"There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there's no real me, only an entity, something illusory."
— Patrick Bateman
A book and movie (and Broadway musical), American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis is the story of a true '80s businessman: rich, shallow, unhappy, self-absorbed—and a serial killer.Patrick Bateman is a yuppie's yuppie. He works on Wall Street, has a pretty girlfriend, and spends most of his life in restaurants. However, he is also an insane serial killer who often hallucinates and murders people for no reason at all in increasingly horrific ways. Most of the people in Pat's life don't really know anything about him, but then, he doesn't know anything about them either. Most of the people he knows cannot even be bothered to remember his name—but he isn't sure about theirs, so it all evens out. There is no one who listens to him; he confesses at least once a week, but no one seems to notice or indeed care. And Ellis explains that Patrick may not really be a serial killer. Patrick may just be harmlessly insane. Or bored. But Patrick may also be speaking the absolute truth. It's up to the reader to decide.There is no true plot to the story. It ends as it begins; with Pat sitting in a restaurant, making boring small talk with boring people. Above him is a sign reading 'This Is Not An Exit'. His confession, his telling this to us, has meant nothing. (The book also crosses over with The Rules of Attraction, but like everything else, it's of no consequence whatsoever.)The book has a sort-of sequel, Lunar Park, which was published in 2005. Lunar Park blurs the lines between fiction and reality, and features various literary representations of Patrick Bateman haunting a very fictionalized version of Bret Easton Ellis. The book mixes cheesy horror with advanced literature theory, Mind Screw and Recursive Canon.A movie sequel In Name Only is described on another page.Not to be confused with a rather catchy song by Canadian rock band Treble Charger.
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Tropes Present in Both Versions
All Just a Dream: Both novel and film allow for the possibility that all the murders only took place inside Bateman's head. Word of God for the movie version has it, on a DVD commentary track, that when the two co-writers were writing the film they thought of it as having every single murder in the story really taking place in some fashion or other but never in exactly the way Bateman hallucinates/lies about/misremembers it.
Aluminium Christmas Trees: Peanut butter soup is actually a real thing (nkatenkwan, the national dish of Ghana), although it's usually made with chicken and yam, rather than duck and squash.note Given that the book was written before the internet, it's unlikely Ellis would have known about it at the time. Mud soup and charcoal arugula are still just plain ridiculous, though.
Asshole Victim: Paul Owen/Allen was a colossal prick and Evelyn (not killed but definitely emotionally devastated) was a pretty horrid individual.
Beneath the Mask: Publicly, Patrick is charming, mild-mannered, and likeable to those in his circle of friends. Privately, Patrick is a violent sadist incapable of empathy, remorse, or compassion. In the book, he explicitly refers to his friendly facade as his "mask of sanity".
Berserk Button: Anything that gives Bateman the idea that he has/gets less than the absolute best or that there is someone in his social circles that might be better than him. For instance, the very thought that Patrick will not get a good table at a restaurant is enough to put him "on the verge of tears". Also, as much as he despises Luis, it's the fact that Luis had business cards that Patrick thinks are better than his own that drives him to attempt to murder Luis almost immediately.
Crapsack World: So very much. Almost every character, with the exception of Luis, Jean, and maybe Courtney, is an absolutely odious individual, completely lacking in anything even remotely like a redeeming feature. Patrick's friends may not be serial killers, but given the vile misogyny and racism they spew out on a regular basis, you wouldn't be the least bit surprised if they were.
Disposable Sex Worker: "Christie" in the movie, and Bateman murders several more prostitutes in the book.
Disproportionate Retribution: Several of Bateman's victims. The ones he has "motives" for are considerably worse, since the ones he has no real motives for can be explained by saying he's just crazy.
Dumb Blonde: Evelyn and Courtney, primarily. Also, three models (Libby, Daisy and Caron) Patrick and his associates mingle with in a nightclub. In the book, when they're asked to name any of the planets, two guess the Moon, and the third one guesses Comet.
Even Evil Has Standards: Three characters who Bateman does not kill are Evelyn, his fiancee; Jean, his secretary; and Luis, his gay associate, all of whom are in love with him. Notable, as Bateman finds Evelyn incredibly annoying, but never considers murdering her, and he was actually about to kill Luis, until he revealed he was gay and in love with Bateman. Even though Bateman is disgusted by this he still does not kill Luis.
