—The quote is credited to Ecclesiastes, but the words do not occur there. It can be seen as an addition, a paraphrase and an endorsement of Ecclesiastes’ condemnation of the pursuit of wisdom as folly and a ‘chasing after wind’—see for example Ecclesiastes 1.16.(taken from Simulacra and simulation, by Jean Baudrillard)
Simulacrum : A simulation that takes the place of something that is supposed to be real.
Hyper Real : The reality that the simulacrum has now become.
American psycho, both the book and the movie were extremely controversial for the time periods in which they came out. Both times, it was for the gratuitous amount of violence displayed primarily against women, with rampant sexism included. The book of course is far more brutal and describes in detail Patrick’s affinity for rape and murder, while the movie, hampered by American standards on obscenity can only go so far. Both however are effective at displaying the character’s fight to both be accepted in the liberal-capitalist elite order, and his violent lashing out at society for making him forced to do so.
I assume that most people reading this have seen the film, and a sizable amount of people may have even read the book. Having done both, and recently re-watching American Psycho, I realized how it epitomizes the severe problems of modern man.
The film starts off in a posh, upscale restaurant that has almost comical descriptions of its food, a luxury for the ultra rich who are so bored with prime cuts of rib eye and lobster tale that it is necessary for entrepreneurs to invent ultra complex dishes that utilize ingredients that most of the consumers in the restaurant probably do not notice, and if they do it is because their attention to detail is a competition to rank themselves as a connoisseur of fine foods, not because these small details are noticed by the average person. This is essentially something that is largely a modernist invention of course; pulling seemingly random flavors together to throw on a dish on a plate so some bored metro sexual can describe it using his supposedly ultra refined palette. Science has shown that most people who think they are able to distinguish between minutia in flavors vastly overestimate their ability to do so, and so most of the flavoring in these kinds of dishes is done as a kind of luxury consumer device to amplify the ego of the consumer more so than it is to create an excellent dish. I’m a fan of good and expensive meals, but anyone who watches this scene has to admit it’s absurdity.
Immediately after we are introduced to this display of frivolity that only those with pocketfuls of cash can afford to patronize, we are treated to a casual display of anti-Semitism amidst a discussion of high end capital, which the main anti-hero, Patrick Bateman, emits a response of pre-recorded disgust. It’s obvious Patrick doesn’t believe any of this, even more so in the book where it is revealed that he basically says this liberal modernist politically correct rhetoric out of knowing that it will make him more socially accepted. However his friends see right through his display of supposed liberal chivalry in the midst of his friend’s complaints about a rival businessman and mock him. Despite how domesticated these upscale metro sexuals are supposed to be; they are still men, and real men seize upon weakness easily. It is not that Bateman’s opposition to anti-Semitism is considered weak, it is that they know why he is really opposing it: the status quo (his girlfriend, who is implied to be Jewish, is given the reason, but the subtext is that Bateman is more afraid of her judgement than offending her; she is said to work for the Anti-Defamation league). Thus they mock Bateman for kowtowing to the politically correct order. This foreshadows the whole film and sets a precedent in which we find ourselves seeing Bateman as the modernist, upscale everyman – well, an everyman if you’re ultra wealthy, anyway.
Next Bateman enters a trendy nightclub where his drink tickets are refused by a bartender, and Bateman first crack shows: “You’re a fucking ugly bitch and I want to stab you and play around in your blood.” he remarks casually, with no one hearing him. An echo of the rage that modern man feels, though no one seems to ever hear It. it is here we see a taste of Bateman first for who he really is; that nice-guy, politically-correct image is all a ruse. After she gives him his drinks, he awkwardly smiles, because in America, you should always smile, no matter what. Bateman looks like a dog trying to impersonate a cat.
In the next scene, with Bateman waking up the following morning, he begins to recount the excessive morning rituals that he goes through one by one, starting off by him gazing into a poster of Le miserables, the famous French-revolution musical epic that was opposed to the ruling elite, which lionized fighting the established order. The symbolism is that this revolutionary leftist epic is now part of the establishment itself; it was once a radical tale of fighting brutal corruption and injustice which is now just another rich-man’s consumer item to tick off on his trendy list which showcases how connected he is to popular culture. It’s function is to spice up a rich-man’s wall. The original meaning, just like the 1960’s cultural-sexual revolutions, have become embedded in the ruling order. The elite are now composed of the liberals which once fought to destroy the elite, just as napoleon became an emperor, so are the generation of ’68 the cultural kings and political elite of today.
