From his embodiment of the tortured vigilatee patrolling the murky underside of Gotham to the portrayal of a chainsaw-wielding investment banker yearning for blood, American actor Christian Bale not only rivals the 2022 Batman, Robert Pattinson, with his performance in the Dark Knight Trilogy but offers fresh executions of dynamic roles exploring the dark underbelly of contemporary social institutions.
Directed by Mary Harron, American Psycho is a 2000 film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s esteemed psychological thriller novel. The film, starring Christian Bale, follows the protagonist and narrator, Patrick Bateman, as the outward appearance of his seemingly idyllic lifestyle subsides to reveal his extensive state of mental depravity and homicidal proclivities. Set in New York City, Patrick and other young urban professionals are marked by the stereotypical Wall Street “yuppie” culture of the late 1980s. As he descends further into insanity, Patrick attempts to conceal his alternate ego from his socialite peers while indulging in a ravenous murder spree. However, the certainty of Patrick’s abominable deeds is questioned as his flawed perception of reality is revealed. Moreover, American Psycho utilizes Patrick’s lifestyle, the emotional destitution of the protagonist and the illusive nature of his violent acts in order to provide a social commentary on the mores of contemporary capitalistic society.
As a twenty-seven-year-old Caucasian investment banker, Patrick perfectly exemplifies the urban culture in which he immerses himself. Sporting Valentino suits, Oliver Peoples spectacles and slicked-back hair, the urban professionals surrounding Patrick embellish their lives with recreational drug use, casual sex acts and aimless flaunting of wealth. The men’s overindulgent, decadent lifestyles represent their alignment with the capitalistic value of overconsumption, a factor that enlarges the divide between socioeconomic classes. Void of an internal architecture for independent self-identification, Patrick utilizes the appearances and lifestyles of his upper-echelon colleagues as a blueprint to mold his identity in order to conceal his true nature. His peer group is further characterized by perpetual identity confusion amongst an amalgamation of homogenous appearances in which comfort is found in the absence of individuality. The rage that Patrick experiences when misidentified alongside his fierce determination to distinguish himself among the urban professionals symbolizes his effort to crawl out of the confines of mundanity and impersonality. Conversely, Patrick’s use and abuse of material wealth and violence to surpass his colleagues serve as examples of the skewed sense of morality instilled within the young stockbroker by the corrupt social institutions in which he places himself. Ironically, Patrick’s desire to establish himself among his peer group whilst conforming to the social ideals of consumerism is reminiscent of the cut-throat economic business ideals imposed underneath the structure of capitalism.
Patrick’s narrow range of emotional sensibility is utilized to provide a social commentary on the horrors of a culture driven by consumerist values. While peeling off a transparent skincare mask, Patrick delivers a narrative monologue to both the viewers and his reflected image in a bathroom mirror. The businessman states that his identity is an “abstraction,” an elusive concept crafted to conceal his internal hollowness; however, he fears that his mask of sanity is slipping away. Patrick’s obsession with consumerism, unquenchable bloodthirst, and desire to heighten his social status through material gain symbolize Patrick’s attempt to fill the void of his stark, uncharacterized humanly existence. The conceptualization of humans as pawns for personal endeavors is reflective of the business ideologies of his chosen career path, one characterized by the use of persuasion and fabrication for personal gain. Under this interpretation, the viewers must contemplate whether the banker’s emotional vacancy and moral bankruptcy are distortions of the human psyche or byproducts of both the shallow consumption perpetuated by capitalism and the emotional destitution surrounding the protagonist.
Ultimately, Patrick’s hallucinations and erratic behavior are indicators of schizophrenia, psychosis, or other similar psychiatric disorders. Subsequently, the comfort in placing Patrick, a perceived callous murderer, outside of the realms of true humanity is eradicated. The viewer is thus forced to analyze structural institutions that perpetuate mental and emotional decline. All in all, Patrick’s paradoxical self-awareness and fantasies of violence within a society characterized by interchangeability calls the viewer to reexamine trusted societal structures for the superficiality lurking beneath facades crafted within the domineering political sphere.