The American Dream: Patrick Bateman


“In ’87, Huey released this, “Fore”, their most accomplished album. I think their undisputed masterpiece is “Hip to Be Square”, a song so catchy, most people probably don’t listen to the lyrics. But they should, because it’s not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it’s also a personal statement about the bad itself! Hey Paul! TRY GETTING A RESERVATION AT DORSIA NOW YOU FUCKING STUPID BASTARD!”

    Where does one even begin with such a subject as “American Psycho”? From a literary stand point I feel that the novel is one of the most important novels of the past century and one of the most unfilmable novels I have ever read. From a film standpoint, I feel that Mary Haron’s visionary film adaptation is one of the ten best films of the previous decade. The novel to film is an almost odd yet smooth transition.

    Writer Bret Easton Ellis who is homosexual created this young, good looking, wealthy caricature who is the embodiment of the American Dream during the 1980’s. The film was directed by a woman, and written for screen by two women. It’s very unique how the tone and essence of the story still held true to the novel written by a man, and a film with a woman’s interpretation. The one thing that remains true from novel to film is our lusting for Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale).

    The second scene of the film, where Patrick Bateman is going through – explaining to us his morning routine is magically filmed. We’re watching this person, this human, this enigma work out, than scrub himself in the shower, then peel his “mask” off (which I thought was an ingenious touch). One can almost envy such a creation. He’s physically flawless, emotionally empty and has unlimited access to whatever/whoever he wants.

    In a world that is over complicated by human emotion, Patrick Bateman holds zero – aside from feeling greed and disgust. Bateman’s emptiness is what helps lead him into a journey where he begins to kill people, hurt people, and torture people. This is the only way Bateman can feel anything is to be sadistically evil.

    People have cited Bateman as a villain and as an anti-hero. He is neither. Patrick Bateman is a victim; a victim of the American Dream, and more specifically the “Regan Era American Dream”. This was an era that was so fulfilled with greed, materialism and selfishness it’s disgusting (thank you Gordon Gekko). And this is what the novel/film is about. It’s not a serial killer story, or a dark comedy, or a horror film – it is an intense character study of what our culture, or society has created. The joke is – the punch line is; we created Patrick Bateman.

    I think that “American Psycho” is nothing less than a cautionary tale, and what makes this film so effective is the fact that we can see ourselves inside of Patrick Bateman. We all have the shallow, greedy, lusting, self consumption side of us. It’s there, inside of all of us. I don’t want to say I idolize Patrick Bateman, that is too strong of a word – but I can honestly admit that I do envy Patrick Bateman. I envy his body, his looks, his materials, and his granted access. But what keeps us from envying him completely is the fact that Bateman is also a killer.

    I am a tremendous Pink Floyd fan; I will live and die by their music. Their album “Animals” is Roger Waters’ (creative mastermind behind Floyd) view of the human race that is broken down into three classes, Pigs (politicians, the people who are in complete power), dogs (the blood lusting warriors that fight everyone, including themselves) and sheep (who are the slaves, the workers, the ones who will rebel from time to time). The album is so complex and so deep one could spend years analyzing the forty five minute five track album – but what my point is, Patrick Bateman is the greatest example of a “dog” I’ve ever seen.

    The emptiness of Bateman is what I find the most interesting. The most complex aspect of our lives is relationships with other people. Whether it’s husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, family members, friends – any relationship with another person. Good people do bad things, and bad people do good things. It’s an anomaly. Bateman is able to avoid the complexity because he’s empty. He puts forth the effort of conforming and fitting in – but he forms no bond with them, he simply is not there.

    What is dangerous about Bateman’s emptiness is that the only way for Bateman to live is by killing someone. You can almost make the case as to where Bateman’s murders are justified because the people he is killing are as shallow and pathetic as he is. But wrong is wrong. There are very few characters that actually have compassion and have emotions. Jane (Chloe Sevigny) Bateman’s secretary is a person that Bateman recognizes as a “good” person – though the hinting of Jane being masochistic may have been why Bateman spared her. He can’t get joy if someone else is.

