American Psycho and Yuppie Culture
American Psycho is a black comedy directed by Mary Harron in 2000, based on the novel written by Bret Easton Ellis. The film follows Patrick Bateman (played by Christian Bale), a wealthy businessman, working on Wall Street. Obsessed by his appearance and material objects, Bateman’s life may appear to be stereotypical of a New York investment banker, however, our narrator is harbouring a shocking secret. Patrick Bateman is a malevolent serial killer. American Psycho constantly depicts how Bateman balances the business aspects of his life with his axe and nail-gun wielding rampages. The movie has an ambiguous ending however alluding to the fact that none of the events depicted in the film were real, resulting in a multitude of theories circulating around the question What really happened? Surrounded with controversy regarding the film’s graphic violence, American Psycho has had an immense impact on film-making today and it remains to be one of the most talked about films of all time.
There are a plethora of facts that allude to the idea that Bateman did not commit any murders, however, I must focus on his clear personality disorders in order to attempt to explain why. It is clear from the beginning of the movie that there is something wrong with Patrick. It is evident that this glamorous psychopath is driven by consumerism, as he is fascinated by his appearance, characterised by his abundant supply of overpriced skincare products, his relentless workout routine, his lavish Valentino suits, his pristine apartment and his inclination to only eat expensive food served at the most exclusive restaurants in New York. His excessive obsession with his appearance gives the viewer the impression that Bateman may be suffering from narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). On many occasions Patrick flaunts his business card to his fellow bankers, keen for them to marvel at the quality of it, again representing how important he believes his image to be. Although hallucinations are not a typical symptom of NPD, this disorder can often have comorbidities, and one of those could have hallucinations as a symptom. These hallucinations may be able to provide an explanation for the suspicious circumstances surrounding the “murders” that Bateman commits. These strange circumstances include when Patrick finds himself involved in a police shootout, the character flawless manages to shoot the engine of one of the police’s vehicles, causing it to combust, resulting in an explosion, killing the offices. Bateman’s expression gives the impression that he is shocked by the precision of his marksmanship and he stares at the pistol in disbelief. Another example of this takes place after Patrick slaughters a character called Paul Allen (played by Jared Leto) with an axe. Bateman is later questioned about his whereabouts on the night of the murder by a detective (played by Willem Dafoe). One of Patrick’s co-workers, Marcus Halberstram claims that Bateman was eating dinner with him on the night of the murder, which again seems confusing, as the movie shows Patrick murdering Allen. There are only two explanations for this; either Marcus had mistaken Bateman for someone else, or the murder never happened. The latter seems to be more realistic for the following reason. Near the climax of the movie, Bateman’s mental state collapses and eventually confesses to his lawyer. His lawyer laughs at the mere thought of the idea that he was capable of murder. It is clear that the lawyer has also mistaken Bateman for someone else, as he refers to him as “Davis”. When Patrick establishes the fact that he is not joking and has in fact murdered Paul Allen, his lawyer is utterly bewildered by Bateman saying this as the lawyer states that he had dinner with Allen a few weeks ago, after Patrick supposedly murdered him, further indicating the fact that the murders didn’t occur. The final piece of evidence that points to the fact that the murders didn’t take place is that all of the corpses that Bale’s character kept in the apartment mysteriously disappeared. When he asks his listing agent what happened, she simply replies “Don’t make any trouble please. I suggest you go.” This illustrates the strange circumstances surrounding the main events of the movie.
When asked about the ambiguity regarding the ending, Mary Harron, the director stated that whether the murders took place or not is irrelevant, it’s not the point of the movie. American Psycho is not about murder, it’s a statement about the yuppie culture that plagued New York City in the 1980s. According to Investopedia a “Yuppie is a slang term denoting the market segment of young urban professionals. A yuppie is often characterized by youth, affluence, and business success. They are often preppy in appearance and like to show off their success by their style and possessions.” Patrick Bateman is one man in a sea of yuppies, who all care about the same things, material objects and how they appear. Bateman’s upper-class community lacks individuality and this is demonstrated countless times throughout the movie, with the mix up with Paul Allen, in the beginning where he is mistaken for another worker and near the end where he walks into a building he has never been before and he is greeted by a security guard calling him “Mr Smith”. It’s no wonder why he is mistaken for so many people, as everyone is the same. They all wear the same suits, they all wear the same glasses and they are all extremely vain. The fact that everyone is exactly the same, someone is bound to try and break free and strive for individuality and Patrick is the one that does this. Patrick murders to break free from this noose of conformity to have some distinguishing characteristics. He admits to his murders to try and gain acknowledgement form his co-workers to show how different he is, but they don’t believe him due to how self-involved they are. This therefore drives him to continue to murder.
It’s clear that the murders have nothing to do with the movie and the question regarding whether they happened or not is trivial. The title American Psycho does not refer to Patrick Bateman, but everyone that he is friends with. Bateman is not the only American Psycho, they all are.