Bateman goes through his superficial list of metro sexual musts, from exercise to a detail of what lotions and creams can do for his complexion, an outward expression of the fact that he has no inner or deep longing. This is a consistent theme in the film meant to highlight the fact that a devotion to consumption has taken the place of authentic and real thoughts. Reviews of albums and descriptions of food and clothes make up a great deal of spoken dialogue in this film. His superficiality takes the place of an authentic personality, as he bluntly states with the lines early on : “There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me. Only an entity; something illusory. and though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can grip my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and even though you can sense our lifestyles are probably comparable, I simply… am… not… there.”
This is Bateman’s simulacrum of a person; his attempt to construct a personality where there is none. Bateman is a hyper real; he is not an actual person, but a conglomerate of PC rhetoric, consumerist obsession, materialist fixation, hedonist compulsion, and simmering, brutal rage, the last part which he barely keeps contained. He makes an effort to appear outwardly as a normal “person”, by parroting rhetoric which supposedly makes him caring, but his closeted sexism and racism keep popping back up underscored by an immense, all expansive rage. He is essentially the quintessential expression of what our society has produced in the modern era. His rage is his defining trait, however.
Unfortunately, this rage is not merely the expression of Bateman feeling trapped by the conformism of his class and society necessarily, it is the rage that comes about by not getting his way, a juvenile rage. Bateman is essentially a child in this manner; he is worried about fitting in, he wants the things he wants, whether the new toy is a fancy dinner reservation or it is a woman he wants to shag senseless. He epitomizes the modern man by underscoring the brutality of capitalism and the phony rhetoric that makes it all possible, but Bateman’s barbarism that comes about more poignantly later in the film if his most humanizing factor. A disturbing revelation for pacifists everywhere: violence is the only thing that he expresses a real emotion in, it is the sole thing that makes him appear to be anything other than a heartless and soulless automaton doing the bidding of big capital everywhere. Despite this, his inner barbarian, the warrior embedded deep within his DNA, is striving, struggling, agonizing to get out, just as it is for many white men trapped in the cogs of the wheels of despotism, as Orwell once said (in the shooting of an elephant).
The next notable scenes are Patrick’s ride to a trendy restaurant, where he listen emotionless to “simply irresistible”, the ultra upbeat 80’s pop classic which functions in contrast to Bateman’s utter lack of emotion, while telling his girlfriend that he cannot marry her because he cannot “take time off work”. she counters with pointing out that Bateman doesn’t need to actually work; this is more elaborated upon in the book, but essentially Bateman only works to fit in with friends and to be a part of a conformist class in his society, as he states “Because… I want. To fit. In.” work serves no purpose; even Bateman’s job, his career, his profession is a simulacrum of appearing to do something. It is the simulation of engaging in society in some way, of offering that he at least does something with his life.
Inside the restaurant, Bateman remarks to himself, “I am on the verge of tears by the time we arrive at Aspas(sp?) Since I am positive we won’t have a decent table. But, we do. And relief washes over me in an awesome way.” Bateman’s emotions have been reduced to the craving for materialism and consumerism, just as his purpose in life has been reduced to working just to fit in, and the values he espouses to others verbally are the pointless reiteration of socially acceptable rhetoric which approximates values. Even Bateman’s emotions are wholly beholden to both liberalism and capitalism.
