Films are good examples and portrayals of human behavior in different citations. Many movies show characters with a specific mental disorder and how this condition impacts the actions and perceptions of individuals. Although one should watch these portrayals with caution because they are not always representative of real-life psychological illnesses, films can serve as suitable study materials. American Psycho, directed by Harron, follows a life of a complex character, named Patrick Bateman. Bateman suffers from several disorders, including narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial disorder. In order to present potential diagnoses properly, criteria developed by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) should be used. This paper will briefly summarize the plot of American Psycho and analyze Patrick Bateman’s psychological disorders.
Summary of the Film
American Psycho is the director’s view of the modern culture of earning more and spending more and the dynamic work environment of the corporate organizations. The main character, who will be the basis of this paper’s analysis, is Patrick Bateman, who is a young and successful individual (Harron, 1999). Bateman has a steady job and a fiancé, but his behavior consistently points out a lack of connection with reality. From the beginning of this movie, Bateman is preoccupied with superficial things, such as his appearance, the fact that he only wears Versace suits, the business cards he has, dinner reservations, and other things (Harron, 1999). The plot shows Bateman’s day-to-day life, his meetings with colleagues, interactions with his fiancé, and other routines.
In this movie, Patrick Bateman is a young professional working a corporate job. For the public, he is a handsome and successful man. However, Bateman also has a secret life since he is also a serial killer (Harron, 1999). He manages to conduct the killings despite the fact that he has a mistress and a fiancé since some of his crimes happen at his apartment. This shows the nature of some psychological disorders and the fact that even the closest relatives and friends can be unaware of the individual’s condition.
Over the course of this movie, Bateman kills several people in different circumstances, including a homeless man at the beginning. The latter was murdered because Bateman became upset due to the fact that his colleague had a better business card (Harron, 1999). Moreover, the movie shows some unusual events, such as Bateman reading “feed me a stray cat” on the ATM (Harron, 1990). Bateman is shown to invite prostitutes into his apartment, as well as attempt to murder one of them with a chain saw. In the end, Bateman tries to confess his crimes to his colleagues and his layer, but these individuals dismiss his words by stating that one of the victims Bateman claims to kill, Paul Allen, is still alive.
In summary, this movie intends to show the dangerous nature of some disorders, which cause people to lose connection with reality. In the end, this film reveals that the killings and the character’s confession can be his hallucinations as nothing confirms the reality of these events. Despite this possibility, it is clear that Bateman is disconnected from reality and preoccupied with himself and superficial things he considers essential, which points to the potential diagnosis of a narcissistic disorder.
Patrick Bateman is a complex character, and his behavior points to several potential personality disorders. Although the movie title suggests that Bateman should be diagnosed with a psychopathic personality disorder, this character’s behavior is not always consistent with the characteristics of this illness. However, his behavior on a daily basis, priorities, and attitudes toward others allow diagnosing Patrick with a narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial disorder.
DSM-5 is the most recent publication of the manual that contains criteria that allow diagnosing a person with a psychological disorder. Typically one has to show symptoms of at least several factors described in DSM to be eligible (APA, 2013). The main criteria that define Bateman’s personality are the fact that his viewpoint does not reflect the objective reality. For example, he is driven by consumerism, overly concerned with the street name he lives on, and his killings are most likely a result of his imagination (Harron, 1999). Additionally, Bateman has no close relationships because he constantly lies and manipulates people, which are also traits that allow to diagnose him.
The name of this film, which is American Psycho, suggests that the main character has a psychotic disorder. Individuals with this diagnosis have an impaired perception of reality, which is evident with Bateman, who is unsure whether he committed murders in real life or not. Additionally, under DSM-5 criteria, psychopaths are fearless, their behavior is bold, and they feel invulnerable (APA, 2013). While this is true with Bateman, who kills a man on a street, shoots a woman, and chases one of the prostitutes down the staircase with a chainsaw, at the end of this film, the character’s behavior changes. Although he does not feel remorse for his actions, he confesses his crimes to several people, which is not typical for this diagnosis (Harron, 1999). Hence, it appears that either Bateman should not be diagnosed with a psychopathic personality disorder or that the movie’s portrayal of this disorder is inaccurate.
Notably, there are several misconceptions about psychopathy that this film supports. According to Martinez-Lopez et al. (2019), “psychopathy appears to be a complex, multifaceted condition marked by blends of personality traits reflecting differing levels of disinhibition, boldness, and meanness” (p. 4761). The main characteristic of psychopathic traits is a history of violent behavior. However, Martinez-Lopez et al. (2019) also suggest that many misconceptions about psychopaths have been dismissed in recent years, for instance, an assumption that they are born in a certain way, and their environment plays a small role in the development of pathological traits. Moreover, recent research has shown that psychopaths can be treated successfully with specific methods. Based on the complex nature of this condition and the fact that close observations and clinical experience are necessary to diagnose it accurately, one can conclude that Bateman should not be diagnosed with psychopathy.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
In addition to psychopathy, the main character of this film demonstrated the traits of a narcissistic personality disorder. For example, one of the criteria under the DSM manual diagnostics is the increased interest in self. In the movie, Patrick has a conversation with two prostitutes, and he expresses the desire to discuss his work. When the two women sigh and show a lack of interest, he becomes annoyed, which suggests that he is interested in talking about himself. Next, the second criterion is a strong focus on personal aesthetics (APA, 2013). In the beginning, Patrick is shown to groom himself, looking in the mirror and stating that he could look better and be thinner (Harron, 1999). He is shown to put an icepack on his eyes to remove the puffiness and his morning routine appears to be excessive (Harron, 1999). Moreover, in the later scenes, Patrick compares his appearance to that of another college, who wears the same brand of expensive suits and glasses and has a similar haircut. These scenes hint at his strong interest in the way he looks and the way his appearance may be perceived by others.
