Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho: a reader's guide AMERICAN PSYCHO A Novel by Bret Easton Ellis First published by Vintage Books, a division of. Speak English like an American - Noel's ESL eBook Library Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho (), when the title character, and the very definition. Tutkin Pro gradu -työssäni Bret Easton Ellisin romaania American Psycho () . but it was “his third novel American Psycho that established Ellis as a central.
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Praise. “Bret Easton Ellis is a very, very good writer [and] American Psycho is a beautifully controlled, careful, important novel. The novelist's function is to keep . PDF | This article examines how matter, in Ellis's scandalous novel, is read according to the texts that inform the yuppie's etiquette, labeling the. 9 INTRODUCTION Much has been said about Bret Easton Ellis's most famous and controversial book American Psycho. Since its debut, in March of
Yet it is clear that Bateman has fantasized the chase, as well as the murders, in order to provide himself with an exciting identity as serial killer, desperately trying to retain meaning into his life. Through the juxtaposition of the spectators in between the "subjective reliability" and "objective unreliability" in the process of narration, the spectators are invited to participate in the process of cinematic meaning production.
In Lacanian psychoanalysis, the divided subject misrecognizes itself as a unified subject who acts in the world. This means that to be able to function in the world, the subject has to "accept" its fundamental disunity.
This takes place for the first time in what Lacan calls the mirror stage. In the mirror stage the infant becomes aware of itself as an autonomous entity that is distinct from its environment.
Whereas originally the infant experienced itself as a shapeless mass, it now gains a sense of wholeness by making an imaginary identification with its reflection in the mirror. In the mirror image the child now appears as a unified entity that is separate from other entities.
The gratifying experience of the mirror image results in the child's sense of unity and inner control, a pre-linguistic, pre-Oedipal stage that Lacan calls the realm of the Imaginary.
This interplay between the mirror image and the self continues into adulthood, preventing the threat of a loss of self. The elaboration of an unitary body image is an essential part of subjectivity through which the subject is able to signify its body The film American Psycho is full of reflecting mirrors and other surfaces on which the spectator gets to glance Patrick Bateman's face.
These often vague mirror images--like the one in the metallic cover of the menu in a fancy restaurant--reflect Bateman back his acquired double identities: the one of a fashionable yuppie that he wants to show to others, and the one of a cold-blooded killer and porn star that he wants to believe in himself.
In the sex scene with two female prostitutes, Bateman literally plays the role of the porn star. Not only does he look at himself constantly in the large mirror, striking a pose and flexing his muscles, but he also performs before the camera of his homevideo set. The identity of the serial killer is repeated through the theme of the mirror even in the film poster, in which Bateman's image is reflected on a knife.
Whereas Bateman manages to establish the image of a yuppie as a credible appearance before others--even to such an extent that he is constantly mistaken as being someone else who embodies the same image--he seems to be a cold-blooded killer only in his own fantasies. Already in the beginning of the film, we see a reflection of Bateman's face in the mirror behind the bar of a night club when he tells the waitress: "You're a fucking ugly bitch.
I wanna stab you to death and play around with your blood. In the bathroom sequence we are shown a double reflection of Bateman in the mirror that forms a triangle with the "original image" a frame within a frame. On the visual level, the reflections are given equal status with the "original" so that it is almost uncertain which Bateman is the original one. This suggests that it is really only a reflection that is being portrayed as "Bateman" while the "real" Bateman does not exist at all.
His reflection on the glass of the framed poster of Les Miserables is perhaps the most thought- provoking: Bateman's identity is as illusory as the one of the sublime beggar of Victor Hugo, but whereas the latter has emotional and psychological depth, Bateman is merely a psychic void. The mirrors and other reflecting surfaces do not play an important role in the visual field of the film only because Bateman is narcissistic he is not a Narcissus who got lost in the mirror image.
Bateman needs the reflections of his own image as a confirmation of his existence, his Self--and this is how Sigmund Freud has described the funtion of the double in his work The Uncanny According to Freud, a subject needs to be able to recgonize itself in the reflection in order to be one with itself. This is, however, something that Bateman is not able to do and why he constantly needs to confirm his identity by looking at mirrors and other reflecting surfaces , which causes his Self to gradually fade away.
Bateman cannot attach himself to the world and to achieve himself an identity in another way but the double mirror images, because he has no emotions--except for greed and disgust. Bateman is incapable to be concerned with anyone besides himself which is the precondition for existing in the world. Because Patrick Bateman confuses his body with his mirror image, appearance with substance, he simply is not there, except as a reflection.
Like the facial mask, Bateman has built a protective screen between himself and the harsh truth that his subjectivity is merely nothingness. This mask is, on the one hand, his acquired hallucinatory identity as serial killer, and, on the other, the--equally acquired--credible appearance as Wall Street yuppie his culturally inscribed body. These two identities function as a mask to Bateman and as a double for each other: the serial killer embodies the Other that the yuppie refuses to be.
