American Psycho is not a film I would recommend. That sounds odd coming from someone who wrote an eBook on the film but it is the truth. American Psycho can be interesting, hilarious and thought provoking in that ‘cannibal poking guts’ sort of way. Know what I mean? Mixed reactions tend to gravitate around the film, and the book to more extent too, but the central piece of the film, Patrick Bateman, is a man marred in utter excess and sin. Even Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘Pardoner’ would be in awe of Bateman’s sinful indulgences.
These sins however don’t just cast the character into non-heavenly damnation but they also help to frame some of the film’s more adverse social themes and comment. Sins in American Psycho aren’t explicitly referenced, though there are some nods. In this analysis I’ll attempt to understand the dark devilish heart underneath the black Yuppie tar that is Bateman’s skin. I’ll take a gander and look, sin by sin, and we’ll get to the bottom of this bottomless pit of decay.
Pride, Wrath, Envy, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth and Lust. These concepts encircle our modern moral code and, whether atheist or not, theological teachings and ‘laws’ of leaked into our very code of justice. History is often the center of the moral conscience of a nation, holding up examples of merit and disgust. American Psycho portrays a world that is devoid of humanity, devoid of soul and, in short, perhaps devoid of a sense of history. There’s mentions of Gorbachev and Reagan has his cheeky cameo, but history is cast aside in the face of narcissistic modern indulgence.
Patrick’s pride, or rather attempts at pride, begin from the very first monologue. He proudly tells us about his New York apartment, his exercise routine and “honey almond scrub”. In delightful detail he shows us his lifestyle and its greatness. Throughout the film he’ll constantly mention his job, his lifestyle and his ‘business’. He takes pride in his work which is kinda ironic considering we never actually see him work at all.
A lot of Pat’s pride is hubris given it is quickly unraveled by his arch rival ‘Paul Allen’. Paul’s apartment is “nicer” according to one of the prostitutes and he’s able to get evening tables at Dorsia and can call the shots on who’s a dork, along with having the best business card in town. Pride morphs into envy morphs into wrath in which Patrick, like any other sane human being, chooses to murder Paul rather than work hard and do something. Here his sins appear natural growths off one another, and some of them are even celebrated.
The very culture he inhabits is one drenched in greed and gluttony. He and his friends drink, wine and dine their entire lives away. It’s hard to call Patrick entirely ‘greedy’, he isn’t obsessed with money or hoarding anything, but he is perhaps greedy in gobbling up opportunity. He stabs a homeless man, tortures women and generally absorbs more and more of the people around him. Patrick has a pendent of indulging in pride alongside it too, letting his eloquent music critiques flow alongside his mayhem and other sinful indulgences.
Of course this is all part of the era. The main point of American Psycho is an allegorical extension of 1980s greed, told through murderous metaphor. Wall Street gets away with killing livelihoods and the film translates this literally into Patrick Bateman getting away with murder. People just don’t care in Psycho‘s twisted Reagan-world. It’s sort of the main social point that people no longer have any moral authority and let the sins flow through the city. New York is a perfect choice for its juxtaposition of class and immorality, of wealth and moral decadence. For all of Patrick’s talk of massacres and social justice, he still lets himself be caught up in the Yuppie sweep of carelessness and, indeed, sin.
The main instances of lust take place during the scenes involving prostitutes. Patrick video-tapes himself and tries to act out his fantasy of being a pornographic actor, the vein of pride running alongside, and his lust reaches disgusting heights filled with coat hangers and near-hilarious lines such as “Don’t just stare at it, eat it!” Patrick’s lack of care and true compassion with the women in his life, how he simply discards them and says there’s “Nothing else to say” after telling them they look “wonderful”, reveals Patrick as but a shell of a man. This is what the eighties did to upper class-kind.
Sloth isn’t a main sin of the feature, that’s a tough one to argue. Patrick even stresses his rigorous exercise routine and even in the chainsaw sequence he’s running about. There are light touches of sloth in Patrick’s final moments, and somewhat throughout, in which he seems to lazy or too deep in thought to participate in social discourse. Still, it’s probably the ‘least’ of Patrick’s sins and the film doesn’t tend to harangue itself around the slothful indulgence of the upper-class; it’s more concerned with wrath, pride and envy. All of this sinful one-upmanship is, as a byproduct, murdering livelihoods and killing people in the process. It’s almost as if there’s some kind of political point manifested out of it? Though that’s for you to decide.
Again, Psycho isn’t a film that I’d recommend. I personally find it riveting and hilarious, it’s a brilliantly crafted satire if you read it that way. The excess of sins on display showcase a world removed of moral relativity and instead focused deftly on one-upping one another through other sins. More girls, more glitz, more and more and more. The materialism, feminism and other social points are all arms of the same reminders of the Yuppies’ sinful crusade. Patrick Bateman is but a device to illuminate the immoral fiber of the “Yuppie scum” and perhaps a more broader sickness of an eighties-wrapped nation.