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A Feminist’s Thoughts on 'American Psycho,' by Ava Materni

When we think of feminist films, I can almost guarantee that American Psycho would not be the first to come to mind, if it does at all. For a film that is so blatant about the abuse and brutalization of women, how could it ever be interpreted as feminist?


A common thread in the movie is that the main character, Patrick Bateman, yearns to fit in. He socializes in a high-class circle where he feels he cannot compete and conform in the same way as his peers. We can see this in how he tries to show off in front of his colleagues but never truly succeeds. His business associate Paul Allen, not knowing he is meeting with Patrick himself, calls him a loser in passing. This shows that he is not really regarded as one of them. He is an outsider in their social circle.


Although throughout the movie he is seen murdering and preying on women, one of the most significant murders in the movie is when Patrick snaps and kills Paul Allen. When we look at the reason why he loses his temper with Paul, the film’s message about the way men are encouraged to navigate relationships with other men becomes clear.


The men in the movie are encouraged to embrace brotherhood on a social level, but on an individual level, they are encouraged to be superior to one another, which creates a confusing dynamic. What leads to Paul’s demise is that he has a better business card than Patrick. This may seem like a trivial issue, but the movie is trying to satirize the inferiority complex he has. This business card makes Patrick feel like an inferior man, thus sending him into a rage. Obviously, American Psycho portrays this in a very extreme way, but at the end of the day, we are able to see these dynamics reflected in our everyday lives. The writers do a good job poking fun at toxic masculinity by showing his extreme rage over such a small issue.


Now, we will take a look at how American Psycho uses the way the men view, treat and place value on women based on their appearances and personalities. Like I expressed before, American Psycho dramatizes the actions and views of these men, but when we look at how they assign value to (or devalue) women, we see the connection to reality.


At a surface level, the men in American Psycho are heard discussing how women are not capable of having good personalities. They discuss exploiting a hypothetical woman sexually and not having to listen to her talk, resulting in a dream woman. In the same conversation, Patrick expresses a desire to be violent toward women, and the other men all go quiet. Perhaps the men are expressing their misogyny to fit in with one another by trying to one-up each other on who can have a more clever line on the way they view women. We can also take this scene as Patrick Bateman failing to fit in again as he exceeds what the other men are comfortable with.


Many of the women in American Psycho find themselves in unfortunate situations. Patrick’s fiancée Evelyn, whom he often treats coldly, is viewed as annoying for asking too much of him. He wants to be with her because she helps his reputation; she is, therefore, able to survive Patrick Bateman. Evelyn is a figure we see portrayed throughout the movie as emotional and even a little bit ditsy. Even though Patrick Bateman has a strong distaste toward her, he is never seen attacking her or fantasizing about doing so. To him, she is of higher value — good enough to keep around — and that is why he does not take his anger out on her.


His mistress, Courtney, is heavily intoxicated most of the film. She does not annoy him because she is not a threat to him. She survives Patrick through her heavy drug use. Courtney is Patrick’s escape from the nagging of his fiancée Evelyn. Most of the time Courtney cannot even tell where they are at the moment. While he is never annoyed by her, he genuinely enjoys having her around as she never tells him what to do and she often cannot make decisions for herself. He has complete control over the relationship.


Finally, we come to the two prostitutes that do not have the same fate as the last two women. Christie and Elizabeth are lured by Patrick, both eventually becoming very uncomfortable with his requests. They try to escape, but are not quick enough. It's important to acknowledge the difference between Evelyn and Courtney — women Patrick has a relationship with — and Christie and Elizabeth, who are women that he pays to have a connection with. While he does not view Evelyn and Courtney with much respect, he is still able to contain his rage against women around them. He assigns higher value to them as they are wealthier and not sex workers. He contains his dark urges around them, but when he meets with Christie and Elizabeth, he views them as not only the objects of his rage but as dispensable to him because of their social status.


Ironically, although purposefully, the movie passes the Bechdel test, which relies on two or more female characters talking to each other about something other than a man.


The characters’ dramatized actions and outrageously offensive dialogue help the viewer come to these conclusions in an easier way, reinforcing the film’s satirical nature. I really admire the way that the director, Mary Harron, tackled social issues in a way that leaves interpretation to the viewer. She does not blatantly make a statement about feminist issues; instead, she lets the viewer come to their own conclusion.


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