-Hey, Jack?

-Yes, Reader?

-Why are there copies of the style section all over the floor? Do you have a dog? A little Chow or something?

-No, Reader!

-Is that a “Weird Al” tour shirt?

-Yes, it is! In 2000, Lionsgate released the film, Christian Bale’s best if you ask me. I think its undisputed masterstroke scene is the “Hip To Be Square” scene. It’s a movie so entertaining, most people don’t try to interpret more than its surface-level satire. But they should, because it’s not just a slight against 80’s conformity and superficiality. It’s also a scathing critique about neoliberalism itself! HEY READER!

-*Gets bloodily murdered with an axe*


*khm-hmm-hmm* Anyway, uh, yeah. American Psycho.

I live in the American Gardens Building on W. 81st Street on the 11th floor. My name is Patrick Bateman.

Patrick Bateman, in one of the first shots of the movie

So, yeah. The time has come again for me to write an article for the UIC Radio blog, and since it’s the spooky times, I figured I’d write about one of my favorite movies, and also what could be the only “horror” movie I’ve ever watched. I am aware that this is perhaps a departure from my usual position as “rock snob” in-residence at UIC Radio, but hey, I can be multiple things at once! I can be a rock snob and a movie snob-in-training!

As a foreword, in case you couldn’t tell from my parody opening or the title, the movie is a slasher film told from the point of view of a brutal, frightening killer, which also contains moderate amounts of sexual content. I won’t be going into graphic detail, we do have rules at UIC Radio, but to be able to discuss the movie, I have to talk about its most brutal aspects to some extent. Now’s your chance to click away if you’re not comfortable with that. Also, I’ll be sticking to the film, and more or less ignoring the book, so if you wanted an analysis of that, you can also click away now. And, naturally, I’ll be spoiling most of the movie, so if you want something to watch on Halloween, go for it, and come back to the article. Your first experience only happens once, but the article will always be here.

There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction.

American Psycho is a slasher horror/comedy starring Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, a 27-year-old Wall Street yuppie who leads a double life as a vicious murderer in 1987 New York-or does he? The movie was directed my Mary Harron and adapted from the book of the same name by Bret Easton Ellis. Bale acts opposite a deep roster of supporting actors, including Willem Dafoe, Reese Witherspoon, Jared Leto, and Cara Seymour. The movie was shot in 7 weeks on a budget of $7 million, and was released to theaters in April of 2000, making ~$34 million at the box office. It received generally warm reception from critics and audiences, most of the negative press coming from its violent and crass nature, as a satirical horror movie.

Patrick in the midst of his rigorous morning skincare routine

I have all the characteristics of a human being: blood, flesh, skin, hair; but not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed and disgust.

American Psycho could best be described as a character study of the titular psycho. The movie is viewed entirely from Patrick’s perspective, which makes it hard to extract the real world from what he sees and does. Patrick, as we are told in several internal monologs throughout the film, is far removed from humanity, despite looking exactly like one (like the quote heading this section). Perhaps he seeks to discover what he lacks through the brutal murder of others, but by the end of the film he “gains no deeper knowledge of himself” despite his many excursions into the lurid and obscene.

Patrick Bateman is, at least outwardly, of a specific type. He’s the oiled, slick, well-to-do yuppie who is paid for doing practically nothing, and spends most of his time between dining in luxury restaurants and doing copious amounts of bl*w in grungy clubs on the outskirts of high society. The Jordan Belforts of the world, riding high off of Wall Street and never having to touch the ground. In fact, Patrick’s surface-level typicalness is used as a major plot point in the movie, where people constantly mistake him for his coworkers.