Part of living in a secular, humanistic, and spiritually devoid society is always hedonism, and this is displayed breathlessly with Bateman’s inability to care about suspecting his girlfriend’s affair with a friend, who, as an obvious alpha male, is “The only interesting person I know”, implying that despite Bateman’s almost total subservience to both liberalism and capitalism at least in public, something inside him recognizes that it is unfulfilling; another foreshadowing of the coming violence in the film, which humanizes him and makes him able to feel human for a brief period of time, only by inflicting pain and domination on others. Encountering power in others makes him interested; because it harkens back to that which is encoded in our DNA. We are programmed to respect authority, which is why liberalism and equality can never entirely work; it can only be simulacrum of real values, because it is artificial. Something inside us tells us that this can never truly work. Bateman’s mistress, Courtney, in a desperate attempt to not seem so goddamned square, asks the two Goths at the table if they think “Soho is becoming too commercial”, to which Brice (the man fucking Bateman’s girlfriend) bellows “Oh who gives a rat’s ass?” the Goths in turn say what all rebellious members of subcultures that are supposedly rebellious say, “Hey, that effects us!” in an pre-programmed response to a pre-programmed response. Even the outliers here are themselves simulacrum of rebellion. What follows is an exchange between Brice and Bateman about liberal, pacifist, humanist, anti-racist ideals, with the addition of “traditional values”, and less of a focus on materialism. This is so outlandish, so much of a bold-faced attempt to placate others with what is acceptable in their society, that Brice chokes on his drink laughing during Bateman’s monologue. It ends amidst laughter and Louis Carothers mocking him with a “How thoughtful of you”. Even the other liberal-capitalist conformists in Bateman’s circle knows that he is just parroting what he is supposed to espouse, they know it is nothing more than a sad joke.
The next scene, which leaves out a key part explained in the book, is how Bateman often removes money from his account and places it in his wallet “to feel more comfortable”. Bateman feels uncomfortable without 600-1000 dollars in his wallet at any given time, showcasing that he has replaced his soul with capital. Now only dollars, physical perfection, mindless rhetoric and hedonist pleasure make up Bateman’s existence, and the horror of it drives him insane, without him even realizing why. He steps away to briefly follow a woman, smiling awkwardly again. It is implied in the next scene that he murdered her, with a blood stained sheet that he takes to a Chinese dry-cleaner to get washed. It is here that Bateman’s liberal-rhetoric falls apart and race-realism sets in. The utter rage he feels by not being able to have his way, like a child, is underscored by the fact that he is not the kind, humanist liberal that he claims to be, but he only unleashes this on his victims and those not in his social circle, so he does not upset the conformism he has so delicately nurtured. This is shown by his about-face when a fellow person in his circle shows up to the dry-cleaners and he implores her to help him. No matter how liberal he is supposed to be, the clash of cultures is apparent. Those of us who believe in race-realism see that no matter what society tells us, our personal experience tells us otherwise. Mass immigration and multiculturalism do not work on a human level as the Chinese-dry cleaner scene shows us, and gradually Bateman’s values are shown to be incredibly false, because he himself recognizes the problems he has with other cultures and immigrants.
Back in Bateman’s apartment, he casually tells his mistress about a dinner date while watching porn, seemingly with no response. Hedonism is even becoming boring to Patrick, and in the quest to be free from boredom, he will soon erupt in violence on screen. Bateman’s boredom is underscored yet again by the immense lack of fulfillment he feels when a matre’d at Dorsia laughs at him on the phone for trying to book a last minute reservation at the trendy restaurant.
Patrick sits next to his mistress, who is extremely drugged, in a cab ride to Dorsia, and she, despite being sedated and falling asleep, mentions she wants a child. Just as Bateman’s obsessions with the modern world and consumerism do not fulfill his deeper desires as a man in his DNA, Courtney’s deeper desires as a woman are not fulfilled. No matter what we aspire to be, at our most primal, men are war-like, and women want to be mothers.
Inside Dorsia, Courtney is duped into believing she is in the trendy restaurant, and is unaware Bateman took her somewhere else. This showcases the pointlessness of materialism, Courtney doesn’t actually care that they are in Dorsia. She cares because it is trendy, and when Patrick reads off a menu description of a needlessly complex dish, she replies, in that pre-programmed way. “Mmmm thanks Patrick…” before slipping into a comatose state.
In the boardroom the next day, it is obvious Patrick’s revulsion at homoerotic tendencies displayed by the boyfriend of his mistress, and Bateman’s supposed liberal values espousal cracks once more. He is beginning to show how is not the tolerant individual that he aspires to show the world he is. Paul Allen interrupts the exchange and confuses Bateman with Marcus Halberstram, which has Bateman even going as far to say it’s entirely understandable because they look similar and have the same jobs. He does not correct Paul Allen, but as is shown later in the film, the slight does not go without punishment. This showcases once again how Patrick has no real identity and thus retreats into violence and debauchery to feel some semblance of humanity, some sort of desperate assertion. His anger at not being able to be the most supreme of his materialist peers will soon become revealed. Little fissures are appearing everywhere in Bateman’s simulation of a person. Finally the rumbling and contradictory elements to Bateman’s simulation come to a head in the first kill.
