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American Psycho: Is It Deep or Dumb? – Wisecrack Edition


What’s up, Wisecrack? Helen here to talk
about Huey Lewis’s number one fan. “Do you like Huey Lewis and the News?” I think that’s all he’s really known for–
American Psycho has always been a lightning rod for controversy. The book by Brett Easton
Ellis was infamously scrapped by its initial publisher amidst uproar over its depictions
of violence. So — it’s not surprising that the film version (released nine years after
the book’s publication) has become similarly controversial. Now, this video will be focusing
on the more controversial aspects of the film, not the book. Sure, some of these points may
dovetail with Ellis’s novel, but for the purposes herein — everything we state just
applies to the movie. Most of the controversy surrounding American
Psycho stems from how people perceive it — Is the film a critique on the consumerism and
superficiality of 80’s yuppie culture? Or does the film’s excess actually glorify
this lifestyle? And what to make of the film’s violence — particularly towards women? Some
proclaim American Psycho a feminist masterpiece, while others have labeled it misogynistic.
So– which is it? Further, what exactly are we supposed to make of Patrick Bateman: anti-hero?
villain? Or… none of the above? Let’s find out in this Wisecrack Edition
on American Psycho: Deep or Dumb? And of course – spoilers ahead. Alright guys, first a quick recap — American
Psycho is set in 1988, the heyday of the rich yuppie Wall Streeter. Patrick Bateman fits
this stereotype to a tee: he’s a handsome, wealthy businessman way more obsessed with
dining at the trendiest restaurants than in, well, actually working. Bateman’s life is
all artifice — on the surface, he has a beautiful fiancee and a close knit group of friends…
but dig a little deeper, and you see he actually hates them all. Not only that — as a ‘side-hustle’,
Patrick murders homeless men and prostitutes. Patrick’s world soon begins to crumble after
he brutally murders a business rival (Paul Allen), and a detective begins to look into
him as a suspect. The line between reality and fantasy blurs as Patrick descends into
madness and goes on a gory killing spree. However, despite murdering dozens of people,
nobody seems to care. In fact, there are seemingly no bodies. And when Patrick does confess to
Paul Allen’s murder, he’s told Paul’s still alive. So… what gives? Did Patrick
actually kill anybody? Was it all in his head? Or does it even matter? American Psycho satirizes the shallow consumer
lifestyle of the 1980s. The film revels in excess – from the extravagant dinners… “Our pasta tonight is a squid ravioli in
a lemon-grass broth.” …To Bateman’s over-indulgent morning routine. “I believe in taking care of myself, in
a balanced diet, in a rigorous exercise routine.” Patrick’s obsessed with his status among
the wealthy Wall Streeters — whether it be his ability to procure a reservation at Dorsia
(the hippest restaurant of the moment) or his grooming. It’s no coincidence that Bateman
repeatedly references the ‘Trump’ name — “Is that Donald Trump’s Car?” “Is
that Ivana Trump over there?” In the 80s, Trump was synonymous with excess.
He was the ultimate Yuppie — a billionaire Wall Street business tycoon with the bomb-shell
wife and ten-thousand dollar suit. Just take it from Trump himself. When asked for a 1987
Newsweek article whether he was the ‘Ultimate Yuppie’, Trump responded rather succinctly
— “Yeah… maybe.” Or take this description of his 1985 apartment in Architectural Digest: Quote the article: ”Every surface of [Trump’s]
home shimmers like liquid gold… [the house was] covered with fabric painted in 24K gold,
in the gold-leaf ceilings, and in the crystal chandeliers and candlesticks throughout…
The dining room shimmers with Tiffany’s glassware, resting on a mahogany table embellished
with strips of gold leaf. The dining chairs are from Donghia Furniture, and the Alexander
Liberman composition is titled Gate XXVI.” Similarly, Patrick Bateman is focused on the
minutiae that defines his elite status: his bedsheets… You can’t bleach a Cerruti! You can only find
those sheets in Santa Fe. They’re very expensive sheets” …His skin care routine… “I use a deep pore-cleanser lotion. In the
shower, I use a water-activated gel cleanser, then a honey-almond body scrub, and on the
face an exfoliating gel scrub.” …And his business cards. Mostly, his business
cards. Let’s take a quick moment to give props
to Christian Bale’s performance. This really is an acting showcase for the ages – Bale
takes absurdity and turns it into high drama. Just look at how he reacts to something as
trivial as a business card’s font, somehow making ‘Helvetica’ feel like the end of
the world. Bale nails the satirical tone of the film – at once showcasing how nonsensical
this minutiae is… yet also making it sadly believable that this could be so important
to a status-conscious yuppie. Everything in Patrick Bateman’s life is
commodified and rated, used as tokens of his perceived superiority to others. American
Psycho uses material objects to comment on the superficiality of its characters — everyone
in the film is vapid and self absorbed, way more concerned with how they look & how others
perceive them than in the actual conflicts happening in their periphery. The film is
punctuated with dinner conversations about ‘the state of the world.’ When Price mentions
the genocide in Sri Lanka, Bateman one-ups him — stating the real issue they should
all be worried about is– “Well, we have to end apartheid for one.