This is why Bateman's double identity causes him such anxiety: the identity of the serial killer causes the yuppie to fear for its existence and vice versa. According to the myth, whoever meets his or her double must die, and, indeed, as Bateman's nightly bloodlust starts to penetrate into his days, as "reality" eventually has to clash with Bateman's hallucinations, his mask of sanity gradually begins to slip and his identity eventually fades away--what is left is nothing.
Bateman is confronted with the fact that his identity as serial killer exists only in his imagination. Like Dorian Gray, he searches his "portrait" in the closet of the apartment of his "murdered" fellow yuppie only to find it clean and shiny, with empty paint cans in the corner.
Has the portrait been painted over?
Bateman has taken his hallucinatory identity as serial killer literally, and as "reality" finally penetrates through this hallucination it also causes the equally hallucinatory identity of Everyyuppie to fade away.
The identity that he has projected onto the external world the serial killer vanishes along with his incorporated identity the Everyyuppie and Bateman rushes out of the building in a hysterical state, in the verge of total collapse. In the final scene Bateman has returned behind the facade of his hollow yuppie life, and the business goes on as usual. Sitting in the Harry's Bar with his colleagues he confesses in a voiceover that "inside does not matter.
From the very beginning of the film, as the camera strolls in Bateman's tasteful apartment on the level of the eye, the spectator is invited to enter into his world. Yet, the spectators do not identify directly with Bateman, but with the women--especially his secretary Jean--who are in love with him.
It is this identification with women that renders Bateman's character fascinating for the spectator. This position for identification is not exclusive to male spectators. As Tania Modleski convincingly has shown in her reading of Hitchcock's Rebecca, male identification with a female character is possible, because of the male infant's original identification with the mother. In American Psycho, this possibility for identification is created by transforming the women who in the novel appear flat into full-dimensional characters, by giving the spectator access to their point of view which in the novel does not occur , and by nurturing empathy for them.
This appears to be a conscious choice from the part of the filmmaker, as director Mary Harron has defined her conception of the film as a feminist project Porton First, American Psycho can be considered feminist because of its strong reliance on identification of female characters.
Without this identification, the spectator--male or female-- cannot understand the film. The climatic scene of the film which again does not appear in the novel is told from Jean's perceptual as well as psychological point of view: we survey Bateman's diary filled with brutal drawings through Jean's eyes and we share her horror as we are shown a close-up of her terrified face. Second, the way Bateman is portrayed as an "object-to-be-looked-at" with his perfectly sculpted body seems to invite female and gay spectators to look in an erotic, active way.
Third and final, identification with female figures in American Psycho is also important to the development of horror conventions in the film: one cannot understand evil unless one empathizes with those who are being victimized, and it is this structure of empathy that is essential to horror dis pleasure. Even though spectators are prone to be disgusted by Bateman's actions, they cannot reject him entirely.
First of all, Bateman is quite an attractive character, not monstrous. He does not meet the requirements of the monster of a horror story that, for instance, Noel Carroll has described, being an outsider that does not fit into reality, a strange creature in a normal world. Bateman certainly does not look like a monster as the tagline of the film implies, evil never looked so damn good and his appearance also fits perfectly into his social life.
But Bateman is also charming, at least in the diegetic world of the film. He arouses love in almost every heterosexual woman and gay man in the film: his secretary Jean, his colleague Luis Carruthers Matt Ross , his neighbor Victoria Marie Dame.
As one of his one night stands puts it, there is something sweet about Bateman. As a result, the spectator feels the urge to see him as a person that is full of psychic traumas instead of a glossy monster with no inner life. The spectator wants to be able to understand and even pity Bateman, to fill the void of his subjectivity, and to "normalize" him in a certain sense of the word. Furthermore, with the exception of the brutal killings of a poor, homeless black bum and his little dog, the murders that Bateman commits are either distanced ironically or only implicitly referred to.
He meets a woman late at night in the street and brings--supposedly bloody--sheets to the Chinese launderette the next day, or keeps a model's head in his refrigerator next to a carton of sorbet.
But when he attempts to perform a "real" murder on his colleague Luis, Bateman gets all shaky and sweaty with the result that Carruthers mistakes Bateman's actions as romantic advances. Spectators, then, also have an ambivalent relationship with Bateman, so typical for the horror genre where spectators are both attracted to and repulsed by the threatening monster--whether an alien or a psychopath Shaw.
On the one hand, spectators are confronted with Bateman's monstrousness, but on the other, they become Bateman's confidants, narratees, and this is why Bateman is both a fascinating and a disgusting character. However, not both at the same time.
Bateman is a Janus-face, of whom spectators can see only one side at the time. Indeed, after Bateman has killed Paul Allen, only one side of his face is covered with blood, the other side is not. In the scene that follows the killing, Bateman turns first the bloody side of his face to the camera and then the clean side.