Patrick uses other, more outlandish excuses too; in the book, for example, he once tells to Courtney that "I'm going to... Noj's. I'm buying coke from Noj". She protests that Noj is not a drug dealer but the chef at the Deck Chairs.
I'm a Humanitarian: In the book, Bateman eats the brain and part of the insides of one of his victims, and later bursts into tears while cooking another... because he thinks he's doing it wrong and can't cook. In the movie, eating people's brains is one of the things Patrick confesses to his lawyer.
It Was Here, I Swear: Inverted with Bateman's return to the torture chamber he set up in Paul Owen/Allen's apartment, which has inexplicably been repainted from top to bottom, erasing any trace that he was ever there.
Jerk Ass: Pretty much everyone except Jean and maybe Luis
Karma Houdini: Patrick actually confesses (earnestly) all the horrible things he's done to his lawyer, and still nothing comes of it. Of course, that's assuming he did do all the things he describes.
Kick the Dog: In both the movie and the book, Patrick very literally kicks a dog belonging to a homeless man he stabs to death. In a chapter in the book, he disembowels another dog, then shoots its owner; in a chapter set at a zoo, he throws nickel coins to the seals, just because he saw a table asking people not to do so (because they can choke on them).
Kick the Son of a Bitch: Patrick's very cold dumping of Evelyn was cruel, no doubt about that, but its difficult to imagine anyone wanting to commit to a lifetime of Evelyn's company.
Kill the Poor: Patrick feels nothing but ill will and contempt for the lower classes, as do his friends, although they, unlike Patrick, don't go out and stab them for fun.
Mistaken for Gay: Bateman is about to kill his associate, Luis, by strangling him from behind, but Luis mistakes this as Bateman coming onto him, causing him to reveal that he's gay and in love with Bateman.
Mistaken Identity: Throughout the book and the movie, characters address each other by the wrong name. Bateman himself is called Marcus Halberstam, MacLoy, Davis, Smith and Paul Owen/Allen, among others. Craig McDermott is addressed as Baxter at one point. This is a part of the social commentary in the story; these yuppies are so self-centered they can't even remember each others' names. Or, more to the point, they all look exactly like one another and engage in the exact same activities to a point where everyone is interchangeable, no one else can tell anybody apart from anybody else, and no one can even realize when one of their own associates and so-called "friends" is murdered...maybe.
My Card: Early on, there's a scene where several stockbrokers compare business cards.
Nice to the Waiter: Patrick and his associates are absolutely horrible to waiters and other people who do services for them (dry cleaners, housemaids, etc.).
Waiter: Would you like to hear today's specials?
Patrick: Not if you want to keep your spleen.
No Ending: The novel ends with the words "This is not an exit" (on a sign that Patrick reads). The chapters also often end abruptly, and one even ends in mid-sentence. The movie shows a sign with those words above and behind Patrick's head in the last shot.
Not Listening to Me, Are You?: Used repeatedly. Patrick often confesses his sociopathic tendencies to friends and associates. They are either not listening or don't care.
Not So Different: The way Bateman's murderous sociopathy is juxtaposed with the casual sociopathy of Reagan-era America.
One-Hour Work Week: Patrick's job is very high-paying, with a cushy office, but he doesn't actually seem to do anything there and has a lot of free time on his hands - when his secretary looks through his diary it's almost empty save for lunch dates. Which helps with his... hobbies. It's mentioned both in the book and the film that it's his dad's company. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert mused that Patrick's spree might have been averted if he'd been put to work hitting nails with a hammer, which is about the only task he's qualified for.
Politically Incorrect Villain: Apart from being a sadistic serial killer, Patrick is also racist, antisemitic, sexist, elitist and homophobic (though so are most of his associates, except the serial killer part).
Pyrrhic Villainy: By the end of the book, it's clear that all of Patrick's evil and depravity have afforded him nothing. He's still as lonely and miserable and empty as he was at the beginning, and no one gives a shit about him.