Bateman (second picture, back to camera) amidst his coworkers

Despite being of a type, he has no discernable personality traits. On three separate occasions, he puts on music and gets very chin-strokingly philosophical about it before brutally murdering whoever he’s talking to. However, despite saying rather deep-seeming things that really understand the music, he’s really just quoting what music critics have said about the album or song, with no contributed opinion of his own. When his fiancée questions why he doesn't quit his job, since his “father practically owns the company anyway,” he simply replies “Because I want to fit in.” When his friend says something antisemitic, Patrick calls him on it, albeit in a light, joking manner. In a similar vein, when another friend makes a remark about the ongoing Sri Lankan “massacres,” Bateman launches into a well-rehearsed speech laden with both liberal and conservative buzzwords and phrases, but in the end, is just meaningless, platitude-filled nothingness. But before you think he’s all warm and fuzzy, he’s also bigoted just enough to fit in. He’s a rampant misogynist, calls Huey Lewis’ sound “too black for my taste,” and is violently homophobic (more on that later), all of which were what one might call “normal” views for the time.

Bateman is so faceless, so generic, that he’s able to convince coworker Paul Allen he’s someone else, murder him, then play the role of Paul and build a somewhat convincing case that Paul Allen ran away to London for no particular reason, instead of reality, where “his body is dissolving in a bathtub somewhere in Hell’s Kitchen.” However, once detective Donald Kimball (played by Willem Dafoe) is hired to investigate Paul’s disappearance, Kimball discloses that Patrick was in fact out clubbing, according to some friends he was supposedly with. Not only that, but after confessing to him his 20-40 killings in a phone message to his lawyer, Harold, Patrick’s lawyer smiles and laughs, thinking it was an elaborate joke by Davis, who he assumes Patrick to be, telling him “Your joke was amusing, but come on, man. You had one fatal flaw. Bateman is such a dork. Such a boring spineless lightweight.” And after trying to reiterate his identity, Patrick is told it isn’t possible for his confession to be true, because Harold “had lunch with [him] twice in London, just 10 days ago.” Even when performing perhaps the most offensive act known to man, Patrick is just a face in the crowd, another mistaken identity. Thus, the whole movie is thrown into question; did Patrick really kill all those people and is just surrounded by the most ignorant people in the world, or is he suffering a constant and severe disconnect from the reality around him?

I have to go return some videotapes.

While Bale’s acting is praised to no end for this movie (not undeserved), the work behind the camera deserves attention as well. The language of cinema, as some may call it, does a great deal to enhance the movie’s feel and themes. One of the more noticeable motifs is the use of close-ups. They are usually employed in scenes where Bateman feels threatened, or like he is losing control. You see the fear, the rage, the loathing in his eyes much easier because his eyes are 5% of the screen real estate. This is best seen in the famous business card scene, where both Patrick’s vapid nature and sweat glands are on full display. He displays his new business card to his colleagues, confident, gloating at his obvious superiority. Then he’s shown up. He begins to glisten. His head fills the frame, from brow to chin, giving reluctant acknowledgment that he’s been bested. When we cut back to him, the camera’s been pulled away slightly, as he tries to retain his composure. Another card; he sweats a little more, but the camera stays back, he’s keeping as calm as can be. And then; Paul Allen’s card. The man who he hates the most: the prestigious “Fisher Account,” a nicer apartment, and worst: the ability to get reservations at Dorsia, any time he wants. Allen’s card: perfect; “Look at that subtle off-white coloring. The tasteful thickness of it. Oh, my God. It even has a watermark.” While observing the card, he breaks into a sweat practically on command while dropping the card.

From top to bottom:
Bateman triumphant, Bateman challenged, Bateman conceding, Bateman in crisis

Another thing of note is that, for all the lurid aspects and themes of the movie, the camera doesn’t tend to show them too much, or when it does, it’s relatively tame, especially when compared to its slasher genre peers. For instance: Bateman chases a sex worker through Paul Allen’s apartment building with a chainsaw, wearing nothing but running shoes and the blood of another victim. She runs, screaming down the stairwell, while Bateman stands at the top, pointing the chainsaw at her and revving it, before dropping it towards her. We see the chainsaw fall, cut to Bateman screaming at the top, and then cut back to the sex worker, dead at the bottom of the stairwell, chainsaw sticking out of her side, blood pooling beneath her.

