Face masks. Business cards. High heels. Chainsaws. Dorsia’s. That’s all you need to know about Mary Harron’s American Psycho.
Just kidding. The book-turned-movie-turned-cult classic is a story of the, literally, cut-throat Wall-Street businessman, Patrick Bateman (played by Christian Bale). The 27-year old investment banker begins his days with an intense, and honestly mesmerizing skincare routine, putting all beauty vloggers to shame. Reservations are made at the city’s finest restaurants followed by some “working” in the office. In between all this and socializing with his Wall Street friends, having an affair with his coworker’s fiancé, and picking up prostitutes, Bateman
returns videotapes, or in other words, commits egregious acts of violence across the city.
So, amidst all the bloodlust, gore, and misogyny, how does American Psycho emerge as a feminist film? Simple. The glorification of toxic masculinity and male privilege in American Psycho is so hyperbolic, almost to the point of absurdity, which forces viewers to face it dead-in-the-eyes.
*Major spoilers ahead*
How can you tell who’s a serial killer or not? Well, you can’t, according to Bateman’s friends. At least, they aren’t able to. Instead, Bateman fits right in, sharing in their greed and endless displays of vanity, one of which involves business cards: a who-has-the-better-card game. Each whip it out until someone presents Paul Allen’s off his off-white, water-marked card of perfection. The display is over, for now.
The all-white, all-male group of bankers then proceed to engage in some playful “locker room talk,” discussing their preference of women. They constrict women to their looks and personality, preferring the former over the latter since girls with good personalities are always ugly: “There are no girls with good personalities” (Mary Harron). When equal rights for women are mentioned, they laugh. A brief display of homophobia occurs in a nightclub as well. While Bateman and his friend are snorting cocaine in a bathroom stall, a man in the adjoining stall tells them to quiet down, which elicits a homophobic slur from Bateman’s friend.
Bateman thrives in and essentially amplifies the cut-throat environment, with only white men at the top. Beyond the bars and boardrooms, he takes these activities and attitudes to an extreme.
The first to be amplified is the fragile male ego, which prohibits Bateman from conceding the game of cards to Allen, the man who constantly mistakes him for another coworker. He decides to, literally, get rid of the competition, killing Allen then making it look like he flew off to London on a last-minute vacay. When new competition arises in the form of Luis, his coworker whose fiancé he’s sleeping with, Bateman goes to kill him too. Except, what’s really a move to strangle Luis is taken, by Luis, as a move-move. He kisses his unsuccessful murderer on the hand. Bateman is so disturbed by the small act of affection that he washes his hands, with the gloves still on. Despite this, Bateman elicits two female prostitutes to engage in same-sex activities, playing into the trope of the male-lesbian fantasy. Homosexuality exists solely for the male gaze.
Because women are only good for their looks, Bateman feels no remorse in doing what he pleases with these prostitutes’ bodies and disposing of them afterwards. The more vulnerable in society, the better; his unofficial motto for selecting prey. Sex workers, drunk girls at bars, and homeless people all check off the mark. All the people the patriarchy has rendered unimportant or disposable. And what does Bateman do? Literally disposes of them. Unsurprisingly, he gets away with these crimes.
Is there no stopping the cis white man! In consideration of Bateman’s hyperactive masculinity, one has to wonder, what is the significance of Bateman’s identity? If American Psycho wasn’t your typical white, male wall street banker. Would he still be able to get away with those crimes? Would he be able to fit in as well as Bateman, without being exposed? Or, would he have a whole different set of conventions or people to appeal to?
The answer is in the last scene. Bateman goes on a killing spree and confesses his crimes to his lawyer. He’s done for! All the evidence you need is in that voicemail!
Scenes of Bateman’s violence have been cleaned. His lawyer takes the call as a sick joke. In Bateman’s own words: “This confession has meant nothing” (Mary Harron)
Mary Harron’s American Psycho makes apparent how society nurses and enables the toxic masculinity and male privilege of the worst, most extreme perpetrators, and leaves the rest vulnerable. Don’t worry about your messes, they’ll be cleaned up for you. Anyone who cares about, or maybe isn’t aware of the need for social justice needs to experience this film. Those who aren’t aware of this need can hopefully process the bitch-slap that is Patrick Bateman. Finally, for those who only care about the famed morning routine scene, here you go:
American Psycho – Business Card Scene [HD – 720p] – YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=6&v=aZVkW9p-cCU&feature=emb_logo.
American Psycho. Directed by Mary Harron, performances by Christian Bale and Reese Witherspoon, Lionsgate, 2000.
Morning Routine – American Psycho (1/12) Movie CLIP (2000) HD – YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjKNbfA64EE&t=86s.