The Antagonists of AMERICAN PSYCHO: An Analysis
As much as it has been meme’d into oblivion, no one can deny that American Psycho is a classic from 2000 and will remain in cinema discussions for years. It’s disturbing and dark yet hilarious at times despite its subject matter and countless iconic scenes that most know about prior to viewing. Not many people think highly of investment banker types, and American Psycho will only further that thought process.
The film stars Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, a New York City investment banker who leads a double life as a serial killer. The supporting cast comprises Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, Josh Lucas, Chloë Sevigny, Samantha Mathis, Cara Seymour, Justin Theroux, and Reese Witherspoon.
Based on the 1991 novel of the same name, American Psycho combines horror and black comedy to satirize 1980s yuppie culture and consumerism. Nowadays, most people have heard of American Psycho thanks to the many memes derived from it and its central character Patrick Bateman.
Still from 'American Psycho'. Photo credit: Vulture
Bateman falls under the umbrella of a villain protagonist, someone we don’t root for because of their actions but follow along. Any other film would present Bateman as an antagonist against the main character, but in this case, we’re viewing the film from a traditional villain’s perspective. Hence, the antagonist isn’t entirely clear in the film.
As a character, Bateman is very much a stereotypical investment banker. We’re not sure what he does for a living besides being in an office setting and his exorbitant wealth. He’s obsessed with his cleanliness, health, appearance, wealth, and specifically with his character, his music collection. That music obsession is probably the only thing on the surface that separates Bateman from being a complete stereotype.
Obviously, Bateman’s darker side—a literal serial killer—is what differentiates him from these wealthy elites, but, interestingly, the music collection obsession is noted with the character. You can infer it’s done from a humorous standpoint because why would a serial killer be so passionate about music like Bateman?
Identity poses the most significant antagonist to Bateman in the sense of wealth. Like the supporting cast, Bateman is constantly aware of his appearance in every facet to demonstrate dominance from a perspective standpoint. From Bateman’s viewpoint, wealth is more than having money.
Though Bateman constantly strives to be the best in this regard, others mistake him since this specific class of individuals can’t separate others outside of who they are. It’s about individuality within the person rather than knowing the others around you. It’s a selfish theme drenched in this upper class of investment bankers.
Bateman and his crew of elites live in utter excess from every dimension. The investment bankers purchase nothing but the finest products, wear the best clothes, eat at only the most stylish restaurants, and look down on anyone who doesn’t share that same standard.
Though there are exaggerations, it’s influenced by the 1980s Wall Street yuppie class that’s critiqued in the original novel through the means of satire. Bateman feels pressure to be like the class around him, striving to be the top dog, all the way down to how their business cards appear.
Like the yuppie types, Bateman leads a monotonous schedule-based life riddled with being worried about his general perception. It affects his behavior and how he communicates to the audience—through the use of voiceover—and other characters in the story. One of the best examples comes early in the film when Bateman describes a meticulous morning routine.
Much of that schedule-based system Bateman abides by is his desensitization from others. At work, he seemingly daydreams all day while listening to music; barely listens to others around him unless it’s a material threat, and is generally someone who keeps within their thoughts. One can infer the around outside Bateman’s mind are the most considerable antagonistic force against him.
Vice and Violence
Bateman’s homicidal tendencies are why we’d generally view a character like Bateman as the antagonist against a film's protagonist. In this case, since Bateman is the central character, we can view his need to be violent as the antagonist ruining his privileged life.
Outside of the violence, the character can’t live properly without sex and drugs, just like he is with expensive food, alcohol, and clothing. The vices of Bateman are a driving factor behind the character that leads to more deprived acts, torture, and his eventual collapse at the end of the film.
What is the Ending?
The ending of American Psycho is a very polarizing point in the film that has ruined it for some viewers and made it more potent for others. It's ambiguous what happened, and much of that has to do with Bateman being the narrator. Bateman is an unreliable narrator, paired with his delusion and manic episode; no one can tell if it was all in his head or if it all actually happened. I suppose we’ll never know.