When Bateman approaches a homeless man he firsts gives the standard American conservative speech about getting a job and not being a useless dud, as if Bateman’s job was itself useful. He berates the man, telling him he has a negative attitude. Bateman embodies the societal American need here to impose a totalitarian optimism that serves no purpose but to enslave us, and to distinguish itself from those who rebel against the conformist society of liberal capitalism. After a brief insult, Bateman realizes that this is not enough to make himself feel superior to the man and stabs him repeatedly, smashing his dog next. This is more brutally displayed in the book, but is unnecessary to repeat here.
“I have all the characteristics of a human being, flesh, blood, skin, hair. But not a single clear identifiable emotion. Except for greed and disgust. Something horrible is happening inside of me… and I don’t know why. My nightly bloodlust has overflowed into my days. I feel lethal. On the verge of frenzy. I think my mask of sanity is about to slip.” Bateman’s famous monologue further cements in us what we have suspected so far, that his obsessions and his way of life are driving him insane, just as it is driving our society insane. It is here that we see Bateman admit to himself what he fully is : a monster. Just as our society itself has become monstrous.
After this admission, Bateman starts showing the more repugnant and brazen attributes to his simulation of a personality, such as insulting and threatening various people below his economic caste, and declaring things to Paul Allen such as “I like to dissect people… did you know I am utterly insane?” Allen doesn’t even seem to notice, but those in lower economic castes in Bateman’s society do and are cowed into submission by the contemporary aristocracy of wealth and power. Bateman is forced to hear insults about his person, and smiles outwardly, while inside he cannot bear hearing the slight to his ego. Back at his apartment, he prepares to chop up Paul Allen with an axe as he gives a pre-programmed review of a Huey Lewis and the news album, as Paul Allen drunkenly slouches in a chair. Patrick is now combining his fake positivity with his murderous rage, and it erupts right after he poignantly discusses Huey Lewis’ “hip to be square” and the “pleasures of conformity”. Right after the comments, he lets out a rage infused scream and hacks Allen to death, symbolizing the coming violence in modern society due to its quest to domesticate and neuter mankind.
The problem is that all of us, especially men, have the instinct to war and violence inside of us, and it must come out some time. No matter how much we tell ourselves we are now civilized, something deeply encoded in our DNA tells us otherwise, and even those with such a dogmatic espousal to liberal humanism will still have this DNA no matter how we try to run from it. The materialistic pleasures that we placate ourselves with are not enough in a soulless and spiritually devoid world, and we will have to reap what we sew, sooner or later. Patrick’s blood splattered face, his rage filled lust, and his perfect suit embody this more than anything about the modern man. The zombies of modernity seem blissfully unaware of this, as Bateman lugs Allen’s body outside and bumping into Louis, the closeted homosexual who flirts with him on occasion, only elicits the response of “where did you get that overnight bag?!” As the automatons of conformism go about their daily lives, they are unaware of the brewing and violent dissent simmering underneath their superficially civilized society.
The rest of the film of course shows Bateman gradually devolving without his friends noticing, and Bateman taking more and more liberties with revealing his true self. He continues on, smiling, trying not to admit to himself the reality of his own despair. The simulation is no longer working; it is collapsing, and the barbarian nature inside Bateman, long encoded into his DNA, is now harder and harder to control. This barbarism, unhindered by any traditional set of ideals is free to be enacted on others at will. Without a tribal identity, without spirituality, the violent nature of man is free to be directed at others. The idea that man can be absolved of his true nature is a folly of modernism; the idea that our nature can be escaped is a willful ignorance that we indulge ourselves in due to our elitist rulers. Even the elites however will see how our society collapses; how we cannot outrun the uglier aspects of our deepest desires, and without the constraint of Tradition, it will only grow uglier and uglier. Instead of using our nature to fight our tribal enemies or our ideological enemies, our inner rage is directed at either ourselves or the fellow members of society, because man at his core is unchangeable. We become schizophrenic and mad, the snake begins to eat it’s own tale. And sure enough, as the kali yuga winds into a an ever deeper descent, we will see this ugliness below the surface of our complacent reality rise to the top, and not even the elites will escape the wrath of a populas gone mad and godless.
This grim realization is encapsulated beautifully at the end of the film in Bateman’s last monologue.