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American Psycho

American Psycho

By Jack Murphy • April 25th, 2014
DECONSTRUCTING CINEMA, PART 33: AMERICAN PSYCHO (MOVIE)
Lionsgate

Original release: April 14th, 2000
Running time: 98 minutes

Director: Mary Harron
Writers: Guinevere Turner, Mary Harron, Bret Easton Ellis (novel)

Cast: Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Reese Witherspoon, Chloë Sevigny

Did you get my message?: 01:27:00 to 01:33:00

Deconstructing Cinema: One Scene At A Time, the complete series so far

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 life styles are probably comparable,
I simply am not there.

Drawing on the growth of consumerism in the 1980’s, American Psycho takes a look at one strata of society that has enough money to do anything it wants.

Whether this involves dining at expensive restaurants, paying an extortionate amounts for a drink in a nightclub or murdering prostitutes, they can do it. And boy do they do it.

American Psycho

The film is centred on Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale); a wealthy young man in mergers and acquisitions who has a penchant for the high life, which for him seemingly involves a lot of torture and murder. As well as this, he has a love of popular culture including, but not limited to, Whitney Houston and Huey Lewis. All of this combines to form a character that’s lost to consumerism.

For me, the overall attitude of Patrick Bateman rings true to Fredric Jameson’s writings about the Bonaventure Hotel. This famous hotel drew the writer’s attention because of its clash of different styles and what it means to postmodernism:

”The Bonaventure aspires to being a total space, a complete world, a kind of miniature city (and I would want to add that to this new total space corresponds a new collective practice, a new mode in which individuals move and congregate, something like the practice of a new and historically original kind of hyper-crowd).” ¹

American Psycho

The money the characters in this film have makes all of this possible. This new space can be filled in any way possible, and the consequences are dire. The only source for these people is their consumerism. American Psycho takes this theme of consumerism and turns it into a fetish that grows to consume all parts of the characters’ lives, particularly Patrick Bateman’s.

They idolise their possessions and their own physique, to the point where they create their own reality that’s sustained by their fetish – a reality that’s fragile and always waiting to collapse. Like Narcissus and the river, they’ve fallen in love with an image of themselves and are in the process of dying for not being able to tear themselves away.

They aim to control every element of themselves, starting with their chiselled bodies out to their clothes and social standing.

The consequence of this is a world where there’s an on-going attempt to control everything. In Patrick’s case, he controls his image, this ‘abstraction’. This results in a faceless world, where people are interchangeable and irrelevant; providing they produce the necessary purpose, they can be swapped.

American Psycho

Like the Bonaventure, they have the power and resources to get anything they want, when they want it. Patrick goes through prostitutes like they’re going out of fashion, he names them and places them in the positions he wants, and controls them because he can.

The scene in particularly I want to look at is reminiscent of the rest of the film in which Patrick is mistaken for someone else; there is, however, a notable difference to this scene. In earlier scenes he plays along with these mix-ups, and in some cases he even uses them to his advantage. In these few moments he manages to solidify that abstraction, as he calls it, into a person – a monster even.

The mask drops, but as far as the lawyer, Harold (Stephen Bogaert) is concerned – Patrick simply isn’t there. He has sadistically turned and twisted his way through his adult life to the point where there’s nothing left. He’s created his ‘miniature city’ but its in-authenticity has caved in on itself. When he tries to find reality at his moment of redemption, this powerful moment we’ve been waiting for, there is nothing to redeem. The lawyer looks Patrick square in the eyes and answers his question:

American Psycho

PATRICK:
So, uh, Harold, did you get my message?

HAROLD:
Jesus, yes. That was hilarious. That was you, wasn’t it?

PATRICK:
Yeah, naturally.

HAROLD:
Bateman killing Allen and the escort girls, that’s fabulous, that’s rich.

PATRICK:
What exactly do you mean?”

HAROLD:
The message you left. By the way Davis, how’s Silvia, you’re still seeing her right?

PATRICK:
Wait Harold, what do you mean?

HAROLD:
Oh, excuse me, nothing. It’s good to see you. Is that Edward Towers?

Carnes tries to walk away, but Bateman prevents him.

HAROLD:
Davis, I’m not one to badmouth anyone, your joke was amusing, but c’mon man, it had one fatal flaw. Bateman is such a dork, such a boring spineless lightweight. Now if you’d said Bryce or McDermott. Otherwise it was amusing. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really must be going.”

American Psycho

Patrick’s moment to receive all the consequences of his actions, and all he has in response is another case of mistaken identity. As the scene continues there’s an interesting twist; the lawyer goes on to say this isn’t possible because he had dinner with Paul Allen in London ten days ago.

This scene presents a dichotomy of sorts: is the lawyer simply being dense and confusing Paul Allen with someone else, as he did Patrick, or is Paul Allen really in London? If Paul Allen is in London, then we tumble deeper down the rabbit hole with Patrick. There are hints throughout the film but this really brings it to the surface: has Patrick been committing these murders or has he been imagining them?

More to the point – does it matter?

Patrick thinks he’s forever escaping judgement and it makes no difference to us if the film is completely in his mind. He feels nothing about his actions (or fantasies) – he simply isn’t there.

In many respects, he’s an exaggeration of the consequences of consumerism. He’s become so involved in his body, his possessions and his money that he keeps searching for the next thrill and any way to assert control.

SOURCES:

  • J., Fredric (1991) Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Duke UP ¹

Whether or not he’s murdered anyone, Patrick’s desperation to seek control has culminated in his loss of self.

American Psycho

Jack Murphy

Jack Murphy

Jack is an English Literature student in his early Twenties (The Golden Age!) at the University of Leeds. He insists on saying that he’s originally from Slough, Berkshire which is the setting of Ricky Gervais’ comedy series The Office – and not a day goes by that he’s not reminded of that fact… Irrespective of being mocked for it, Jack still is, and will most likely remain, a big Gervais fan.

And he sure knows how to spend his time. Having subscribed to a well known DVD delivery service for the past three years, Jack spends half of his days watching DVDs – and the other half on catch-up websites watching TV programmes.

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