THE TRUTH OF AMERICAN PSYCHO

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Bateman lives a life of opulence and luxury that not many can talk about. Living the high life of a Wall Street high level executive during the economic boom, Bateman spends times with his yuppie, elite peers during the day, acting busy like everyone else while at night stalks, kills and violates. Things start slipping, and so does Bateman, until a twist ending leaves the reader, or viewer wondering, with perhaps more questions than they began with

“If you loved American Psycho, you didn’t understand what the movie is about,” a strong statement by Christian Bale towards one of the interviewers during one of the premieres of the latest Thor movie, Love and Thunder. A certainly strong statement by the star actor, but it’s statement that has merit, and one that left me wondering, how many who loved American Psycho actually understand what the movie had to say?

The movie which grew to its massive popularity originated from a novel written by Bret Easton Ellis bearing the same name. Both the book and the movie tell the story of Manhattan Investment Banker and also serial killer Patrick Bateman telling a first person narrative, allowing the reader and viewer to get a more intimate knowledge of the psyche of our protagonist/serial killer.

Bateman lives a life of opulence and luxury that not many can talk about. Living the high life of a Wall Street high level executive during the economic boom, Bateman spends times with his yuppie, elite peers during the day, acting busy like everyone else while at night stalks, kills and violates. Things start slipping, and so does Bateman, until a twist ending leaves the reader, or viewer wondering, with perhaps more questions than they began with.

Since my revisiting to the story, or rather confession of Patrick Batemen stems from Bale’s comment on the movie, I decided to stick to what the movie has to say. But if you really want to experience what this story is all about, I highly recommend you try out the book as well, since it doesn’t have to worry about run-time and limit itself to 102 minutes like the movie.

However, I do have to warn you that if things like rape, torture, necrophilia, mutilation and cannibalism aren’t your thing, then steer clear. The movie tries to play it safe but it’s a whole different story when it comes to the book.

Of course when talking about the movie, we can’t not talk about that iconic opening sequence that introduces us to the character of Patrick Bateman, or at least, who we want to see as Bateman. Throughout the film, we have the (dis)pleasure of witnessing Bateman’s slipping sanity as he spirals out of control, in an Oscar-worthy performance by none other than Christian Bale.

“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”

Bateman is many things, but the root of it all could be his disregard for humanity for what it is. For him, everything is seen through the tint of consumerism, which dictates that with his wealth, status and lifestyle, he by all means should be happy, but he is not. In fact, half the characters he meets don’t seem to recognise him at all, nor he them, constantly mistaking each other for some other cookie-cutter Wall Street executive living the life.

It’s as all he sees is things to consume, and this continues to seep into every bit of Bateman’s life, and crimes. For example, when Bateman sneaks into the house of his dead victim, Paul Allen, he’s not worried about hiding any trace of his disappearance, but instead,

“There is a moment of sheer panic when I realize that Paul’s apartment overlooks the park… and is obviously more expensive than mine.”

In fact, this shallow behaviour is rampant in every character that infests Bateman’s surroundings. None is immune except for maybe his secretary, perhaps the only character we ever see Bateman making a human connection with, albeit briefly.

And as the end drew and the climactic twist took place, I was once again left wondering what Ellis set out to convey to us by telling Bateman’s story. Many have already written about the warnings that the book gives of a society that talks of human rights and ending world hunger at the dinner table while brutally stabbing the homeless man living around the corner. The shallow nature of all of those who are members to this system of endless greed and consumption, who desperately attempt to fill and define their identity through what they consume, the never-ending machine of greed and consumption that no matter the heinous deeds one of their members would commit, all will be washed clean, erased off existence for the protection of the whole, that the system perpetuates.

American Psycho was a warning of its time about what American society and its values were perverting into. But now, I feel it is more prophesy than warning.

“I have all the characteristics of a human being: blood, flesh, skin, hair; but not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed and disgust.”

This realisation hit me as hard as Will Smith did to Chris Rock at the Oscars. In fact, it was this very incident that helped me come to this realisation. A man who would have otherwise been taken to court for assault and battery, not only was allowed to remain in the event through the entire night, but was also given a standing ovation when he was even given an award later that evening.

As for the reason and motivation behind his criminal act, a weak joke made in bad taste.

Perhaps Ellis wrote American Psycho as a warning on the trajectory society was heading towards. Now, decades later, course correction may already be beyond any hope. And in hindsight, Christian Bale is right. We shouldn’t adore American Psycho; we should be horrified at it. But instead, we applaud it, cherish it.

The same can be said about Patrick Bateman, our protagonist. More demented being than man, he is a character we should be repulsed of. Yet why has he his character introduction set the mould for countless ‘morning routine of successful CEO’ videos on YouTube. Why do I see his shadow in trashy romance novels that feature a billionaire CEO (50 Shades of Grey anyone?)

As loud as American Psycho’s cries of warnings have been, as big of a hit story it has become, it seems in the end, Bateman’s (and through him Ellis’) closing words continue to ring true.

“There are no more barriers to cross. All I have in common with the uncontrollable and the insane, the vicious and the evil, all the mayhem I have caused and my utter indifference toward it I have now surpassed. 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.”

By Shanuka Kadupitiyage