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“I Simply Am Not There”: The Existential Horror of Eighties Excess in “American Psycho”…

My name is Patrick Bateman. I’m 27 years old. I believe in taking care of myself, and a balanced diet and a rigorous exercise routine. In the morning, if my face is a little puffy, I’ll put on an ice pack while doing my stomach crunches. I can do a thousand now. After I remove the ice pack I use a deep pore cleanser lotion. In the shower I use a water activated gel cleanser, then a honey almond body scrub, and on the face an exfoliating gel scrub. Then I apply an herb-mint facial masque which I leave on for 10 minutes while I prepare the rest of my routine. I always use an after shave lotion with little or no alcohol, because alcohol dries your face out and makes you look older. Then moisturizer, then an anti-aging eye balm followed by a final moisturizing protective lotion. 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 shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours, and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable, I simply am not there.

American Psycho is twenty years old, and somehow more relevant than ever.

To be fair, the film signposts this strange relevance. Towards the end of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel, Bateman takes a moment to muse on Trump Tower, admiring it as it stands “tall, proudly gleaming in the late afternoon sunlight.” Throughout the film, Bateman and colleagues are obsessed with Trump. “Is that Donald Trump’s car?” asks Bateman while riding with his fiancée in a taxi. Later on, out at dinner in a low-rent restaurant, he tries to catch a colleague’s interest (and maybe his own) by asking, “Is that Ivana Trump?”

Without ever being directly present in the film or the novel, Donald Trump haunts American Psycho. Ironically, that weird relationship has only deepened in the years since the novel was published and the film was released. During his presidential campaign, Trump famously boasted, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” It’s an argument that has become worryingly central to Trump’s campaign, with even his lawyers advancing the argument that he couldn’t be prosecuted for it as part of an argument over his tax returns.

American Psycho makes a similar argument about its protagonist. Bateman spends the entirety of the book and movie openly boasting and threatening characters with death and dismemberment, only for everybody involved to remain either willfully or accidentally ignorant of what Bateman claims to be. Bateman confesses his crimes repeatedly and openly, only for colleagues to laugh it off as a joke or shift the conversation or reveal that they weren’t really listening. American Psycho unfolds in a world where nothing is real and nothing matters. It is closer to our world than it seems.

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