Sarcastic Confession: Bateman confesses his murders openly to a lot of people, but nobody takes him seriously. Sometimes, his confessions aren't really sarcastic; he actually wants people to believe him, but they never do. More to the point, all the Stepford Yuppies he reveals himself to are too self-involved to hear him correctly. They aren't even hearing or caring enough to not take him seriously. When he declares himself to work in "murders and executions", the conversation goes on about mergers and acquisitions. And when he tries to break up with Evelyn over lunch, his declaration that his need to commit murder on a massive scale was out of control zings right through her hair. Of course, as noted, it's possible that this might not all be real.
Serious Business: Things that most people would find irrelevant or trivial are blown out of proportion all over; for example, Paul Owen/Allen is murdered over a business deal that nobody even knows the details of (as well as for having a better business card than Bateman's and for being able to get a reservation at a popular restaurant).
Sexy Secretary: Jean, who constantly tries to get Patrick's attention. Patrick notes in the book that the clothes she wears are "improbably expensive and completely inappropriate".
Shaggy Dog Story: "There has been no reason for me to tell you any of this. This confession has meant nothing..."
Shout-Out: The book and the movie end with Bateman reading a sign that says "This is not an Exit" a reference to No Exit.
They Look Just Like Everyone Else: While Patrick is superficial and phony, no one notices how facile his persona is. Even his obsessive grooming habits go unnoticed, since he blends right in with the rest of the self-absorbed yuppie crowd. In fact, Patrick is constantly mistaken for other people in his circle.
Torture Porn: In-universe example, Patrick is particularly fond of these sorts of movies.
Unreliable Narrator: Patrick Bateman is clearly insane and has bizarre hallucinations (i.e. a Cheerio interviewed on a talk show, himself stalked by a park bench in the book; an ATM machine ordering him, "FEED ME A STRAY CAT" in both book and film) which he believes to be true. It's also ambiguous whether he committed the brutal (and, occasionally, preposterous) murders that occur. Right at the end, another character insists that Paul Owen/Allen is alive.
Watering Down: A couple of the yuppies complain about how the cocaine they've been sold is "a gram of fucking Nutrasweet".
Tropes Present in the Book
Anachronic Order: For much of the book, scenes alternate between early summer and right around Christmas. The lack of chronological order is almost easy to miss, and has almost no effect on the book's narrative structure, since the book has no real narrative.
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: At the beginning, Tim Price (one of Bateman's associates) reads a newspaper: "In one issue... in one issue... let's see here... strangled models, babies thrown from tenement rooftops, kids killed in the subway, a Communist rally, Mafia boss wiped out, Nazis, baseball players with AIDS, more Mafia shit, gridlock, the homeless, various maniacs, faggots dropping like flies in the streets, surrogate mothers, the cancellation of a soap opera..."
In one chapter, after murdering a dog and its owner in a typically gruesome fashion, Patrick goes to the supermarket and gets a rush out of buying a bran muffin with an expired coupon.
Buxom Is Better: Patrick certainly thinks that; every time he finds a woman attractive, he mentions that she has "big tits". When his favorite talk show features a woman who had breast reduction surgery, he calls one of his associates (who is also watching), and they spend the rest of the segment with ridiculing her.
The Cameo: Patrick meets his brother Sean, who was one of the three main characters in Bret Easton Ellis's previous novel, The Rules of Attraction, for dinner in one chapter. They do not get along well with each other.
Character Filibuster: There are entire chapters where Patrick stops telling the story altogether, in order to launch into long essay-like rants about pop singers he likes, such as Phil Collins and Whitney Houston. His interminably long word diarrhea about banal pop acts like Huey Lewis and the News demonstrate how shallow a person he is.
Continuity Nod: Taking place in the same universe as most of Bret Easton Ellis's novels, there are subtle references to events and characters from other books. Most humorously, Patrick, when buying a tie for his brother Sean, pleases himself my imagining Sean attempting to hang himself with it. Sean actually does try to hang himself using a tie from Patrick in Ellis's earlier novel, The Rules of Attraction. Patrick also notes that Sean, who was occasionally described as having a unibrow in the previous book, must be plucking his eyebrows, seeing that "he no longer has only one".
Chekhov's Gunman: Done in a deliberately annoying fashion; characters that were mentioned once 200 pages ago are suddenly mentioned again just to give you the same confused who-are-these-people feeling that Patrick must have all the time.
