A biting satire set in the Era of Excess, American Psycho gave audiences some scathing commentary of materialism and the empty pursuit of it, much of which still rings true today. The glib threats from Patrick Bateman, investment banker turned serial killer, are as awkward as they are compelling, the discomfort of their truthfulness making them stick in fans' memories long after the film ends.
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Based on Bret Easton Ellis's novel of the same name, the movie follows Bateman as he drifts through his fabulous life, complete with a perfect job, fancy apartment, and good looks. It's his slow descent into madness from the ennui of his hollow existence that gives fans such quotable dialogue. Whether he's waxing poetic about slaughtering people or his love of Huey Lewis and the News, there's always a demented logic to the absurdity.
Updated on September 24, 2022 by Tanner Fox:
When American Psycho was released in 2000, it went down as something of a box office bust, but audience opinions have changed pretty drastically over the past two decades. Now cherished as an ultra-bleak comedy, American Psycho blends horror and hedonism to create a twisted and affecting commentary of affluence and excess.
Much of what makes the film so compelling comes from Christian Bale's iconic turn as Patrick Bateman. Constantly spouting absurd philosophies and making very blunt threats somehow fall on deaf ears, the character's many ridiculous quotes arguably make the movie.
The Real Me
"There Is An Idea Of Patrick Bateman."
The movie begins with a long soliloquy by financier Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) describing his habits, his concerns, and his diurnal tasks. Fans quickly learn that while he spends an awfully large part of his day invested in his appearance and his presentation, it's all a carefully curated façade. There's no meaning ascribed to the person he puts forth whatsoever, though every choice is made with the utmost care.
As Bateman explains, there is an "idea of Patrick Bateman", an abstraction that's illusory, completely fabricated for the attention and pleasure of others. Viewers spend the entire movie wondering if they've ever met the real Patrick Bateman, or if they've simply followed an entity comprised of their own assumptions and projected prejudices.
"You Like Huey Lewis And The News?"
In one of the most diabolical and amusing vignettes in the movie, Bateman asks his guest if he likes the popular band Huey Lewis and the News before donning a chic transparent rain slicker and grabbing an axe. As he prepares to spray his guest's brains all over his apartment, he explains the finer points of the band's discography.
The monologue, which includes praise for the album Sports and its "new sheen of consummate professionalism" perfectly captures the shocking dissonance between the visceral horror he's inflicting and the mundane nature of the words coming out of his mouth. Of particular ironic significance is his mention of the song "Hip To Be Square," in which he extols the "pleasures of conformity," something that's driven Bateman to his homicide spree.
Impressive, Very Nice
"Let's See Paul Allen's Card."
The so-called business card scene is certainly one of American Psycho's most memorable; a boldface parable for the fastidious, fickle, and fake nature of Patrick Bateman and those like him, the scene sees Bateman and his co-workers getting worked up over the appearance of their business cards despite the fact that they're virtually identical—and they all have a common misspelling.
Patrick gets so upset over the look of his rival Paul Allen's card that he begins to sweat, something one of his colleagues picks up on. Ultimately, it reinforces the idea that Bateman isn't a real person—he's just an abstraction of corporate conceit.
"I Want To Stab You To Death And Play Around With Your Blood."
American Psycho often hints at Patrick Bateman's unreliability as a narrator and asks audiences to conclude for themselves if the events depicted actually transpired, and indeed if Bateman is actually a killer—or even a real person, at all. This topic is broached very early on when, after refusing his drink tickets, he accosts a bartender, saying "I want to stab you to death and play around with your blood."
She may not have heard him, but this is far from the only time Batemen gives his homicidal tendencies away, only for his confessions to be completely ignored.
It's Hip To Be Square
"Hey Paul! Try Getting A Reservation At Dorsia Now!"
Two of the longest-running gags in the movie are whether or not Patrick Bateman is really Paul Allen (Jared Leto), and getting a reservation at Dorsia. While it's unclear if Bateman kills Allen early on in the movie, that becomes even less clear to viewers when asking who Bateman really is.
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As for getting a reservation at Dorsia, even after Allen is supposedly murdered, it becomes less important as the next spot for yuppies to dine becomes trendy. The constant keeping up with appearances that Bateman has to do is part of the reason his life unravels, both as a professional investment banker and as a serial killer.
The Tasteful Thickness Of It
"It Even Has A Watermark."
To say that Bateman and his crew are preoccupied with minutiae is an understatement. He lives in a socioeconomic habitat so removed from the majority of people's collective consciousness that the small problems he has are so infinitesimal, they must be hypertrophied to the point of absurdity.
Take his business card, for example. No sooner has he picked up his "bone" colored cards from the printers (complete with "Silian Rail" lettering) than he's pitted in a contest of equipoise with his peers. Van Patten (Bill Sage) lays down his "eggshell" card with "Ramalian" typeface to much effusion, but nothing can compare him to the bombshell of Bryce's (Justin Theroux) "Pale Nimbus" raised lettering on white. It even has a watermark, causing Bateman to visibly perspire.
We've Lost Touch
"I Need To Engage In Homicidal Behavior on A Massive Scale."