Bateman's secretary Jean is the spectators' "double" in the film, in the sense that she is the only one in the diegetic level of the film who rises to the same level of knowledge as the spectators, being at the same time attracted to Bateman.
After Bateman's hysterical breakdown, Jean goes to his desk and finds a diary filled with gory drawings--a scene that explicitly suggests that Bateman has done the killings in his head and not in "reality.
In conventional horror films, spectators are enabled to identify with heroic protagonists that overcome themselves to destroy the monster Wood, Shaw.
American Psycho, however, does not bring this kind of cathartic outlet for the spectators, as there is no final struggle between the hero and the antagonist--something just disappears, Bateman's double identity was never there. It is thus impossible to render the situation normal--everything has remained the same--and that is why the ending of the film is a disturbing anticlimax for the spectators as well as for Bateman.
In this way, American Psycho plays with the cliches of porn and horror films, but in the end takes distance from them. However, as Bateman's friends dismiss Reagan as a liar who covers up his "inside" with a false exterior, Bateman's voiceover takes over by stating that "inside doesn't matter.
All I have in common with the uncontrollable and the insane, the vicious and the evil, all the mayhem I have caused and my utter indifference toward it, I have now surpassed. My pain is constant and sharp and I do not hope for a better world for anyone.
In fact, I want my pain to be inflicted on others. I want no one to escape. But even after admitting this, there is no catharsis. My punishment continues to elude me and I gain no deeper knowledge of myself, no new knowledge can be extracted from my telling The image of Patrick Bateman, portrayed in the film American Psycho, is merely an imaginary double construction.
While his character in the novel already symbolized the emptiness and the nothingness of yuppie identity, by making use of fiction within a fiction, the film version brings Bateman's nothingness to yet another level. The chase scene, where Bateman runs aimlessly and in a hysterical state along the empty streets of New York, resembles a nightmare a la Kafka, or perhaps Baudrillard, and suggests that Bateman's double identity simulacrum is finally falling apart.
Bateman entered a movie in which he stars, and where he is able to attach meaning to his life as a movie killer, yuppie, and porn star, but now he cannot find his way back anymore, because there really is nothing beyond the movie. Bateman's acquired double appearances have irrevocably replaced the substance of his Self--if it ever was there in the first place.
And it is this level that the film brilliantly invites the spectator to experience. Bateman's attempt to achieve an identity of a yuppie is thus no more than an illusion, a set-up, an alter ego. American Psycho is a double portrait of a yuppie monster, but what this double portrait reflects is nothingness, and that is what is terrifying in the portrait.
Indeed, as Bateman's voiceover concludes: "This confession has meant nothing. For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign.
New York: Telos Press, Carroll, Noel. The Philosophy of Horror. London: Routledge, Ellis, Bret Easton. The Rules of Attraction.
American Psycho. New York: Vintage Books, Freud, Sigmund.
Translated by James Strahey. London: Penguin, Grosz, Elizabeth. Volatile Bodies. Towards a Corporeal Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana UP, Kauffman, Linda S. Lacan, Jacques. Lauer, Jeanette C. Fashion Power. The Meaning of Fashion in American Society. The American Society in the s 3. American Nightmare 4. Conclusion Works Cited. It covers the story of the serial killer Patrick Bateman, who enjoys a good reputation everywhere in Manhattan. Bateman is a young, athletic, handsome, successful, and stereotypical s yuppie, who you are able to see in magazines, journals, advertising for Calvin Klein or Hugo Boss, and on Wall Street.
On the other hand, he murders, rapes, tortures, mutilates, and cannibalizes his victims, but his cruel acts remain undetected. Bateman outlines the murder of a man, who at this point was not even in town.
In this paper, this question and especially what the murders are about to express either way will be analyzed in view of social criticism. Therefore, first of all, American society in the s will be outlined to help the reader better understand the contemporary historical background to which the movie refers. Subsequently, the amoral materialism in American consumer society pictured in American Psycho will be described to clarify the social circumstances Bateman lives in.
The American Society in the s To understand what American Psycho is about, it is important to briefly consider the social circumstances in the s in America, which are clearly reflected throughout the whole movie. In this decade, American society changed extensively compared to the s Kleinfeldt and Freeman. The s were years of protest and reform; young Americans demonstrated against the Vietnam War, African Americans for civil rights, and women for equal treatment.
But, on the other hand, the US suffered an economic recession; interest rates and inflation were high. Americans grew tired of social struggle and losing money, instead, they wanted to help themselves and spend more time on their own personal interests Kleinfeldt and Freeman. Therefore, in the s, the American society concentrated on its own leisure activities and its own happiness again Malkmes There was such technological progress and a prosperous economy that restored hope to the Americans to live better unburdened lives.