Now, for director recognition. When filming the scenes where Donald Kimball is interviewing Patrick on the disappearance of Paul Allen, Mary Harron instructed Willem Dafoe to perform his lines in three separate ways per take. One, he suspects nothing of Bateman and is merely asking genuine questions. Two, he thinks something is up with Bateman, and is actively searching for evidence, or confirmation. Three, Kimball knows Bateman killed Paul Allen, and is either looking for a confession or is simply playing with his food, so to speak. Then, in the editing room, the three takes were spliced together between each cut, making it so that the audience is left feeling as shaken and confused as Bateman is, wondering how much Kimball knows, and whether what Bateman just said will confirm his suspicions. YouTube user R. Raffrody uploaded a video trying to piece together which take is which, and I think it’s very informative, so I’ll link it here.

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.

So: the killings. Let’s talk about them.

In total, Patrick Bateman kills 11 people (and a dog) on-screen, there are at least 4 more bodies implied to be “his” throughout the movie, he comes close to killing two more people, and during his confession he says he’s killed “20-40 people, maybe more.” But, remembering his tenuous grip on reality, we can’t really be sure of that number, or the validity of any on-screen kills.

His first on-screen kill comes after the business card scene, where he kills a homeless man, Al, and his dog. He passes him sitting in an alleyway, initially offering him money, or some help to get a job. But then, a shadow passes over him, and his bloodlust takes over. He begins berating him, telling him he smells awful, and condescendingly asks if he lost his last job due to drinking. He stops for a moment, kneels and unlocks his briefcase, and then stabs Al several times in the stomach. Bateman then kicks his dog to death (thankfully from a long shot, with no dog visible), before packing back up and continuing on his way, sated for now.

Before long, he’s back to it. He gets Paul Allen, his erstwhile nemesis, drunk, and takes him back to his apartment. Patrick clearly telegraphs what’s about to happen to anyone paying attention, but unfortunately, Paul Allen isn’t. I parodied this kill, arguably the most famous scene from the movie, in the introduction of this article, so I won’t describe it too much here. But there are two things of note that are not present in my parody. One: Bateman dons a raincoat before axing Allen, because he wants to protect his nice suit, but doesn’t care about how his face gets covered in blood. Second, the scene contains what is likely the most emotional range seen in Patrick Bateman throughout the entire film; he’s calmly, but surely escalating in tone as he lectures Paul about the pleasures of conformity, before unleashing a torrent of rage and hatred as axe meets skull several times in a row, before donning his calm demeanor once again and lighting a cigar.

Bateman takes a drag on the post-murder cigar, suit immaculate beneath a bloodied face

The next kill is, in fact, unsuccessful. Luis Carruthers, the “biggest dufus working at this place” was inspired by his compatriots’ flashy new business cards and shows off his new one to the guys at a drinking club. Bateman is so insulted by this tacky poseur imitating him, he must simply eliminate him. He follows Luis to the men’s bathroom, approaches him from behind at a urinal, and places his hands around his throat. Before he can get to throttling, however, Luis turns around, shocked, and tenderly kisses Patrick’s wrist, mistaking his own impending death for a come-on. Patrick is positively horrified that he touched a gay person, breaking into a sweat, washing his leather killing gloves in the sink, despite having been kissed on the skin of his wrist, making hasty excuses, and leaving, but not without nearly trampling a few people on his way out of the building.

Between Luis and the next onscreen kill, we get two intermediates; an implied kill on a fashion model Patrick picks up at a club one night, when we see her head in his fridge later, and another almost-kill on his assistant Jean, where he’s stopped by his fiancé calling him before he can pull the trigger on the nail gun he’s holding. His next kill is a double kill, in fact, also containing the bodies of at least 4 implied victims. He invites “Christie,” a sex worker seen before in the movie, over to Paul Allen’s place, along with a female acquaintance of his. He laces their wine with an aphrodisiac, and after getting into bed with them, we see Christie getting ready to leave, before she notices blood leaking through the sheets, before they’re pulled back to reveal Bateman, mouth soaked in blood and eyes crazed. This leads to the before-mentioned chainsaw chase, in which Christie screams and pounds on the doors of other apartments, to no avail or reaction. Then, stairwell, then, chainsaw, then, dead.