And slow down the nuclear arms race, stop terrorism and world hunger. But we can’t ignore
our social needs either. We have to stop people from abusing the welfare system. 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 but change the abortion laws to
protect the right to life yet still somehow maintain women’s freedom of choice…” But Patrick is only interested in using these
real world problems as a form of one upmanship, to prove he’s better than Price. When actually
confronted by a homeless person, Bateman doesn’t provide him with food or shelter or money…
He just brutally stabs him– “I’m sorry, Al. I don’t have anything
in common with you… Do you have any idea what a fucking loser you are? Later, when Price asks Patrick what he thinks
about the Iran-Contra scandal, Bateman reveals his true feelings about these worldly conflicts: “Whatever…” Patrick is often mistaken for other people
— Paul mistakes Patrick for another business associate, Marcus; later, Patrick’s lawyer
thinks he’s someone named Davis. This highlights the artifice of Patrick and his friend’s
lifestyle. In a society preoccupied with acquiring goods at all cost, nobody cares much about
any of the other people around them — everyone’s the same and completely interchangeable. All
that really matters is the suits and jewels they wear, the yachts they party on, and the
restaurants they dine in… In American Psycho, class is a competition,
a sport, reflective of Thorstein Veblen’s theories on what he callsThe Leisure Class
— particularly conspicuous consumption. Per Veblen, Conspicuous Consumption is the “consumption
of goods as an evidence of pecuniary strength… It is is a means of reputability to the gentleman
of leisure.” Basically, to prove you’re better than everybody
else — you have to show it: be it a larger house, fancier clothes, or shinier bling.
Similarly, Patrick Bateman always defines himself in relation to others — he hates
Paul Allen because he can get into fancier restaurants and his business card is ‘nicer
‘. On the other hand, Patrick thinks he’s better than his doppleganger, Marcus, because
he has a ‘slightly better haircut.’ Patrick’s intent on proving his superiority,
lecturing lower class prostitutes on the meaning behind Genesis and Whitney Houston’s ouvre.
The fact that he takes such pride in trivial knowledge is, in itself, the point. Bateman
flaunts his wealth and knowledge to “prove” that he’s better than others. According to Veblen, much of this is inherited
from our more primitive past – the lower-status people did all the productive work while the
higher-status people were tasked with the “honorable” duties of hunting and killing-
far less productive behaviors than say, farming. As if a nod to Veblen, Bateman uses his prestige
to both be incredibly unproductive but also take up the hobby of murder. The film goes on to suggest that beneath Patick’s
need for fancy suits and a better apartment, lies a literal bloodlust, consumer capitalism
an actual bloodsport. Bateman’s murderous inclinations are presented as the truth lurking
beneath the facade of his superficial lifestyle. At the start of the film, Patrick comments
that there is nothing to him — he’s just a shell of a person. “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
you and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there.” Yet by the end, after Patrick has succumbed
to murdering people, giving into his baser desires – he becomes whole. You’re inhuman.” “Actually, I’m in
touch with my humanity.” By acknowledging his need for money only hides
his baser desire to kill, Patrick is self actualized — albeit as a serial killer. Ostensibly,
American Psycho signifies that the true nature of the Consumer Capitalist is, well, a cold
blooded serial killer. So it would seem that this is obviously a
‘Deep’ film… But despite being a savage critique on consumerism, people still can’t
help themselves… There’s something undeniably seductive about Patrick Bateman. The Patrick Bateman lifestyle is pervasive
in our culture: Mr. Porter (a clothing store) put out a whole line based on dressing just
like Patrick Bateman… There are articles on how to replicate Patrick
Bateman’s grooming style… Looking back at the restaurants he dined at… And where he would dine today… There’s even a video that gives you a 3-D
tour of Bateman’s apartment– So why are people so infatuated with Patrick
Bateman despite the fact that he’s a deranged murderer? Well parody seems to have a tendency
to offer competing interpretations of the thing is parodies: it both as legitimatizes
and subverts its subject. And American Psycho, for all it’s subversive merits, does revel
in excess. I mean — Patrick is handsome, good with the
ladies, has a beautiful apartment, a well paying job… Who wouldn’t want that lifestyle?