Costume Porn: Bateman frequently discusses what he and his colleagues/friends are wearing, and their brand names.
The author, Bret Easton Ellis, actually subverted this, albeit very covertly. Apparently he knew that the readers of the book would almost certainly be unable to accurately picture the outfits that Patrick describes and would assume the men just look like GQ models and the women look like celebrities doing publicity but in fact the clothes they were described as wearing would actually look "clownish" in real life.
Decoy Protagonist: It's only for a very short time, but if you'd read only the first few pages of the novel, you'd think the protagonist is Tim Price.
Everyone Hates Mimes: Patrick, while looking for someone to kill, passes a street juggler and mentions that if he had been a mime, he would already have been dead.
Finger in the Mail: In the novel, when Patrick Bateman is listing his priorities before Christmas, one of them is "saw a hardbody's head off and Federal Express it to Robin Barker – the dumb bastard – over at Salomon Brothers".
Food Porn: As with the Costume Porn, subverted: the food ranges from bizarre (peanut butter soup) to inedible (brioche with maple syrup and cotton), and the plating is wacky enough to kill Patrick's appetite.
For Halloween, I Am Going as Myself: Patrick goes to a Halloween party dressed as a mass murderer, complete with real human blood on his suit. He comes in 2nd in the party's costume contest, which really upsets him.
Gorn: Just like clothes, food, sex, and everything else that's important in Patrick's life, violence and bloodshed is described in lengthy (and, occasionally, absurd) detail. The horrific violence was the subject of much debate when the novel was published.
"I'm a corporate raider," I whispered lasciviously into the cordless phone. "I orchestrate hostile takeovers. What do you think of that?" and I would pause before making sucking noises, freakish piglike grunts, and then ask, "Huh, bitch?"
Hypocritical Humor: At one point Patrick and several of his guy friends are appalled that their dates only seem to be able to meaningfully converse about clothes.
And then there's this little gem (context for their misunderstanding here):
"What are all these T-shirts I've been seeing?" she asks. "All over the city? Have you seen them? Silkience Equals Death? Are people having problems with their conditioners or something? Am I missing something? What were we talking about?"
"No, that's absolutely wrong. It's Science Equals Death." I sigh, close my eyes. "Jesus, Evelyn. Only you could confuse that and a hair product."
If she likes me only for my muscles, the heft of my cock, then she's a shallow bitch. But a physically superior, near-perfect-looking shallow bitch, and that can override anything, except maybe bad breath or yellow teeth, either of which is a real deal-breaker.
I Call Him "Mister Happy": When a private investigator asks Patrick about Paul Owen, Patrick thinks to himself: "How could I describe Paul Owen to this guy? Boasting, arrogant, cheerful dickhead who constantly weaseled his way out of checks at Nell's? That I'm heir to the unfortunate information that his penis had a name and that name was Michael?"
Infant Immortality: Averted. Patrick stabs a small boy when he's at the zoo, just to see whether he enjoys it. He doesn't... because he doesn't find it evil enough:
"How useless, how extraordinarily painless, it is to take a child's life... It's so much worse (and more pleasurable) taking the life of someone who has hit his or her prime, who has the beginnings of a full history, a spouse, a network of friends, a career, whose death will upset far more people whose capacity for grief is limitless than a child's would, perhaps ruin many more lives than just the meaningless, puny death of this boy."
Insistent Terminology: For the first half of the novel, he can never call his secretary 'Jean.' No, it's always 'Jean, my secretary, who is in love with me.'
Lame Comeback: When someone calls Patrick a "fucking yuppie", all he can come up with is: "Hey... You may think I'm a really disgusting yuppie but I'm not, really."
Minor Flaw, Major Breakup: A variant - at one point in the novel Bateman and several of his colleagues are sitting in a restaurant checking out a hot girl at another table. Tim Price uninterestedly points out that one of her knees is bigger than the other. All three of them notice this and promptly lose all interest in her.
Multiple Narrative Modes: Some chapters are told in the third person, as opposed to the first-person narrative of the rest of the novel.
