Early on in Mary Haron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ controversial, blood drenched satire of American Psycho, we are informed in voiceover by the eponymous psycho, Patrick Bateman (played to perfection by Christian Bale), that “there is an idea of Patrick Bateman,” and he continues, saying that he simply “is not there,” and that is, in a way, very true. A man defined by his excess and designer suits, Bateman lives the high-life, and has the ego to reflect it.
And that’s why, whenever Bateman’s ego is bashed or deflated, he comes crashing back to reality in catastrophic fashion. We see in one of the first scenes that the only reason he has his job is because “he wants to fit in.” But he says it with such disdain, that it feels as if it’s not at all genuine, the he loathes the job, his coworkers, and even perhaps himself. It is this self loathing, whether based around something that he himself does (for instance, in the novel, he breaks down crying because he feels like he isn’t correctly cooking the bodies of two women he’s recently murdered), or something that someone else says or does (when Paul Allen mistakes Bateman for someone else over dinner, and then goes on to call Bateman a “loser” and a “dork”, Bateman kills him with an axe after the meal).
For the duration of this piece, we will assume that the murders in American Psycho did happen, rather than being figments of Patrick’s imagination, rather, that they were acts of revenge, while looking at simple instances of self loathing (i.e. the loathing he holds for himself, his lifestyle and therefore what is expected of him), and how they begin to culminate in his murderous fury, which begins to eclipse the motive, and becoming nothing more than unbridled bloodlust.
Self loathing is linked to his psychotic tendencies from almost the first scene of the film. When Bateman goes clubbing with his friends, and the item he uses to try and pay for drinks is described as being “no good here”, then we cut to a reflection of Bateman, who then says “you’re a fucking ugly bitch. I wanna murder you, and then play around with your blood.” But he does not kill this woman, perhaps because they are in the public eye, and, as we are assuming that these murders did happen, that he did not want to be caught.
Reservations and restaurants
Early on in the film, when Patrick goes out on a date with Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon), he says that he is “on the verge of tears, because I’m sure we won’t have a good table.” This is a very earlier manifestation of Bateman’s loathing of the expectations of his lifestyle, the good tables at the fancy restaurants and so on, and that a failure to conform to this brings itself on in Patrick with a feeling as if he will cry. And of course, there is the infamous Dorsia, and when Bateman tries to make a reservation there, he is simply laughed at over the phone.
But what’s most interesting about this self loathing, about the kind that Bateman seems to bring almost entirely on himself, is that they don’t lead to his revenge killings because indeed, there is really no one for him to exact revenge upon. Instead, when other people belittle him or make him insecure, his “mask of sanity” begins to slip.
The business card scene
Ah, the business card scene. Iconic, hilarious, and parodied to death, it is here that we first see the real relationship that Bateman has with his co-workers. We see that they mistake one for another easily, because of their almost clone-like similarity in appearance. But even when admitting to the physical similarity between himself and another co-worker, Bateman, being the egotist that he is, needs to one-up this co-worker, saying “we go to the same barber. But I have a slightly better haircut.”
What the business card scene does, is illuminate Bateman’s insecurity around his co-workers when they are shown as being, even in the most trivial ways, superior to him (in utter horror, Bateman comments on Paul Allen’s business card, “oh my God. It even has a watermark.”)
And after being subjected to such abject humiliation, once again by Paul, who leaves the office saying that he has a reservation at, that’s right, Dorsia, Bateman is shown, that night, stabbing a homeless man to death. Here we see the loathing of Patrick Bateman manifesting itself in the form of his first killing. And of course, he only gets worse from here, as he then goes on to kill one of his co-workers…
“You like Huey Lewis and the News?”
Bateman, still being mistaken by Paul for another co-worker, is going out to dinner with Paul. The first thing that Paul does when Patrick arrives is slate his choice of restaurant, saying that they should have gone to Dorsia, since Paul could have gotten a reservation there. This is the beginning of Bateman’s self-loathing for the evening, which reveals itself as an insult to the waiter, saying he shouldn’t read the specials if he wants to “keep his spleen.”
And then Paul goes on to belittle Bateman as an individual (all the while not knowing that he is in fact talking to Bateman), calling him a “loser” and a “dork”. From here, we cut to Patrick’s apartment, and he begins to deliver a rather impassioned monologue about his love of Huey Lewis and the News, and particularly the song “Hip to Be Square.” This monologue culminates in Patrick simply saying, “hey Paul,” and killing him in spectacularly gory fashion.
It is worth noting what Patrick says, or rather, screams as he hacks up Paul – “Try getting a reservation at Dorsia now you stupid fucking bastard!” We see here that it is indeed Patrick’s self loathing and inadequacy compared to his co-workers, and Paul in particular, that leads him to his moonlighting as a serial killer.
“My mask of sanity is beginning to slip…”
Directly after killing Paul Allen, we once again return to Patrick Bateman’s inner monologue, as he begins to say that his “mask of sanity is beginning to slip.” It is here that the self-loathing is no longer important, that instead, he is becoming focused simply on killing. And this reflects in his personality and demeanour around his co-workers. When they meet and one of them tries to touch Bateman’s suit, he simply says “touch me again and you’ll draw back a stump,” and even beginning to do bizarre things like referencing serial killers in conversation, saying, “you know what Ed Gein said about women? He said, ‘when I see a pretty girl, I think two things. Part of me wants to take her out to dinner, be real nice'”, and when asked on what the other part of Gein thought, Patrick replies, with almost sickeningly glee, “what her head would look like on a stick!”
This increasing madness even reflects itself in how he interacts with Jean, his secretary who is in love with him. While he is never exactly kind to Jean, his secretary who is in love with him (insulting her outfits and so on), when they go out together, he once again references serial killers (he mentions that Ted Bundy’s first dog was called Lassie), he also points a nailgun at the back of her head.
There is, however, a moment of humanity after Evelyn leaves a message on his phone, and he says to Jean that he cannot control himself. She leaves, and he is left alone. It is here that we see that Bateman is perhaps beyond saving, that he is so deep in self loathing and psychosis that even Jean, his one possible chance at redemption, is indeed, “not an exit.”