I believe that’s all he’s known for—American Psycho has always been a flashpoint for debate. The novel by Brett Easton Ellis was notoriously shelved by its first publisher due to controversy around its portrayals of violence. As a result, it’s hardly unexpected that the film adaptation (which came out nine years after the novel) has sparked controversy. The majority of the debate surrounding American Psycho originates from how people perceive it: is it a critique of 1980s yuppie culture’s materialism and superficiality? Or does the film’s extravagance praise this way of life? What about the film’s violence, which is disproportionately directed at women? Some consider American Psycho to be a feminist classic, while others consider it to be sexist. Which is it, then? What are we supposed to think of Patrick Bateman as an anti-hero or a villain? Or… none of the aforementioned options?
The film American Psycho is set in 1988, during the heyday of the wealthy Wall Street yuppie. Patrick Bateman is the epitome of this stereotype: he’s a dashing, well-heeled businessman who is far more interested in dining at the hottest restaurants than in really working. On the surface, Bateman’s life appears to be perfect; he has a lovely fiancee and a close-knit group of friends… But dig a bit deeper, and you’ll discover he despises them all. Patrick also murders homeless men and women as a “side business.”
After brutally murdering a business competitor, Paul Allen, Patrick’s life begins to disintegrate, and a detective begins to investigate him as a suspect. As Patrick slips into madness and embarks on a gruesome killing spree, the barrier between fact and fiction blurs. Despite murdering scores of individuals, though, no one appears to mind. In fact, there appear to be no bodies. So, what’s going on? Is it true that Patrick killed someone? Was it all a figment of his imagination?
The film American Psycho satirizes the 1980s’ superficial materialistic lifestyle. The movie revels in excess, from the lavish feasts
“Our pasta tonight is a squid ravioli in a lemon-grass broth.”
…To Bateman’s over-indulgent morning routine.
“I believe in taking care of myself, in a balanced diet, in a rigorous exercise routine.”
Patrick is preoccupied with maintaining his position among the rich Wall Streeters, whether it’s getting a reservation at Dorsia (the hottest restaurant in town) or maintaining his grooming. Patrick Bateman is preoccupied with the details that characterize his status: his bedsheets.
“You can’t bleach a Cerruti! You can only find those sheets in Santa Fe. They’re very expensive sheets”
His skin care routine
“I use a deep pore-cleanser lotion. In the shower, I use a water-activated gel cleanser, then a honey-almond body scrub, and on the face an exfoliating gel scrub.”
And his business cards. Mostly, his business cards.
Everything in Patrick Bateman’s life is commodified and graded, and it’s all used to demonstrate his supposed superiority over others. Material things in American Psycho are used to remark on the superficiality of its characters; everyone in the film is vacuous and self-absorbed, far more concerned with how they appear and how others perceive them than with the actual conflicts taking place in their immediate surroundings. Dinner chats regarding ‘the status of the world’ are peppered throughout the film. When Price brings up the genocide in Sri Lanka, Bateman outsmarts him by pointing him that the true issue they should all be concerned about is– “Well, we have to end apartheid for one. And slow down the nuclear arms race, stop terrorism and world hunger. But we can’t ignore our social needs either. We have to stop people from abusing the welfare system. 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 but change the abortion laws to protect the right to life yet still somehow maintain women’s freedom of choice…” Patrick, on the other hand, is just interested in leveraging these real-world difficulties to prove he’s better than Price. When faced with a homeless guy, Bateman refuses to provide him food, shelter, or money… He just stabs him brutally. Later, when Price inquires about Patrick’s thoughts on the Iran-Contra crisis, Bateman discloses his genuine sentiments about these global conflicts: “Whatever…”
Patrick is frequently confused for other people: Paul thinks he’s Marcus, another business acquaintance; later, Patrick’s lawyer believes he’s Davis. This emphasizes Patrick’s and his friend’s deception in their way of life. Nobody cares about the other people around them in a society obsessed with gaining stuff at all costs; everyone is the same and utterly replaceable. The clothes and jewels they wear, the boats they party on, and the restaurants they dine in are all that concerns.
Class is a competition in American Psycho, reflecting Thorstein Veblen’s beliefs on what he labels The Leisure Class’s particularly ostentatious consumerism. The “consumption of commodities as a demonstration of monetary power… It is a way of reputability to the gentleman of leisure,” according to Veblen. Basically, you have to show that you’re superior than everyone else, whether it’s with a bigger house, richer clothing, or brighter jewellery.