People with a narcissistic disorder select their group of friends carefully, only choosing individuals who they perceive to have a similar social status to themselves. Moreover, these individuals desire admiration (APA, 2013). In Patrick’s case, his circle of friends consists primarily of Timothy, his fiancé, which are all elements of the character’s social status. Moreover, the scene after which Patrick kills a homeless man depicts others looking at the business card of Patrick’s coworker, which causes the former to feel extreme frustration. Hence, this scene points out the idea that Patrick requires admiration and feels annoyed when others do not pay attention to him. This also supports another DSM criteria, which is a feeling of envy towards others.
Apart from this, Patrick shows some common traits of a narcissist personality, such as a lack of emotions. He is unable to express them and understand the feelings of others. For example, when his friend Courtney comes to talk to him about her problems, she is extraordinarily agitated and looks worried. Instead of noticing this, Bateman compliments the woman on her looks by stating that she looks marvelous (Harron, 1999). This evident lack of compassion and emotional intelligence is what causes narcissists to behave arrogantly and dismissively towards others since they do not recognize or understand their feelings and cannot be empathic towards other people.
Antisocial Personality Disorder
An initial assumption about the behavior of people with antisocial personality disorder would be that they altogether avoid any contact with other human beings. However, Bateman maintains communication with his colleagues, for example, Paul Allen, his job requires him to communicate with clients and other employees, and he has a fiancé (Harron, 1999). However, upon closer analysis, one can conclude that Bateman’s relationships are superficial. None of the other characters can be considered his friends, and he never has deep conversations with his colleagues or fiancé. Moreover, he never shares his actual feelings or frustrations with others, and for example, when he sees that someone has a better business card, he avoids admitting directly that this fact upsets him (Harron, 1999). Therefore, although Bateman does not avoid social life altogether, his lack of close relationships points to a potential diagnosis of an antisocial disorder.
Under the DSM-5 manual, there are ten characteristics that allow for identifying an antisocial personality disorder. Criteria 9 and 10 require the abnormal behavior to begin at the age of 15 and the person being at least 18 at the time of the diagnosis (APA, 2013). Harron (1999) never shows or mentions Bateman’s behavior during childhood, hence it is difficult to determine if his character traits are inherent to him or not. Another criterion is questionable since it implies breaking the laws repeatedly (APA, 2013). Although Bateman is shown to kill several people in different ways and hide their bodies over the course of the movie, it is not clear whether these are hallucinations or reality. Additionally, in this movie, Bateman never breaks other laws or policies.
Lies and manipulation are the other two criteria that make one eligible for the diagnosis. Some examples of Bateman lying include his relationship with his fiancé. Evelyn is a wealthy woman, and this appears to be the only factor that interests Patrick. He cheats on Evelyn, for example, with two prostitutes that he eventually murders (Harron, 1999). Other examples of this behavior include the scene at the beginning when Patrick is asked about stains on his sheets. When he is at the dry cleaners, he yells at the personnel and states that his sheets were stained by cranberry juice. Later he becomes frustrated because the cleaning did not remove the traces (Harron, 1999). It is probable that these stains are, in fact, traces of blood, and Patrick chose to hide this fact from the dry cleaning’ personnel.
Bateman can be easily irritated by minor things, and he is often portrayed as aggressive. Irritability and aggression are also criteria of DSM-5 for antisocial disorder (APA, 2013). The scenes of aggression are mainly the ones where Bateman murders people. However, he is also irritated on multiple occasions, for example, during the scene with business cards and when talking to the two prostitutes. This is linked to another factor, which is impulsivity, shown when Bateman calls Dorsia to get a reservation for a table. Instead of planning ahead for a reservation in advance, which is what people usually do, he chooses to disturb his acquaintance because he made an on-the-spot decision. This also suggests that he does not plan ahead and instead lives in the moment, and he does something the second he decides to do this.
Other traits of Bateman include his lack of responsibility, no regard for his safety or that of others, and having no remorse. For example, although he is a successful investment Banker, over the course of the movie, there is no scene where Patrick is actually working. Instead, even when he is at the workplace, he listens to music, makes reservations for lunch, or talks to his colleagues. Apart from this, he has a drug addiction and engages others in this dangerous behavior. This is shown when Bateman and Timothy take drugs in bathroom stalls (Harron, 1999). Finally, although Bateman has a long relationship with Evelyn, they are even engaged. He quickly breaks up with her and shows no remorse or desire to support his ex-partner. Hence, The analysis of Patrick Bateman’s behavior shows that the majority of his actions and character traits are consistent with the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder.
