American Psycho — Bret Easton Ellis

Wowzers. The movie’s pretty faithful to the book, and, at times, is a little bit brilliant in terms of the cinematography. The book itself is a genuinely scary psychological thriller of one Patrick Bateman, who’s a serial killer and an investment banker.

When the book was originally published, it received a lot of critique due to the graphic sexual violence and blatant racism displayed by its characters. The sexualization of violence is handled really interestingly in the context of the text; it’s erotic but only in a surface sort of way. That is, there’s a lot of attention paid to textures and creepy details, but because Bateman reduces everything to that which he can consume (by purchase, destruction (like how a fire consumes), or intake (like by eating)) the sexualized violence includes the portrayal of Bateman’s gay-bashings, his animal abuse, and his rape/murder of the various female characters. The mutilation of these women — and their recreation as objects to be consumed and displayed — is one of Bateman’s driving obsessions.

What’s especially fascinating about this work is that Bateman’s psychosis (and his violent misogyny) isn’t especially remarkable. It’s treated as a logical extension of the kinds of conversations he and his friends are having every day. Indeed, Bateman’s actually a bit more boring than them; when he finally confesses, it’s laughed off as a joke, since who would believe BATEMAN was capable of something that interesting? Ellis’ writing style both flattens out the violence shown (emphasizing the equivalence between Bateman’s obsession with music and clothes with his obsession with grotesque violence towards women) and demonstrates the connections between Bateman’s day-to-day world and the process by which these types of consumption are made equivalent. Everything — even women — are different types of commodities that can be bought. Why would anyone be surprised that Bateman took this one step further, and actually treated them that way?

It’s a VERY creepy read — but, useful, I think, in illustrating the link between discursive misogyny and sexualized violence.


  1. The OTHER Maria says

    There were definitely times when I was deeply and utterly squicked out, but it honestly wasn’t that bad. Since the blurring of consumptions is so common now-a-days, what squicked me out were more those moments when i encountered… not something unimaginable but something it would never have occurred to me to imagine, but that once I did I was all OH GOD NO.

  2. Aiden says

    I think the real saving grace of the book is that the violence never quite seems gratuitous. I found a lot of it very hard to read, but I never felt like it was there just for the sake of it. It felt necessary to illustrate what kind of person Bateman was, and what kind of culture he was a part of.

    There’s an interview with Ellis somewhere out there where he says that he never intended to write about a psychopath – he just wanted to write something about Wall St bankers. Apparently he spent time with a group of them as research and was so appalled by their culture of consumerism and misogyny that he realised the only natural way forward was to make his main character a serial killer and torturer.

  3. Theora says

    The film suggests that Bateman never actually killed anyone, and that it’s all just fantasy. Is this possibility present in the book as well, or is it very clear that he is really committing acts of violence?

  4. says

    I have to ask, since this just occurred to me–by the language in your review (consuming, display) are you hinting that the rapist-killer is cannibalizing his victims? As in, Donner-Party-let’s-have-hor derves kind of party?

  5. The OTHER Maria says

    Yup. As in as after he engages in gender specific violence involving rape and genital mutilation, he eats the bits he cut off.

  6. The OTHER Maria says

    Yes, they do imply that. However, what’s interesting is that it’s left very vague. Like, there are news stories etc about one of the murders he (thinks he) committed, and he mentions having to have specific talks with his lawyer about some rapes he committed the summer before the narration begins… however, he’s so surface, it’s hard to get any intext evidence proving or disproving the exact events. You’re left feeling confident, though, that he is extremely, extremely creepy.


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