Pet the Dog: Patrick almost has a moment like this, but then it's ruined. At one point, he notices a pretty homeless girl sitting on the steps of a building with a coffee cup. As he states, his nastiness vanishes, and he honestly wants to do something kind, so he drops a dollar into the cup. Then he realizes that the girl wasn't homeless but a college student, and the cup was full of coffee.
Rule of Three: The three chapters in which Bateman describes an 80s pop act in minute detail. Emphasized by Word of God: in an interview Ellis mentioned that the novel's editor wanted to cut out two of these chapters, as he was of the opinion that they'd lose their impact through repetition. Ellis countered that the fact that the motif is repeated is what makes them work: one such chapter sounds merely like the writings of a slightly obsessive fan, but three sounds downright psychotic.
Running Gag: Patrick's obsession with "The Patty Winters Show" and the bizarre subjects of the episodes he watches. The frequent (often unimportant) detail he gives of clothes, decor, and food also becomes a gag in and of itself as it seems to manifest out of a compulsive desire to do so; for instance, after describing the "dumpy girl" behind the counter at his video store and her non-designer clothes from the waist up, Patrick starts to have a panic attack as he realizes he has not seen what shoes she is wearing.
Sanity Slippage: As the book goes on, Patrick's descriptions of the mundane parts of his life become peppered with increasingly bizarre details.
Saw "Star Wars" Twenty-Seven Times: In the novel, Patrick mentions that he has rented Body Double 37 times. One chapter follows his train of thought at a video rental store as he picks the movie out "as if he'd been programmed." He also pretends to ignore "the horrified reaction" of a store employee who recognizes Bateman upon being handed the movie box when renting it out for what would be the 38th time. He sometimes likes to describe some of the film's more violent moments to both the reader and other characters throughout the story. "The power drill scene" is Patrick's favorite part.
Scenery Porn: Although they manifest themselves as dryly written Walls of Text, Patrick's descriptions of his lavish surroundings, including everything from the furniture in his apartment to the clothing of every character in the book counts as this, to a point. Deconstructed, in that rather than being appealing to the reader, the lengthy, detailed descriptions make both Patrick and the world that surrounds him seem shallow and materialistic.
Show Within a Show: In the book, frequent references are made to a daytime talk show called The Patty Winters Show. Patrick often brings up the show's topic of the day which ranges from more straight-forward things, such as "Autism" or "Salad Bars," to more bizarre subjects, like a new sport called "Dwarf Tossing," "a boy who fell in love with a box of soap," and "UFOs That Kill." Later interviewees, such as Bigfoot, whom Patrick found to "surprisingly articulate and charming" and a Cheerio again makes us question Patrick's sanity.
Snuff Film: Patrick sometimes films himself torturing women to death. He once shows one of these videos to a woman before killing her.
Society Marches On: Once upon a time, children, restaurants in New York had smoking and non-smoking sections...
Straw Nihilist: Patrick believes that ultimately, everything is meaningless. "everything I have been taught: principles, distinctions, choices, morals, compromises, knowledge, unity, prayer – all of it was wrong, without any final purpose. All it came down to was: die or adapt."
Earlier in the night after dropping Jeanette off I stopped at M.K. for a fund-raiser that had something to do with Dan Quayle, who evenI don't like.
Technology Marches On: Some of Patrick's detailed descriptions of his home entertainment system seems anachronistic by today's standards, especially since the point is how state-of-the-art it is.
Those Wacky Nazis: In the book, the topic of one episode of The Patty Winters Show is Nazis, which Patrick says he "got a real charge out of." One of the Nazi guests is described by as having juggled grapefruits "in a rare display of humor." Patrick, delighted by this, "sat up in bed and clapped."
Toilet Humor: At one point Patrick tricks Evelyn into eating part of a chocolate-covered urinal cake by passing it off as a fancy treat from Godiva.
Totally Radical: In a club, after doing coke in the bathroom, Patrick comes out to see that quite a few young punks have come in, and a few black people. He attempts to convince them that he's "hip" and not just some boring yuppie. Hilarity Ensues.
Uncomfortable Elevator Moment: Bateman gets in the elevator with Tom Cruise, and attempts to make small talk with him after spending a while debating with himself as to whether he should play it cool and say nothing. The conversation is extremely awkward.