Plus American Psycho often plays Patrick’s more monstrous acts as comedic or just cuts
away from them entirely. When Patrick kills Paul Allen, it’s played as comedy, scored
to Huey Lewis and the News. And when Patrick murders Christie, we only see the net result
— a chainsaw has pierced her body, but we don’t see the moment of impact. The film
may bask in Bateman’s excessive lifestyle but never his murderous inclinations — allowing
the audience to identify more with the glitz & glamour and letting him off the hook for
his more gruesome misdeeds. So, by indulging in Bateman’s lifestyle at the expense of
his violence, is American Psycho undermining its own satirical depth? Furthermore, many accuse the violence in American
Psycho as being explicitly targeted towards women and the lower class, glorifying their
grotesque deaths. Nobody even really cares about all the women Patrick killed, it’s
only Paul Allen that Detective Kimball is concerned about… But is this the point the film is actually
trying to make? In a 2015 interview with Dazed, screenwriter
Guinevere Turner said, “I very much think [American Psycho is] 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 you summer. And to me,
even though the women are all sort of tragic and killed, it’s about how men perceive
and treat them.” Director Mary Harron reiterates this point
stating, “[American Psycho is a] great parody of masculinity. It’s a sendup. It was accused
of being sexist, but to me it was always an attack and satire of sexism and of male ego.” To this point — the film showcases the cavalier
attitudes many men have for women– “There are no girls with good personalities..
The only girls with good personalities are ugly chicks.” Patrick himself lords over women’s bodies
as if he owns them. At the workplace, Patrick tells his assistant what to wear, then in
bed — he pays women to do as he instructs. Patrick feels that he can do as he pleases
with a woman’s body, including killing, mutilating, and even eating them. What’s
more — he thinks he can get away with it. The cold cynical truth American Psycho presents
is that Patrick’s right — he can and does get away with it. So yes, American Psycho satirizes male ego
& consumer society… Which would make it inherently ‘deep’… Yet the net result of the film’s impact
seems to be upholding the surface value lifestyle the film rails against, making it perhaps
not dumb but a failure nonetheless. Patrick Bateman, despite his monstrous acts, is still
lauded as an “anti-establishment antihero.” But in a metatextual turn — this may actually
be what the film is about… Patrick Bateman constantly tells other people he’s a murderer,
to which either they mishear him or just dismiss the confession as a joke. Just as Patrick Bateman confesses his crimes
and everyone thinks he’s joking or just misinterprets him, American Psycho (the film)
has been either misinterpreted as misogynistic & pro-consumer OR has been treated as a joke
& a parody. Yet the issues American Psycho rails against — a status obsessed society,
sexism, and wealth inequality still remain just as relevant today as they did in the
nineties and early 00s. It’s just as Patrick Bateman says at the end of the film — This confession has meant nothing.” Likewise American Psycho cynically (and truthfully)
ridicules a society run amok, but knows deep down — that this confession too will mean
nothing. So we’re going to give the film a ‘Deep’ even though it too probably doesn’t
even matter. Thanks to all our patrons. Don’t forget to hit that subscribe button –

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