Patrick Bateman really begins to lose his grasp on reality during the second half of American Psycho. He nearly kills his assistant with a nail gun, chases prostitutes across his apartment complex while waving a chainsaw around like Texas Chainsaw Massacre's Leatherface, and he ultimately engages in a murder spree before unsuccessfully confessing to the whole ordeal.
Before that, however, he tries to break up with his girlfriend, either because he hopes to spare her or because he doesn't want her to catch on to what he's doing. She's outraged, but, when Bateman admits that he wants to leave her so he can "engage in homicidal behavior," she doesn't appear to pick up on what he said.
I'm Not Sure I'm Gonna Get Away With It This Time
"I've Killed A Lot Of People."
It's of note that while Bateman has been cavorting around town on a murder spree, he isn't even close to being caught. There's a detective looking for him, but he doesn't seem to be any closer to getting caught, because men who look and act like him don't seem to fit the profile of a serial killer.
The mounting realization that his rampage means so little to so many, and the taking lives hasn't actually drawn him closer to understanding the meaning behind his own, drives him to frantically call his lawyer and explain quite candidly that he's "killed a lot of people."
Mergers And Acquisitions
“I’m Into Murders And Executions Mostly.”
The dry, acerbic humor of the movie is almost always attributed to Bateman, but it's not in the way that's expected. These moments of complete irreverence, where the mask he wears slips just a little, expose him to everyone in his intimate circle, but they're so endlessly preoccupied with themselves that they don't even notice.
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When he's asked what he does, instead of trying to cling to his façade, he lets someone in by actually telling them he's into "murders and executions." But they don't want to know the real Patrick Bateman, because no one in his vapid world is concerned with knowing anything authentic about anyone.
"I Think My Mask Of Sanity Is About To Slip."
The latter half of the movie concerns itself with Bateman's façade slowly eroding, and as he seeks to peel back the layer of artifice society presents, the mask he uses to participate in the matter is peeled back along with it. Revealing the inherent flaws in the design will expose him, and in some way set him free.
Fans know he wants to be caught because he gives himself away at almost every turn, but at the same time, they are no closer to discerning his motivations or what has made him give into his violent tendencies than when the movie began. He knows he can get away with everything, condemning himself to a lifetime of hiding his true self.
My Punishment Continues To Elude Me
"My Pain Is Constant And Sharp, And I Do Not Wish For A Better World For Anyone."
In the final scene of American Psycho, Bateman is shocked to see that his over-the-phone confession to his lawyer was taken as a joke and that his lawyer doesn't even recognize him. He makes a final stand, asserting that he perpetrated various violent acts, but his lawyer retorts with a perplexing comeback, as he argues that those crimes weren't even committed, as Paul Allen was still alive, after all.
In the end, Bateman monologues about how he's now desperate for reprieve through punishment though he'll never likely receive it, and this private hell is likely to continue forever.
"I Have To Return Some Videotapes."
What's Bateman's alibi for the detective sniffing around his firm, inquiring about the night Paul Allen disappeared? He had to return some video tapes. The simple activity in a day filled with equally trivial matters is given import, not to mention serves as a way for him to display his wealth. VCRs may not be made anymore, but they were very expensive at the time.
It's such a compelling argument for him that he uses it while his fiancée sobs into her brunch, and when a peer tries to pressure him into something ambiguous in the bathroom. Returning videotapes seems to alternately acquit Bateman of just about every major pressure in life and be the only thing he does in his free time.
Would You Like To Hear The Specials?
"Not If You Want To Keep Your Spleen."
Patrick Bateman reserves a table at an unpopular restaurant, planning to meet Paul Allen, get him drunk, and then take him back to his apartment so that he can murder him. When the two first meet, Allen seems to be under duress, and neither are interested in hearing what the waiter has to say. In fact, when he asks if the two want to hear about the day's specials, Bateman responds with "not if you want to keep your spleen."
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When it was first released, American Psycho was marketed as a horror film, but it's better appreciated as a kind of black comedy, and this is definitely one of the most hilarious lines in the movie.
This Is Not An Exit
"This Confession Has Meant Nothing."
At some point in American Psycho, Bateman feels that by confessing to what he's done, a subliminal weight will be lifted from his shoulders, but the release from the pain he feels ("constant and sharp") seems never to come. He neither hopes for a better world, nor does he want anyone to escape from the torment that he suffers himself.
His punishment continues to elude him because no one seems very interested in the mayhem he's caused. Therefore, to him and to society his confession "has meant nothing." He professes to not know anything more about himself from the telling, but viewers finally learn that there is no hope for redemption and reform for Patrick Bateman.
You Can Shake My Hand And Feel Flesh Gripping Yours
"I Simply Am Not There."
One of the eeriest moments arrives when Bateman peels off a dermal cleansing mask as though he's lifting the top layer of his actual face, his inner dialogue explaining to viewers that while there are aspects about him that can be seen, touched, and experienced, they don't amount to an actual person.
It breaks the construct of personhood, reducing it to a series of pantomimed gestures, intended to evoke the implication of empathy and sincerity where absolutely none exists. Bateman is an amalgamation of everything that can be willingly assimilated into society.
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