Based on a real event: Ellis lived in the same apartment building as Tom Cruise for some time.
Understatement: When Bateman calls his lawyer and confesses his murders to the lawyer's answering machine, he concludes it with:
Elizabeth: I'm not a lesbian! Why would you think that?
Patrick: Well, you did go to Sarah Lawrence. (Guinevere Turner (who plays Elizabeth) is a lesbian, and really did go to Sarah Lawrence.)
Adaptation Name Change: Paul Owen and Timothy Price in the novel become Paul Allen and Timothy Bryce in the film.
All There in the Manual: As part of an advertising campaign for the film, there were several e-mails written from Patrick Bateman to his therapist. These emails depict several events after the film/book, acting as a sequel (such as Patrick being married, then divorcing Jean). These were written by one of the film's writers and approved by Ellis.
Ascetic Aesthetic: Patrick's apartment. The production notes asked for the surfaces in Bateman's kitchen to be covered in stainless steel, like a morgue.
Break the Cutie: Jean, who seems to have a crush on Patrick, is subjected to his cold personality and a sour date. In the end of the film, she also finds his journal depicting murder and rape of women.
Conversation Casualty: Patrick Bateman certainly contemplates taking a cordless drill to the head of a lady he's chatting up.
Fan Disservice: When he's running around with nothing but shoes and socks on... and a chainsaw, while cackling insanely. Also the sex scenes really aren't that sexy, and very intentionally so. (The scene with the streetwalker and the call girl should be sexy, since all three actors are very attractive, but Bateman's overwhelming egoism and gross instructions to the girls make it most unsexy indeed.)
Mood Whiplash: Done quite brilliantly— the film opens with an extremely dark monologue by Patrick describing his sociopathic tendencies, only for the scene to switch to the sounds of "Walking On Sunshine".
Mr. Fanservice: The entire cast. Intentional to highlight their vanity and the complete lack of identity among them.
Mythology Gag: Many of the pictures in Patrick's journal are illustrations of murders from the book that were cut.
He also mentions some victims that are only present in the book during his confession scene.
Noodle Implements: Bateman's drawer full of "sex toys" which he uses on the prostitutes. This is one of those times when you really don't want to picture how they're used. There's a hole puncher, for one. What did he do with that?
The fact that Christie says she had to go to the emergency room and might need surgery gives you some clue.
Not in the Face!: At one point in the film, Patrick Bateman chases a hooker through an apartment and tries to eat her leg. She kicks him in the face and, being a self-absorbed yuppie, he screams at her, "Not the face! Not the fucking face, you piece of bitch trash graagh (unintelligible)!"
Overly Nervous Flop Sweat: Patrick does this a lot when under pressure or when coming close to getting caught in a lie. According to Word of God, Christian Bale was so talented an actor that when doing repeated takes of the famous business card scene, he was capable of sweating on cue.
Pragmatic Adaptation: If you watch the film without reading the book, it's obvious that a lot of the content has been excised without detriment to the narrative. The horrible Gorn is reduced to quick cuts and off-screen violence (especially the nigh-unfilmable rat scene, which is removed altogether - thankfully). Bateman's interminable lectures about boring '80s pop music is rendered on-screen as him babbling to guests at his apartment.
Stab The Salad: During Bateman's last killing spree, he seems certain to pull a gun on the security guard in his office — but whips out a pen instead.
The opening credits have what seems to be blood dripping all over, but then is turns out to be some sort of red sauce being drizzled on a plate.
The Unsmile: Bale's used car salesman grin becomes even more comical when he's agitated.
Wham Line: Two instances (film wise), all within a span of a couple of minutes:
Real estate agent: There was no ad in the Times. I think you should go now.
Then a little later...
Bateman: There are no more barriers to cross. All I have in common with the uncontrollable and the insane, the vicious and the evil, all the mayhem I have caused and my utter indifference toward it I have now surpassed. My pain is constant and sharp, and I do not hope for a better world for anyone. In fact, I want my pain to be inflicted on others. I want no one to escape. But even after admitting this, there is no catharsis; my punishment continues to elude me, and I gain no deeper knowledge of myself. No new knowledge can be extracted from my telling. This confession has meant nothing.