American Psycho: a possible explanation

I used to think that the day would never come (Omissis) To the childhood I lost, replaced by fear I used to think that the day would never come That my life would depend on the morning sun

New Order – True Faith

I’m going to reflect here about the big excitement and enthusiasm that this movie can give and I will propose a possible interpretation of this complex world. Is Patrick Bateman a killer? Is it all just a dream?

Warning: spoilers ahead

American Psycho is the story of Patrick Bateman, an handsome New York investment banker working in his father’s firm. His “golden” world is made of Michelin starred restaurants and Amex Platinum credit cards.

“You are a fuc*ing ugly b*tch I want to stab you to death and play around with your blood”, well the second scene is one of my favorite. You start noticing that something is very wrong with this elegant young man in a Valentino suit. After his cc is refused by the girl explaining that the bar was cash only, Patrick said those words aloud and clearly, although muffled by the notes of the unforgettable song True Faith by The New Order.

Aesthetics play an important role in the story, I think he is obsessed by how things look and appear, his sharp senses are trained by years of intense observations and studies. The morning routine scene is absolutely brilliant and it catches the essence of the character. It’s possible to understand the whole thing just by that scene. Patrick applies an ice pack in his eyes to reduce eyes puffiness, proceed with some stretching exercises (with the mask still on) and takes a shower listing all the products he uses to take care of his skin. This scene shows the perfectionist he is, the struggle to look fantastic, his robotic beauty routine in his perfect apartment in pristine condition at the American Gardens Building. When he’s peeling off the mask from the face the narrator voice of himself states: “There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable… I simply am not there”.

He perceives reality in his own peculiar way and one possible explanation to his alienation is that Patrick is an extreme sensitive man. How can you make those monologues about Huey Lewis and the news, about Phil Collins and Whitney Houston if you’re not sensitive? And he truly cares about the big ethical and social issues: “Well, we have to end apartheid for one. And slow down the nuclear arms race, stop terrorism and world hunger. 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”. He also has another strong trait. His sensitivity is only matched by his perfectionism.

Patrick’s world is extremely rigid, his attention is focused on things like his “slightly better haircut ” or the business card colors, watermarks and fonts. He really can’t stand someone who has a more sleek card, he would like to bend the world to his will to have the best of the best in every situation. He’s consumed by materialism and vanity, by his Oliver people glasses and the pristine microwave oven, his hi-fi system and his haute couture suits.

Writer/director Mary Harron and co-writer Guinevere Turner have actually gone on record saying that — in retrospect — they don’t love how the film’s ending came together. This is because they feel that the finale is actually too ambiguous, and they don’t love the fact that people walk away from the story wondering if it’s all just a dream. They want to make it very clear: Patrick Bateman is most definitely a serial killer.

I dissent from this interpretation and I embrace the one that argues all we see on screen is not what happens but just what he fantasizes about. And if the writer made a mistake it’s because the true nature of the character made him do it. He’s so stressed and unable to cope with a non ideal reality that he’s simply “not there”. His mind is always in another place where everything is like he desires, this is a defense mechanism in order to escape.

He butchers everyone: hobos, prostitutes, models and colleagues. He’s also about to kill the only person he have some feelings for, his secretary Jean.

His victims can be divided in two categories.

The first one which includes the prostitutes, the hobos, the “stupid ” model is connected to his extreme suffering in witnessing the decay and injustice of these situations. Unable to solve such complex social issues he dreams about having an interaction with them and then he murders them to be free from the despair, applying what he thinks is euthanasia, in order to purify the whole world. But first he wants to clarify that there are no points of contact between him and the troubled. “I have nothing in common with you ” he says to Al the hobo just after saying “I’ll help you”; the contrast between his will and his real chance of improving Al’s life is sharp and he just falls apart and gives way to the extreme solution of murder.

Paul Allen, instead, is perceived as a threat because he’s more successful than Patrick. He holds the holy Fisher account, he can have a reservation at the most exclusive restaurant in town (Dorsia) and his apartment has a better view (“There is a moment of sheer panic when I realize that Paul’s apartment overlooks the park… and is obviously more expensive than mine.”). Patrick feels so threatened by this that he dreams about calling Dorsia to reserve a table and receives a long evil laugh as an answer. And when he inflicts the mortal wounds on Paul in his apartment he invites him to reserve a table at Dorsia.

Patrick is a troubled soul and he suffers from multiple personality disorder. These kind of mental illnesses are certainly not helped by his consumption of drugs, an easy way not to face reality. In the movie he gets called Mr Smith, his lawyer calls him Davis and he gets mistaken for Marcus Halbestram. Although more radical interpretations could be made, I tend to think that his name is Patrick Bateman, he is an investment banker and he has a fiancé named Evelin that he doesn’t truly love. He really knows the prostitutes and the homeless but he just meet them in the street for a quick chat or even less. He has a successful collegue but he doesn’t kill him, nor he doesn’t kill anyone. The show is about a psychotic break consisting in externalize his deepest thoughts and fantasies, remained stuck inside up to the point of creating an unbearable pressure. “I like to dissect girls. Did you know I’m utterly insane?” and the final confession to his lawyer are an outbursts of sick thoughts that should have been externalized to a mental health professional. All he gets from these confessions are indifference and even some laughs because in reality he’s probably one of the many, virtually indistinguishable.

He’s emotionally unavailable thus having an unsatisfactory relationship with Evelin, his “supposed fiancé “. This doesn’t prevents him from fantasizing about having multiple intercourses with prostitutes, eaten alive and chased with a chainsaw after the game is over… He also has a lover in Courtney, I think this relationship is real, both because nothing extraordinary happens and there are no feelings involved. I am not sure if the date with his secretary is real because he points the staple gun at her and there’s a severed head of a model in his fridge (fantasy elements) but he doesn’t kill her, he lets his remaining good feelings prevail and tells her that it’s better if she goes, otherwise something very bad can happen. She’s probably in his fantasies because he feels bad about her: she is not sophisticated enough and that’s why he said to her “you can do better than this” and suggests she changes clothes and shoes. The suffering she causes him for not being up to his standards is not deep enough to fantasize about killing her, but only to be about to do so.

He just wants to “fit in”, to be accepted, to be loved and understood, he’s stuck in a loophole of existential pain summarized in the last monologue: “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. I want no one to escape. But even after admitting this, there is no catharsis. My punishment continues to elude me, and I gain no deeper knowledge of myself; no new knowledge can be extracted from my telling. This confession has meant nothing.” He clearly perceives himself as having the right to be happy but he just isn’t and therefore enjoys the fantasy of spreading his misery. It’s easy to be lovely when life smiles at you, but when you are in such deep troubles, you can be surprised of how bastard you can get, up to the point of desiring chaos and mayhem for everyone. And he is surprised by his thoughts (when he looks at the gun he just used to blow the police car up) and probably disgusted as well.

We are lead to identity with the protagonist and his shiny life, seduced by the clubs and the fancy clothes, an apartment ready for an architectural digest and a Wall Street job. We’re also maybe attracted by the thrill of committing crimes and not be caught and by the utopia of consuming drugs without consequences. When at the end of the movie we start to realize that everything is just a dream and Patrick is just another disturbed product of that society he stubbornly tries to be part of, we feel empty. We just got a glimpse in what David Lynch called “the inland empire “.

He wasn’t able to kill or even to verbally assault anyone, he can be one of us, our neighbor or colleague. And this is true horror.

What do you think? Is he really a killer? What are the reasons for his behaviors? Leave a comment below

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