It’s been 21 years since the release of the movie American Psycho, an adaptation of the Bret Ellis book of the same name. While the young, white male, right-leaning meme-makers of 4-chan adore that movie, it has become quite the feminist statement.
The dark comedy set in Wall Street is more than just about the life of yet another wannabe Trump. The entire film builds the caricature of the holier-than-thou yuppies of New York only to laugh at their hypocrisy. When you think about Wall Street in the ’80s, you recall young white folks in pin-stripe suits and their hair neatly slicked back. They project an aura of ‘success’ and never fail to flaunt it with their extravagant lifestyle. Patrick Bateman is the perfect example of such an individual.
American Psycho as a feminist statement?!
The book is read through the male gaze. Bateman would follow an extensive morning routine to maintain his appearance and never really spent time working. He’d obsess over fancy business cards or whether he can get a reservation to the latest trendy restaurant instead. This, according to the book, is the pinnacle of masculinity. The violence, misogyny, and inherent consumerism are portrayed as the qualities a man of such stature possesses. Mary Harron, the director, mocks Bateman for these same traits which are delivered brilliantly through the film. Bateman does this thing where he recites opinions on pop culture or social issues when he’s around his peers. ‘Recites because these opinions are not his own. These long speeches on pop culture and social issues are simply means to appear well-read and better than the rest.
But in the scene with Elizabeth, Turner, the screenwriter, lifts Bateman’s long monologue on Whitney Houston and inserts it in the scene. Where Elizabeth (played by Turner herself), takes the opportunity to laugh at him. “You actually listen to Whitney Houston?” Turner mocks the character that she wrote for the screen. “You own a Whitney Houston CD?! More than one!?”. This is because Turner and Harron find Bateman simply as a source of amusement. He is simply the means through which the two explore toxic masculinity and ridicule it for what it is.
In Guinevere Turner’s own words, “I very much think it’s a feminist film. It’s a satire about how men compete with each other and how in this hyper-real universe we created. Women are even less important than your tan or your suit or where your summer is spent, and to me, even though the women are all sort of tragic and killed, it’s about how men perceive them and treat them.”
The macabre satire of American Psycho
One of the more iconic scenes in the film is when Bateman and his peers try to one-up each other with their business cards. The scene begins with Bateman’s colleagues impressed with his reservation at the incredibly exclusive restaurant, Dorsia’s. When Paul Allen arrives in the room, he confuses Patrick with his colleague Van Patten. Patrick admits that the two look alike and that they wear similar clothes, have similar tastes, jobs, and lifestyles. Basically iterating that they have nothing unique between the two except that Patrick has a ‘slightly better hairstyle’.
That in its own is a hilarious depiction of how people like Bateman don’t have a personality of their own as they feel the need to fit in and be the best at that. However, this scene only gets better. As the conversation is steered towards their business cards, it is made clear how much it affects him. With every new business card introduced, it’s almost as though shots have been fired at him. The final blow being Paul Allen’s card. Bateman looks shocked, defeated, and in disbelief over a card that looks just like any other. With Christian Bale’s performance, this scene is comedic gold. This scene shows how much it means for Patrick to be better than others, even if it’s just a font on a card.
We can easily draw parallels from this scene even today. One yearns to own the latest gadgets and clothes to be relevant or the need to be with the trends and always try to stay one step ahead. The movie calls out society’s obsession with fitting in. The need to look a certain way, to have certain particular ideas to fit in. American Psycho brings out the lack of individualism in society to light through scathing sarcasm.
What can we take away from the movie?
Bateman is only concerned with his image in society. He is a closeted racist and homophobe feigning open-mindedness only to impress his peers. Bateman is detached from the world. Much like his counterparts who’ve lost all individuality in the pursuit of validation from those around them. It’s as though they are all living in their personal hells. His society is so homogenized that their identities are obscured. It wouldn’t be a surprise for one to mistake someone for another. Bateman craves to stand out from the others and form his own identity. He lives a second life as a serial killer where he is not bound to the expectations of society.
Bateman openly states his desire to kill and confesses his past doings. However, it’s often taken as a joke or ignored, which denied him even the satisfaction of being ‘distinctive’. He laments it at the end of the movie in his ending monologue that his confession has meant nothing.
The lack of response and interest of the people around him only leads us to believe that Patrick Bateman was just another guy amongst a crowd of equally narcissistic, self-absorbed, and perpetually unsatisfied American Psychos, whose only motive is to ‘fit in’.
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