In the movie American Psycho, as well as the best-selling book of the same name upon which it is based, the primary dilemma which its protagonist wrestles, Patrick Bateman, with is of ‘identity. ’ Bateman is the film’s narrator, played expertly by Welsh actor Christian Bale (Velvet Goldmine, Equilibrium).
A handsome and sophisticated young man who holds non-descript well-paid duties as a Vice President at Pierce & Pierce, Bateman spends much of his leisure time with his fellow Wall Street sophisticates dining at fancy restaurants, but by his reckoning, his alone time is spent engaging in the brutal murders of homeless people, prostitutes and business rivals. The film makes much out of the notion that Bateman’s peers refuse to acknowledge his “need to engage in homicidal behaviour on a massive scale.
” No matter how blatant his declarations, they are misheard or ignored. Make no mistake: Bateman’s murderous drives are not rooted in carnal pleasure. These homicidal urges give him no pleasure, nor do they benefit or protect him in the way they would in a normal slasher suspense film. Instead, they compliment Bateman’s search for identity, one that goes largely unfulfilled by the end of the movie. Bateman describes his identity as “some kind of abstraction,” in which Patrick Bateman is only an illusory entity in which nothing exists.
His high maintenance hygiene rituals, his compulsive desire to ‘fit in’ with his fine-dining Wall Street peers and his strong convictions about the profundity of popular musicians like Huey Lewis and the News and Whitney Houston are part of this search for identity. Bateman believes that identity can be found in consumer goods, and the search for identity culminates in violence. In the film’s climax/denouement, his lawyer, Harold Carnes, dismisses his confession to his murders as a joke.
It’s a toxic revelation: Rather than being arrested, he is dismissed. Having failed earlier in the film to assert his identity through sharp business cards (to the extent that he is mistaken for a colleague), he has failed in having his existence validated through murder. It is irrelevant to conclude whether these murders are real or not. However, what is relevant is that his urge to establish his identity is a largely failed attempt.