Patrick Bateman’s last on-screen killings come in a spree, late at night. While withdrawing money from an ATM, he sees the screen displaying the message “FEED ME A STRAY CAT.” As he tries to comply, a passing woman is shocked, and tells him to stop it, where he turns and shoots her dead on the spot. A police car lights up on the other end of the block, and Patrick takes off. He tries, in a panic, to open the doors of several cars on the streets, setting off all their alarms, and becoming more and more panicked. He’s caught up to by the police, commanding him to drop the weapon. He pauses for a second, looking like he might comply, before opening fire, winging two before causing the police cars to erupt in a massive movie fireball, surely killing any survivors. He continues his mad dash across the city, before ending up at an office block. He enters a building, thinking it’s his, before realizing his mistake, and killing the night watchman, and doing a sick 360 in the revolving door before killing a janitor who was unlucky enough to come out of the elevator at the wrong time. He then enters his actual office building, where he’s asked to sign in, when he reaches in his coat with dramatic effect, and pulls out a pen to sign in. This is where he makes it to his office and breaks down on the phone while confessing to his lawyer, as a police helicopter buzzes outside, waving its searchlight in his window.

The ATM, or at least, as seen by Patrick Bateman

As we progress through the movie, we see Patrick’s control over himself erode, through the medium of his killings. Al and Paul’s murder were brutal, sure, but Patrick was composed throughout them, with a plan and relatively clear motivation (for him, anyway). Then, he’s shaken by Luis, and again by Detective Kimball’s conflicting knowledge of his guilt. His murder of Christie and his acquaintance is crazed, vicious, truly giving into his barest urges, with no clear exit strategy once the killing is done, while also displaying his more regular indulgences into his insanity with all the bodies in the apartment. By the time of the street spree, he’s using a gun, which if I were to interpret him, I would say he would usually find “distasteful,” or “over too quick.”

I think my mask of sanity is about to slip.

Obviously, Patrick Bateman isn’t all there, in one form or another. The story and the cinematic techniques keep the audience guessing just as much as Patrick about what’s real and what’s not. As well as being constantly mistaken for someone else, Patrick says things aloud that are rather alarming, to seemingly no reaction. An early example is when he loudly insults a bartender behind her back at a club, but hey, loud music is playing, so maybe she didn’t hear? Again, in a club, when asked what he does, he says “murders and executions, mostly,” which gets translated to “mergers and acquisitions.” Again, maybe just a misunderstanding in the loud club. But later, when asked if he wants to hear the specials, he replies “not if you want to keep your spleen,” in front of a (sober) Paul Allen, with little reaction from either. He even admits to his fiancé that he has to kill people frequently to satiate something inside of him, to a response as though he’d said he has to drink lots of coffee sometimes (that is, no reaction). Repeatedly, he even quotes serial killers to others, still to no avail. But these dialog misunderstandings pale in comparison to the moments that really throw his perception into question.

Several occurrences throughout the film are very difficult to explain, at least in a diegetic manner. Aside from “feed me a stray cat,” one instance of note is when Donald Kimball is concluding his second interview with Bateman. Unprompted, as he’s packing up, he pulls out Huey Lewis and the News’ Fore CD, the very same album Patrick lectured Paul Allen on before killing him to “Hip to Be Square.” Kimball seems to be 100% in “friendly” mode, as discussed before, but this obviously agitates Bateman. He claims to have never heard the album and is incredibly evasive until Kimball leaves. However, this isn’t even the most puzzling event. After his breakdown and confession, he goes to check in on Paul Allen’s apartment of bodies, only to find it completely cleaned and painted white, and being shown to potential new tenants. Patrick is as shocked as we are and tells the realtor that he’s “looking for Paul Allen’s apartment.” She refutes that this is his apartment and asks if he’s seen the ad in the Times. He tries to play it off, saying he has, when she replies that “there was no ad in the Times,” and that she “think[s] [he] should leave now.” He does, and then goes to the bar where his lawyer is for the final scene.

