While the American Psycho (2000) film gained a sort of cult following with all its corporate gore, the original novel by Bret Easton Ellis was actually a dark, satirical commentary on a heavily consumerist and capitalistic society that destroys the morality of those who participate. Ironically enough though, that meaning got lost in a juvenile lack of media literacy.
American Psycho is full of situational and verbal irony, starting in the first few pages with our main character, Patrick Bateman, being described as “the boy next door”. Though, as the novel progresses, it becomes clear that Bateman is anything but, what with his nighttime life that consists of brutally torturing women to death. The novel is full of ridiculous and inane moments including a persistent obsession with brand names, business cards, and Donald Trump. Verbal irony, for example, is shown in moments such as when in a club, Bateman is talking to a woman who asks him what he does for a living. He says “murders and executions” right to her face, but the woman too wrapped up in her own materialistic world believes he said “mergers and acquisitions”.
While there are several running jokes throughout the novel, the most prevalent one is the joke that all corporate yuppies look and act the same, which is humorous, but largely serves as a critique of that culture; Bateman is able to get away with everything he does because no one notices or cares. Coworkers are frequently mistaken for other coworkers, friends for other friends, and so forth but Bateman, to our knowledge, is the only character that notices and we watch as he devolves into an extreme obsession with fitting in while also spiraling into increasingly violent crime.
A majority of the irony in American Psycho is that Bateman, in his attempt to fit in, seem cool to his peers, and exert his hatred and masculinity onto lower-class women, actually is one of literature’s biggest losers. Bateman is so obsessed with the image he’s putting out that he actually has no sense of self at all, opting to define his character by the thread count of his Valentino jackets.
The original intention of the novel was to critique America’s capitalistic culture that is devoid of all morality but unfortunately, the film essentially destroyed nearly all chances of it doing so. Given that the novel is largely psychological, it is hard to get the essence of American Psycho to accurately translate to a screen, even if the movie is well made. Bret Easton Ellis himself said that “American Psycho was a book I didn’t think needed to be turned into a movie” because the novel functioned amazingly well as a satire and dark comedy, but could not be made into a movie without turning into the very mindset it was critiquing.
One thought on “American Psycho or Wall Street’s Biggest Loser?”
I agree, I’ve heard that the novel is more disturbing than the film. A lot of people have also interpreted the movie as the opposite of what it’s supposed to portray,