No, I’m not talking about Jason Bateman, the star of Teen Wolf II and more recently Arrested Development. I’m talking about the protagonist/antihero of American Psycho, a 2000 film starring Christian Bale as the title character. As much as the film is a portrait of the businessmen and culture of the late 1980s, it doubles as a venue of the means people use to define themselves. In the film Bateman expresses a nightly bloodlust, but it is his more businessman persona that reveals just how dependent he is on his colleagues and cultutral standards to fill the otherwise blank-slate personality he cobbled together.
Another example appears in Bateman’s ordering dinner. “Courtney, you’ll have the peanut butter soup with smoked duck and mashed squash.” The next sentence is key. “New York Matine called it a playful but mysterious little dish. You’ll love it.” This may seem normal on paper, but what you have to understand that Bateman is almost monotone in his description. There is a strong reheasal in Bateman’s description. The only reason Bateman has the dinner is because he is told what is good and what is bad from a source that deals with the standards of his upper-class culture. Bateman defends himself later in the film by saying “he just wants to fit in.”
Bateman’s inner self is clearly demonstrated on his obssesion with Paul Allen, a coworker. Though never clearly stated, it can be implied that Paul Allen is the boss’ favorite and an alpha male in the group as a whole. The implication of his renowed status is shown in the demonstration of Bateman’s and his friends’ business cards (which are judged and defined by it’s varying shades of white and font but really just the same card). The coworkers one-up themselves, but when Paul Allen’s card is shown, the group is reluntant. It is as if they know their little game to determine their rank in the group is just a game, that they are in truth the frauds, while Allen is the real deal.
This contrast forces Bateman over the edge. This self-reminder of his imitating mechacisms (and the ideal that Allen embodies) leads him on a path clearly mirroring Maslov’s Principles of Hierarchy. The lower-ranking beta male seeks to be the alpha male and aspire to be close with the subject embodying the ideal the lower-ranking worker reveres. Over time, this aspiration leads to an intense desire to become the alpha male. The only way to do that (and become the ideal person) is to kill the alpha male and take his place . . . which is exactly what Bateman does. He lured Allen to his house and kills Allen with an axe.
Bateman loves control. He has regular sex with prostitutes (and not with his fiancee) because he shows a slight obssession with his own self-image. He records having sex with the prostitutes, and during that recording he is paying more attention to himself (through a mirrored wall) than the escorts he hired. He establishes his macho superiority through the male’ sexual hierarchy.
In fact, when he does lose control, Bateman becomes frantic and paranoid. He is almost drawn to tears in an encounter with a dry-cleaning service where his clothes have been mistreated. Later on Bateman enjoys a spur-of-the-moment killing, but is forced in a firefight with nearby police. Things have gone out of hand, and it is in this panicked state he calls his lawyer and confesses everything (including his off-screen cannibalism). When the two meet the lawyer mentions that he had lunch with Paul Allen during the period of time of his “supposed” murder, which forces Bateman to wonder if anything he’s done is real.
In the end, Patrick Bateman has no personality. He is merely imitating the posh lifestyle because the standards of his upper class standards tell him to do. His killing is an extreme way of breaking free of that mold and establishing an identity of his own. At least, that’s what I think.