See, he presents himself as this harmless old codger, but inside… But inside doesn’t matter.

Now, that “statement about neo-liberalism itself” thing. I think most audiences can see the movie’s critiques of the superficiality of the time, and contemporary times and its consumer culture, but it runs deeper than that. I see it as a critique of neo-liberalism, and more specifically, the Reaganism/Thatcherism of the 80s, primarily shown through the dehumanization of not just Patrick Bateman, but almost everyone surrounding him. His “friends” are all practically just as vain, bigoted, and materialistic as he is. Even his fiancé, Evelyn, who is portrayed as somewhat sympathetic, is still not living in the sam eworld as everyone else, as shown when she buys herself and Patrick a pot-bellied pig as a pet for Christmas, on what seems like a whim, for it never to be mentioned again. When Luis sees Patrick dragging what is clearly a corpse (it even has blood trailing off it) into a taxi, he only cares about where Patrick “got that fabulous overnight bag.” The only people who seem remotely human are Patrick’s victims (excluding Paul Allen), who are all members of society’s most vulnerable.

To briefly dip into Marxian economics, most of his victims are members of the lumpenproletariat, or some class of people generally discriminated against. The lumpenproletariat is the class of society kept deliberately miserable and constantly on the edge of starvation, so that when the bourgeoisie require replacements for an unsatisfied working class, or require bodies for some vile deed or another, they are ready and eager to comply in worse conditions for less pay. Each kill (or attempt) focuses on one of these types of people.

While talking with Al before he’s killed, Patrick remarks that he and Al have nothing in common, and that Al should just get another job, despite obvious reasons why he can’t get one while homeless and presumably without any money, reiterating the conservative talking point of “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps,” a phrase so misused that people forget that pulling one’s self by your bootstraps is meant to describe an impossible task, so Al is left to die cold, alone, and hungry.

His next victim, Christie, he does not kill the first time, but he instead tortures her and another sex worker with various instruments and pays them for these “services.” He calls on her again in Paul Allen’s apartment, but she is reluctant to get in his limo, saying she had to go to the hospital after the first time. But her position does not leave her many options, so she accepts his more generous offer, before being drugged and killed. Thus, the impossible life of a sex worker: unable to find gainful employment, and with no safety net to fall back on, they are forced to sell their only asset: their bodies, while being outwardly spat upon and even killed by the very men who pay for their services later that night. She died in a nightgown, face down with a man’s “implement” buried in her.

Luis is an interesting case: the thing that makes Patrick want to kill him so badly is, in fact, what saves him, his repressed sexuality. Reagan, Thatcher, and other politicians during the AIDS crisis unofficially considered AIDS an “act of god” to “punish homosexuals,” and as such let it run through hundreds of thousands of people, leaving a trail of corpses in its wake. Patrick thinks better of touching the gay man directly, instead quite literally washing his hands of the business and running away before he can be seen with him.

Jean is less metaphorical, as it's pretty plain to see that she is representative of the way men can use the patriarchal structure of society to pressure them into getting what they want. It's hard to say why he let her go. But maybe it's because Evelyn called him and managed to calm him down (not sure how to interpret that).

All his victims in the final spree are harder to pin down, but I’d say they are a general synecdoche for the people that the wealthy kill (directly or indirectly) without thinking as they dash about their lives, only worrying about themselves.

The final shot of the movie

This confession has meant nothing.

That’s a wrap! In all honesty, just watch the film and develop your own opinion, all that crap. Thanks for reading another four thousand word rant from me, and keep rocking, you crazy diamonds.

-Jack LeJeune


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