Accuracy of Bateman’s Disorder’s Portrayal
The film American Psycho is an artistic work, which means that the nature of psychological disorders, the symptoms, and their portrayal may be different from what a therapist encounters during their professional practice. One factor complicating the analysis is the lack of definite answers in the movie, and mainly, it is unclear if Bateman’s killings are only his imagination. However, the grandiose behavior, preoccupancy with material things, and connections with wealthy and successful people match the description of the narcissistic behaviors.
Secondary characters in this movie also display narcissistic traits. Bateman behaves in a manner similar to that of others in his social circle. For example, at one business meeting, he is confused with another employee because they have the same hairstyle, glasses, and suits (Harron, 1999). Moreover, these characters are preoccupied with getting a reservation at a high-end restaurant. Their appearance and behavior suggest that most secondary characters in American Psycho are also accurate portrayals of narcissism.
Bateman’s behavior in the film is also consistent with the way a psychopath behaves in real life. According to the analysis by Permata (2020), under Hare’s theory of psychopath disorder, Bateman matches the criteria for high intelligence, superficial charm, lying and manipulations, having no remorse for one’s actions, impulsive behaviors, and antisocial behaviors. The intellect is shown through Bateman’s high-paying position, which requires good knowledge of finance and a degree in this field. His impulsivity is evident in each episode that presides over the killings. For example, when a lady on the streets confronts him about a stray cat Bateman tries to push into an ATM, the latter pulls out a gun. His antisocial behavior is evident from the lack of close friends, and even his fiancé and Bateman do not have a close and trustworthy relationship. However, as was mentioned in the discussion of cratered for the psychotic disorder diagnosis, at the end of the film, Bateman realizes that even though he confessed, no one around him cared (Harron, 1999). In contrast to this, psychopaths in real life do not have a sense of remorse and do not regret or care about the consequences of their actions.
The portrayal of the antisocial personality disorder in this film is good since it provides an understanding that event through a person has connections and contact with others, they may be eligible for this diagnosis. Bateman is a charming individual, and he is well-spoken and good-looking. These traits allow him to find contact with others and maintain good conversations. However, those are often superficial. For example, during a scene at his apartment, he describes an album by Hue Lewis, but he uses standard phrases he read from magazines critiquing this music. Hence, he does not have any real interest in the conversation topic but only uses his intelligence to make an excellent impression to manipulate others into something. This scene also points out the fact that Bateman never develops a real relationship with anyone, neither a friend nor his partner Evelyn. He always uses his charm and superficial things he has to impress people but never acts as real Patrick Bateman. Considering the DSM-5 creature discussed before, it appears that despite Bateman’s public persona, he, in fact, maybe diagnosed with an antisocial disorder. Moreover, this movie excellently portrays the traits of people with this condition since Bateman’s behavior is always consistent and proves his disregard for others in multiple scenes.
Overall, this paper examines the movie American Psycho and explains the diagnosis of the main character, Mr. Bateman. Despite the name of this film, the disorders that Bateman suffers from are consistent with narcissistic disorder and antisocial personality disorder. However, over the course of the film, Bateman murders several people, although it is unclear whether these killings happened in real life or were only his fantasies. Hence, there are some hints that support the diagnosis of a psychotic disorder as well. Therefore, this character is complex and demonstrates evidence of several psychological illnesses co-occurring. Considering that this is a movie, some aspects of mental health disorders are not portrayed accurately.
American Psychiatric Association (APA). (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Association.
Harron, M. (1999). American Psycho [Film]. Lions Gate Films.
Martínez-López, J., Medina-Mora, M. E., Robles-García, R., Madrigal, E., Juárez, F., Tovilla-Zarate, C. A., Reyes, C., Monroy, N., & Fresán, A. (2019). Psychopathic disorder subtypes based on temperament and character differences. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(23), 4761. Web.
Permata, A. D. (2019) Psychopathic disorder reflected in Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho [Unpublished thesis]. Universitas Teknokrat Indonesia.
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American Psycho, directed by Harron, follows a life of a complex character, named Patrick Bateman. Bateman suffers from several disorders, including narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial disorder.What is the psychology in American Psycho? ›
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (Cont)
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Patrick Batemen Is Equal Parts Sigma and Alpha
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Drawbacks Of The Sigma Male Lifestyle
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American Psycho Ending Explained
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“I have to return some videotapes.”
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American Psycho Theory: Patrick Bateman has an asperger's syndrome.What is Joker's laughing disorder? ›
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American Psycho offers a disturbing picture of how capitalism distorts humanity. Through the imposition of social hierarchy, capitalism enables human domination, and American Psycho highlights how patriarchal and racial discrimination is a part of this domination in our society.Is American Psycho just in his head? ›
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