Serial Killers or America: who is more insane?


In American Psycho, Christian Bale plays Patrick Bateman, a vice president at a prominent investment bank. In the beginning of the film, we see Bateman going through his morning routine which involves a excessive maintenance regimen. He uses an ice pack to get rid of puffy eyes and nine separate cosmetic products before explaining “there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman…but there is no real me…I simply am not there” (American Psycho). We later learn that while Bateman is a businessman by day, he is a sociopathic serial killer by night.

*Warning: this post contains spoilers!*

While Bateman kills multiple people throughout the film, he is never caught. Bateman’s peers constantly call each other by the wrong name, so even after he confesses his lawyer thinks he is someone else making fun of Patrick. Bateman’s coworkers are just as concerned with their image as he is. Nearly every conversation includes the topic of dinner reservations at a restaurant called Dorsia. Being able to get a reservation at a good time on a Friday is seen as a status symbol and indicator of success. Furthermore, the scene in the following video shows Patrick and his coworkers showing off their new business cards and Patrick being extremely jealous that he does not have the best one in the room. Obsessing over status symbols like reservations, business cards, clothing and apartments is a persistent them throughout the film.

On the surface, the film seems as though it is telling a story, but it is actually a commentary on yuppie culture. Yuppie is short for young urban professional, generally a college-educated man or woman in their 20s who support themselves and make more than enough money to do so. Yuppies all dress and talk the same and are concerned with the same issues. This is why they constantly call each other by the wrong name and Patrick is never faces the consequences of his crimes. It is also why they try to set themselves apart from each other by having a better business card or dinner reservation; every other aspect of their lives are so similar that they need to focus on the smallest differences to be even remotely unique.

While the film is commenting on Yuppie culture, it does not spare American culture as a whole. The film was released in 2000 before the tech bubble burst so everyone in America was doing well financially and concerned with consuming more than ever. At one point in the film, Bateman returns to the apartment of one of his victims that he had previously filled with the corpses of several other victims. When he arrives he is surprised to find that the apartment is entirely remodeled and is being shown to potential new buyers. The realtor cleaned up the apartment without investigating in order to protect the property value and sell it to a new owner as quickly as possible. While Bateman is a yuppie psychopath, he is not able to avoid capture simply because he is a yuppie. The reality is he is living in a society that is actually more insane than he is.

Even though Bateman is an investment banker in the 1990s who wears tailored suits, this film is just as applicable in this day and age. Many investment bankers still act and dress like Bateman, but the tech companies in California are no different. If you walk around the Google for Facebook campus, it is filled with a different kind of yuppie. Instead of tailored suits they don jeans, t-shirts and hoodies. Instead of wishing for Ferraris they are looking at the latest Tesla. It is just as easy to mix up one young computer programmer for another today as it was to misidentify Bateman with one of his friends in the 90s. The idea of this film is to make the viewer step back and realize how homogeneous societal pressures can make us if we lose sight of what is truly important.

Photo from drafthouse.com

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5 thoughts on “Serial Killers or America: who is more insane?”

  1. When I viewed this film, I did not put 2 and 2 together and consider that it came out before the dot com bubble and the stock market crash– this revealing fact makes its satire even more poignant and interesting to me. One can only imagine the conversations these characters had on business ethics and adding value to all of their stakeholders…

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  2. This made me think about the suicides of bank trainees at some well-known investment houses over the recent years. Do you think that Christian Bale is, at his core, a serial killer? Or do you think the pressure of such a cutthroat environment was a contributing factor? It makes you wonder about the work life balance at these institutions.

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  3. I tend to think we are in the same general economic times from the 1980s to now. Deregulation, the rise of the financial sector, the impact of media and digital technologies, globalization, the profusion of network forms of organizing…

    I think you are right, the film is about how he is less insane then the society.

    But SPOILER
    given the ending, can we believe anything within the film about the rest of society?

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  4. American Psycho was actually based on a 1991 book by Bret Easton Ellis of the same title. Published 23 years ago, I think it is really interesting our society hasn’t changed at all. This is particularly true at Bucknell where pretty much every student dresses, talks and acts in a similar manner. Why do people behave like this?

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