Literature: American Psycho
"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, 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 trendy restaurants and clubs. However, he is also a psychotic serial killer who often hallucinates and murders people in increasingly horrific ways, for no reason. 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 can't even be bothered to remember his name — but he isn't so sure about their names either, 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
. The book also crosses over with The Rules of Attraction
, but like everything else, it's of no consequence
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
There was also a musical version
that ran in 2013 at London's Almeida Theatre. What's notable about it is that Matt Smith
, who never sung or danced prior to this and is very far from American, starred as Bateman.
Not to be confused with a rather catchy song by Canadian rock band Treble Charger
open/close all folders
Tropes Present in Both Versions
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.
- Arc Words: "This is not an exit"
- 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.
- Blood Is the New Black
- Book Ends: The story begins with Bateman reading graffiti sprayed in red. The story ends with him reading a bar sign in red flanked by red curtains. As well as allusions to Hell: the book begins with a quote from Dante's Inferno and the quote in the summary, "This is not an exit," is probably a reference to Sartre's play No Exit.
- Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Patrick, several times. It always goes unnoticed, by characters and, possibly, the reader.
- "I sprinted over to Sixth Avenue, decided to be late for the office and took a cab back to my apartment where I put on a new suit (by Cerruti 1881), gave myself a pedicure and tortured to death a small dog I had bought earlier this week in a pet store on Lexington."
- "My priorities before Christmas include the following: (1) to get an eight o'clock reservation on a Friday night at Dorsia with Courtney, (2) to get myself invited to the Trump Christmas party aboard their yacht, (3) to find out as much as humanly possible about Paul Owen's mysterious Fisher account, (4) to saw a hardbody's head off and Federal Express it to Robin Barker - the dumb bastard - over at Salomon Brothers and (5) to apologize to Evelyn without making it look like an apology."
- 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.
- Dude, Not Funny!: An in-universe example. Patrick pretends to be offended by a racist joke one of his associates tells, though he's actually a virulent racist.
- 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.
- Fan Hater: In-story example. Patrick mentions that no one should feel sympathy for Jeanette whom he's forcing into getting an abortion due to the fact that her favorite movie is Pretty in Pink and "she thinks Sting is cool."
- Finger in the Mail: 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". Later, he mentions that he almost got caught at a Federal Express "trying to send the mother of one of the girls I killed last week what might be a dried-up, brown heart."
- 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.
- Go Mad from the Isolation: Ellis has stated that long before he came up with the "serial killer on Wall Street" concept, the novel was inspired by his own sense of isolation, disaffection and loneliness while living in New York in the 1980s. A significant theme of the novel is how it is partly Bateman's isolation from other people that drives him to insanity.
- 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.
- Harassing Phone Call: Patrick makes a bunch of obscene phone calls to women to amuse himself:
"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 "Mr. 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."
- Take That:
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 even I
- 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."
- Through the Eyes of Madness
- 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.
- Trademark Favorite Food: Bateman orders several dozen scotches, always J&B, through the course of the book.
- 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. This is based on a real event: Ellis lived in the same apartment building as Tom Cruise for some time. It's Hilarious in Hindsight (or possibly Fridge Horror) when you consider that Christian Bale used Tom Cruise as inspiration for his portrayal of Bateman.
- Understatement: When Bateman calls his lawyer and confesses his murders to the lawyer's answering machine, he concludes it with:
"Uh, I'm a pretty sick guy".
- Wall of Text: Whilst such excessive description in a novel is normally unnecessary and undesirable, the fact that the novel is from Bateman's perspective actually serves to exaggerate his consumerist nature and his obsession over minimal, insignificant details.
- Would Hurt a Child: Patrick stabs a small boy to death just to see if he'd enjoy it.
- You Are What You Hate: Bateman despises his friends because they represent parts of himself that he hates and remind him of what he doesn't have.
Tropes Present in the Film
- 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.
- Black Dude Dies First: Patrick Bateman's first on-screen victim in the film is a homeless black man.
- Bloody Horror: Patrick Bateman kills an annoying coworker which results in his face being covered in blood. Then he takes off his raincoat that was keeping his suit clean, sits down at the desk facing the coworker's corpse, and smokes a cigar.
- 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.
- Costume Porn: Played straight, unlike the novel.
- Distracted by My Own Sexy: During the porn film he's making with two prostitutes, Patrick Bateman spends more time looking at himself in a mirror, flexing his biceps.
- Environmental Symbolism: In the film, the door to Paul Allen's apartment (where Bateman accumulates most of his kills) is lettered "B".
- Fan Disservice: When Bateman is running around with nothing but shoes and socks on... and a chainsaw intended for another murder. 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.)
- Fanservice: Christian Bale + Shower Scene = Most of the women on the set showing up to watch them film that one scene.
- Gory Discretion Shot: One scene ends with a vapid model accompanying Bateman back to his home. Her apparent murder takes place offscreen, but in the next scene Bateman is quietly passing the time in his office, clutching a piece of hair which he apparently pulled from the model's head.
- High Concept: "A serial killer on Wall Street". Word of God has stated that this premise was arrived at relatively late in the process of writing the novel, and the earlier chapters are more about Bateman's vanity and isolation.
- Full-Frontal Assault: With a chainsaw.
- Jerk Ass: Every single character apart from Christie and Jean.
- Lighter and Softer: The film is much, much tamer than the book, featuring only Gory Discretion Shots instead of the chapter-long, extreme Squick-inducing graphic descriptions of what Bateman does to his victims.
- 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.
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner:
- The speech Patrick gives about Huey Lewis just before would count, though it's not precisely a one-liner.
- Room Full of Crazy: In the film, the goriest room in Bateman's lair is decorated with the words "DIE YUPPIE SCUM" on the wall.
- Significant Sketchbook: At the end of the film, Patrick Bateman's secretary finds his planner, which is filled with horrifying sketches of women being tortured, maimed and dismembered.
- Sleep Mask: The ever-posh Courtney Rawlinson is seen wearing one in the movie.
- Soundtrack Dissonance
- 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.
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.