“We really don’t care to know if you’re afraid of Virginia Woolf. Stay home and freak out. Buy a Chainsaw.”
So in my recent trip through dark cinema, I once again touched on American Psycho, and for some morbid reason felt the need to fight through the novel the film was based on. While it is as mind-numbingly shallow and violent as I remember, I managed to (sort of) read the whole thing this time. I read much of the beginning, then about 50-60 pages in, started skipping forward through scenes I perceived as boring. I didn’t just skip forward for Bateman’s depraved acts against humanity, but some of the black humor tucked away in all the banality of yuppie culture. Like when he tries to speak “ebonics” to two black men, when he writes a racist haiku, when Luis Carruthers confesses his love to Patrick, when Patrick breaks up with Evelyn, when Bateman and Price try to get high off of Sweet n’ Low, the sudden and outrageous admissions that Bateman makes on a regular basis (but whom no one hears or takes seriously), his awkward meeting with Tom Cruise…and lots of other little moments. Not really laugh-out-loud funny, most of this stuff, but still amusing in its own, dry, sardonic, dark way.
I remember trying to read the novel way back when, and at the time, I just couldn’t because I found it morally reprehensible. Well after watching something like A Serbian Film (dear god, avoid that movie at all costs) the scenes were a lot more bearable. I even noted a satirical outrageousness along the lines of Takeshi Miike’s Ichi the Killer where the violence is so over the top as to seem cartoonish. Not to say that any of the rape, torture, or murder scenes made me laugh, but they did paint an interesting picture of a man who can be understood to be a giant black hole. Perhaps my desensitization also allowed me to see the eerie parallels between Bateman’s detached description of his home stereo system, and the violent ways in which he kills his victims. The detached tone helped, I think, in stomaching the otherwise graphic details described in the book.
The only character in the entire book that Bateman seems unable to kill is Jean, his secretary. When I watched the film with my friends back in high school, the theory was made that Bateman spared her because he needed her to keep his illusory life going. At the time I quietly felt that there was more to it than that, and after reading the book, my feelings were reinforced. Why DID Bateman spare Jean, even in his hallucinations? Because Jean was the only person in his life who genuinely cared for him, but more important than that, she was OUTSIDE of the shallow yuppie lifestyle that Bateman was entrenched in, and hated so much. On page 266, Bateman envisions him and Jean running around Central Park on a cool spring afternoon, laughing and holding hands. They buy balloons and let them go, perhaps a symbol for Bateman’s possible salvation (though we know he doesn’t really find this). When Jean is first introduced, Bateman narrates that she will be someone he “will probably end up married to someday”. In the section marked “The End of the 1980s” (pgs 371-380) Bateman has brunch with Jean. In the conversation that follows, Jean confesses her love to Patrick, and Bateman asks her if she owns a briefcase or a roladex. (in his mind, he’s comparing her to Evelyn) Jean replies that she does not own a briefcase, but she does own a roladex. Suspciously, he asks if it is designer. She replies that it isn’t. He feels relieved at this news.
After this conversation, nothing further seems to develop of their relationship, as Bateman slips further into his insanity. I found a very interesting write-up online by Chris Schaffer that explored Bateman’s possibly mental problems. Among those discussed were: Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorder, Depersonalization Disorder, and Comorbid Idealization. It goes on to state that Bateman has a weak super-ego and a strong Id, which leads to little restraint when it comes to his violent acts of depravity.
It really explains a lot about his character, and it draws interesting parallels between his psychosis and his career. As one involved in mergers and acquisitions in the 80s, Bateman was in a hyper-masculine world where companies were “violently” taken over, or dominated, and cannibalized. Along with his need to feel powerful and manly, Bateman fears anything that threatens his capabilities and hates everything that is the antithesis of his weak super-ego. When this happens, the metaphorically violent nature of his work becomes manifested literally through his Id, which moves to protect his fragile image. Chris Schaffer goes on to state that everything Bateman states comes from some external source–be that periodicals, television, film, or music. Nothing he says is original, thus resulting in his almost pathetic, cartoonish caricature of a rich yuppie.
Reading the Patrick Bateman wikipedia page, I was surprised to find that there was a series of fake emails collected into what is known as American Psycho 2000, which was meant to be an advertisement campaign for the movie. None of the emails were written by the books author, Ellis, but he approved each of them before their release, so they can be understood as canon. In these emails, it is revealed that Bateman DOES in fact marry Jean, but one child and twelve years later, he is seeking a divorce. He goes through counseling, less for the desire to become “well” and more for the desire to appear well, so that he can gain full custody of his 8-year-old son, Patrick Bateman Jr., often referred to as P.B.. He idolizes his son, believing him to be a beautiful, brilliant child with his father’s sense for high quality. The entire email series is transcribed here.
**For some reason, the site asks for a password. Just click cancel several times, and the popup will go away, allowing you to read. I think the reason it asks for a password is because the images displayed on the site are from a password protected directory of the site-owners. Not entering a password does not bar one from reading the email transcripts, you just won’t be able to see the images in some of them.
The emails are amusing (and is the source of the above quote), and they show an older Patrick who has fallen “out of love” with Jean (if one could say he was ever in love with her). The emails state that Jean, over the years, had changed, essentially becoming one of the shallow, materialistic women that Patrick despised (almost like Evelyn). As stated, Jean cannot get by a month without one hundred and eighty nine thousand dollars a month in alimony. Thus why he wishes for a divorce.
After reading the books and these outside materials, it made me want to watch the movie again. While I think my second attempt at reading Bret Easton Ellis’s novel brought me closer to his message against the materialism, narcissism, the self-destructive behaviors of the upper class, and the deteriorating effects our consumerist society has on humanity, I still prefer the movie over the book.
Please share your thoughts!