    Donald Kimbal (Willem Dafoe) is an interesting character due to the fact that he sees Bateman for what he is, he knows what Bateman has done, and he figures him out pretty quick. We don’t know very much about Kimbal, he’s a very vague and elusive character that is very much under developed.

    What makes this film funny is that Bateman is an absolutely pathetic character. The way he talks about Whitney Houston, and he’s almost brought to tears when he describes the emotion and the feeling that comes from her music. Bateman’s monotone condescending speech pattern is another factor that makes Bateman just a marvelous joy to watch. The absurd nature of his thought process is equally as enjoyable, the things that Bateman says throughout the film:

“Don’t touch the watch.”

“I don’t want you to get drunk – but that is a very fine chardonnay you’re not drinking.”

“Don’t just stare at it. Eat it.

“I can’t believe Bryce prefers Van Patten’s card over mine.”

“I need to return some video tapes.”

    Yet it’s Bateman’s interior monologues that show us the deep insight into his psyche. That is where we truly can understand not what created him – but what he actually is. During these monologues we can almost feel the vulnerable side of Bateman. It’s almost as if he actually has feelings of loneliness, of sorrow – yet he displays none of these human qualities, he’s an enigma wrapped in a riddle.

From the film we know next to nothing about Bateman’s actual background aside from Reese Witherspoon’s comment about how his father “practically owns the company” that Bateman works for. If one thing is for sure, it’s that Patrick Bateman isn’t a self-made man. He had everything handed to him at birth (which is common for most of Bret Easton Ellis’ characters).

    I’ve seen this film over fifty times and I’ve read the book seven times. This is a dangerous film/novel due to the fact that a lot may interpret this as a glamorization of killing people, of being an empty and shallow person. As I said before, I firmly believe that “American Psycho” is nothing less than a cautionary tale of how the “American Dream” cripples and disheartens people.

    Patrick Bateman is the face of the culture, styles and arrogance of the 1980’s. He is the person that would watch the world burn just for the satisfaction of it. While the killings that Bateman does commit are horrific and unforgivable one thing we know is that Patrick Bateman is a victim of the “American Dream”.

Author: Frank Mengarelli

Everybody relax, Frank's here. After going to film school at Columbia College Chicago, Frank decided to underachieve with his vast knowledge of film into a career in civil service. Frank had a brief stint as a film blogger, and then he met the heterosexual love of his life, Nick Clement. The two instantly bonded over their love from everything to Terence Malick to THE EXPENDABLES films. Some of Frank's favorite filmmakers are Terence Malick, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Sylvester Stallone, Oliver Stone and Spike Lee. Some of his favorite films are THE TREE OF LIFE, STAR WARS (all of them), BAD LIEUTENANT, THE THING and ALL THAT JAZZ. Frank spends his free time with his dog Roger, collecting any Star Wars collectible he can find and trying to finish his pretentious, first person narrative novel(la), LARGE MEN IN SMALL CARS..

5 thoughts on “The American Dream: Patrick Bateman”

  1. Excellent write-up, yeah. While I wouldn’t say I feel sympathy for Bateman (well, I would, since I subscribe to the ‘it was all his imagination’ theory, albeit reluctantly), he’s pretty much the Regan wet dream of American men. He’s the kind of character that just seems much more cartoonish when put in live-action, I can’t take his actions in the movie as anything but sad.

  2. Wow man! 50 times is no joke. You are a true fan. Great examination of the character. What I found interesting about the film upon recently watching for only the first time, was how the sex and violence were handled. I attribute this to having a woman’s point of view behind the camera and it really elevated the movie in my opinion.

    1. It’s very striking how the scenes of sex and violence mirror each other, they are shot the same way. Sex for Bateman was to release anger until he found a new way too. Thanks for reading Will!

  3. Love me some American Psycho, one of the most underrated film and central performance of last decade. Excellent point that he is a victim of the American Dream, Bateman is only a representation of what lives in many of us: Greed, self-absorbed pursuit of materialistic goals, disdain of people who are apparently less successful etc…

  4. This is why, for me at least, American Psycho is the greatest satire of the American Dream. Not Wall Street, or even Requiem for a Dream.

    It is just pure id onscreen. The despicable persona we all see on a day-to-day basis running amok. Great introspective!

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