American Psycho? Exploring the Polarizing Ending of Mary Harron’s Film

By  · Published on November 2nd, 2016

A video essay chock full of spoilers.

There’s no question that Patrick Bateman, central character in Mary Harron’s American Psycho ‐ adapted from the novel by Bret Easton Ellis ‐ is as crazy as they come; the question is, what kind of crazy is he?

From here on out everything in this post is a spoiler, so if you haven’t seen American Psycho, bookmark us and come back after you have.

Depending on how you interpret the film, Bateman is either a narcissist with a borderline personality disorder who’s also a raving psychopath, OR, he’s a narcissist with a borderline personality disorder who’s also suffering from hallucinatory delusions of being a raving psychopath. Neither sounds great, but the latter at least confines the violence to Bateman’s already-troubled mind, so if there’s a silver lining that would be it. The reason for these juxtaposed interpretations comes mostly from the film’s ending, which features an absurd killing spree that is kicked off by an ATM machine asking Bateman to feed it a kitten, peaks with Bateman blowing up a police car in a hail of gunfire, and ends with him in his office hiding from searchlights and leaving a full confession to all his heinous crimes on his lawyer’s answering machine. The next morning though, there are no police, no investigation, no bodies, and his lawyer thinks the message is a weird joke because he himself had lunch with one of the “victims,” Jared Leto’s Paul Allen, in London just a few days earlier. So then if Bateman’s crimes are real, he somehow inexplicably got away with them ‐ perhaps disposing of the evidence in some sort of psychotic blackout/fugue state he can’t recall ‐ and either he or his lawyer is confused about just who Paul Allen is.

That’s a little tough to swallow for a lot of folks, so they Fight Club the film and decide all the killing is occurring in Bateman’s subconscious only. It’s a sound theory and one that can definitely be supported by a string of minor things throughout the film ‐ most notably Bateman’s use of a chainsaw in an apartment building that no one else seems to hear ‐ but according to the director this was not her intention, and in fact not her interpretation.

Screen Prism has put together this really cool and very concise exploration of the ending of American Psycho and its implications for either side of the argument surrounding the reality of Bateman’s crimes and psychosis. In it, author Ellis is quoted as saying he wasn’t always a fan of the idea of his book as a movie because film “demands answers,” there must be always be some resolution by the conclusion. While this may be true ‐ though filmmakers like David Lynch, Nicolas Winding Refn, and Lars Von Trier might disagree ‐ film doesn’t require one answer only, it is an interpretive medium with the ability to leave resolution up to the individual viewer to make based on their personal experience with the work. American Psycho is a great example of that ability at play, and as a result a stellar example of the fractured psychological thriller.

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist