Is The Character Of Patrick Bateman In The Film American Psycho A Psychopath Or Perhaps A Malignant Narcissist – Is perhaps one of the most divisive films in cinema history. Which makes sense, considering it’s faithfully adapted from one of the most divisive books of the 20th century. It’s no surprise, then, that even Christian Bale’s performance as serial killer Patrick Bateman was controversial among his own co-stars when they filmed the 2000 film adaptation.
In a new oral history from Moviemaker, Bale explains how his co-stars initially didn’t understand his acting style as Bateman. As Bale said:
Is The Character Of Patrick Bateman In The Film American Psycho A Psychopath Or Perhaps A Malignant Narcissist
Josh Lucas and I did a movie together recently and he opened my eyes to something I didn’t know about. He told me that all the other actors thought I was the worst actor they had ever seen. He told me that they were constantly looking at me, talking about me and saying, ‘Why did Mary fall in love with this guy?’ It’s terrible.” And it wasn’t until he saw the movie that he changed his mind. And I was totally in the dark about that criticism.
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In a metaphorical sense, it’s understandable that he would have intentionally alienated his co-stars. First, this was one of Bale’s breakout roles, and his co-star explains that his acting style and behavior on set were stressful. As his co-star Chloë Sevigny described his methodical performance:
Working with Christian was quite difficult because he could not heal with this method. It was quite fresh. I hadn’t done that many films before, and for an actor to get so lost and so absorbed in the role, I was kind of struggling… I just wanted to hang out with him, but I felt like he did. No, and then my ego says, ‘Does he not like me? Do you think I’m a terrible actress?
But of course it was exactly what I was looking for. As he explains in the oral history, his intention was to make Patrick Bateman a completely heartless monster. This is how he and director Mary Harron saw the character:
I think what brought us together in that is that I wasn’t interested in her background, her childhood, and neither was she. We saw him as an alien who landed in openly capitalist New York in the 80s, looked around and said, ‘How can I function as a successful man in this world?’ And that was our starting point. And we didn’t want to talk about why he was like that, what happened in his childhood; There was nothing like that between Mary and me.
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After filming the title card scene, “Josh Lucas and Justin Theroux came up to me after one of the takes and told me he sweats at the same time…always.”
Matt Miller is a Brooklyn-based culture and lifestyle writer and music reviewer whose work has appeared in Forbes, The Denver Post, and Documentary.
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Book Review: American Psycho
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All these years later, the movie “American Psycho” has been studied and analyzed, and yet… there are people who are still not quite sure about the movie’s ending. This is by design: the conclusion is ambiguous enough that it can be read in different ways. If you still have questions, I’ll be here to give you some answers right after I return those video tapes.
In “American Psycho” we meet Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), an investment banker who lives large in 1980s New York. By day he is a Himbo, a very attractive guy who is also incredibly stupid. By night, he is a ruthless serial killer. He murders homeless people, sex workers, and even people he knows (in the book he also murders a child at the zoo, but that didn’t make it into the movie). The film takes us through a few months of Bateman’s life as we see his ruthless and bloody existence. The character’s only glimpse of humanity comes in how he reacts to his secretary Jean (Chloë Sevigny). Jean is clearly in love with Patrick, and although Patrick is incapable of love, he ends up sparing his life after coming very close to breaking up (with a nail gun).
One of Bateman’s many victims is Paul Allen (Jared Leto), a colleague whom Bateman loathes. Bateman murders Allen with an ax in Allen’s apartment and leaves the body there. He later takes other victims to the apartment, kills them and leaves their bodies there as well. As the film progresses, Bateman becomes more and more unhinged, to the point where he calls his lawyer and confesses to all his crimes. Realizing his mistake, Bateman decides to return to Allen’s apartment and clean up the crime scene before it’s too late. But something strange happens: the apartment is not in the damned mess Bateman left behind. Instead, it was cleaned to perfection and is currently on the market. There’s a real estate agent, and she seems scared or angry at Bateman (the movie deliberately doesn’t make that clear; bottom line: she doesn’t like Bateman and seems to know more than she’s letting on). Bateman is confused and wonders what the hell happened to all the bodies he left in the apartment.
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Shortly after this, Bateman meets with the lawyer he confessed to over the phone. He tries to explain himself, but it turns out that the lawyer doesn’t even recognize him. This is a recurring theme in both the film and the book (more on that in the book): no one recognizes anyone. They are all so stupid and so confused that they live in a constant state of oblivion. On top of it all, the lawyer thinks the phone call was a prank and adds that Paul Allen can’t be dead because he just had lunch with him in London. Bateman is understandably confused. Meanwhile, back at Bateman’s office, Jean comes across Bateman’s diary, which is filled with gruesome drawings of his various victims.
What are we to do with this ending? There are generally two interpretations here, and while I don’t think either is “wrong”, I personally think one is more correct than the other. The first interpretation (and the one I heard the most when the film was released) is that almost everything that happened in the film was in Bateman’s head. This is an understandable conclusion: although he is not a murderer, Bateman is clearly mentally unstable, so it is not easy to believe that he imagined everything that happened here. The fact that Paul Allen’s apartment was cleaned out and there was no mention of the dead bodies Bateman would leave behind, along with the drawings in Bateman’s book, tends to make people think the film was one long hallucination. Bateman didn’t actually kill anyone, this theory goes. He just fantasized about it, and those drawings are his way of bringing those fantasies to life. Another element that people use to support this theory is a scene where Bateman fires at a police car and the car explodes, causing Bateman to look at his gun, confused. Cars don’t really explode when filming them; That only happens in movies, hence Bateman’s confused look.
If that’s how you read the ending, great! That said, I don’t think there is a real wrong answer. However, my interpretation is a little different.
The way I see it, Bateman really did kill all these people. These actions were not all in his head: they really happened. “But what about Paul Allen’s apartment?!” you might ask. There is an explanation for that, and it makes the whole story even more disturbing. Yes, Bateman really did leave bodies in the apartment. But the apartment is such prime New York real estate that the building’s owner shut up, got rid of the body, and is trying to rent it out without anyone knowing.
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And the filmmakers support this idea. Around the rain. “For me and Mary, the book also left up in the air what was real and what wasn’t real.”