It Wasn’t A Dream: A Look At American Psycho’s Oft Misinterpreted Ending

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But some viewers seem to misunderstand American Psycho’s final third, as a revelation that Bateman’s murders were pure fantasy. This is blasphemy in every regard. The gnarly sketches Jean (Chloë Sevigny as Bateman’s assistant) finds in Bateman’s workbook are simply an internal discovery on her part that Bateman is not as plain as he seems. The ending is instead a punchline to the films running joke, that the suited, rich, businessmen are so shallow and same, that they are often confused for one another. It’s just as false to assume the film is open to interpretation, the film gives you a straight answer in plain sight, Bateman even has an ending narration that should make this all clear.

What I think happens is that people are thrown off when the film breaks off the rails. Easier on the mind to justify Bateman’s attempts to feed an ATM a stray cat, blow police cars up with a handgun, and commit a public killing spree, as hallucination, or fantasy, than somewhere in between. These images are still skewered though, Bateman isn’t exactly a reliable narrator in the first place, and at this point in his arc he’s totally lost his sense of linearity (to put it lightly)…. But that does not mean the murders that came before never occurred, and if it did, how arbitrary and nonsensical would Bateman’s ending confession be? 

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Lets take a look at that confession. It comes after Bateman’s discussion with his lawyer (more on that later…). His confession essentially means nothing, only that he will continue to kill, and that he will never see resistance to his bloodletting. 

“There are no more barriers to cross. 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. This confession has meant nothing.” 

Those words are lifted straight from the novel, that’s all Brett Easton Ellis’s cunning there. Bateman makes this inner confession, after his external confession to his lawyer fails. Why does it fail? Because no one can distinguish a single individual amongst the vapid assortment. The Lawyer mistakes Bateman for Davis, Paul Allen (Jared Leto) mistakes him for Halberstram, and Detective Donald Kimball’s (Willem Dafoe) helpless in tracking anyone’s place and time down in the plight of suited sheep. The Lawyer think’s Bateman’s phone confession was a good joke, with one flaw, that Bateman wouldn’t have the virility. Bateman persists in the fact that he killed Paul Allen and seeks justice on himself. But the lawyer responds that this is impossible because he had dinner with Paul Allen in London just ten days ago. “No you…Didn’t…” Patrick says, just before recoiling, and giving in.

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This is not a realization that Paul Allen is still alive, and that the Lawyer had dinner with him twice just ten days ago. The Lawyer didn’t, he probably had dinner with someone he mistook for Paul Allen, and this is where Bateman get’s off clean. So the joke comes full circle in the end… Discussions occur, but no one really listening. People are distinguished by the habits of their fashion, or their trophy girlfriends, and nothing else… And from it bores a permanently un-redeeming monster, so ridiculous you can only cope with its existence by laughing at it. 

 Nightcrawler did the same thing in a different landscape. Lou Bloom’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) life and ability to thrive are entirely dependent on the sickness of his setting, and hence the point is made, and it’s pointed towards a mass information era. Bateman likewise, depends on the stable ground of capitalism’s elite to commit his sins in freedom. It’s in their dependency, that the criticism shifts toward their settings. And so to say Bateman’s misdeeds were fantasy, would be to deflate the film and the novel’s sense of criticism. 

Another plot element no one can get over, are the bodies we saw earlier in Paul Allen’s apartment. The place was riddled with blood and bodies, and when Bateman returns it’s got a fresh coat of paint and has been rearranged. The real estate agent is wary, and the two participate in a coded discussion of mutual suspicion. The film suggests, with slight nudges, that the realtor herself Mrs. Wolf (a reference to Pulp Fiction’s infamous body clean up man Mr. Wolf) has cleaned up the bodies, and is selling the apartment for her own compensation. And I don’t think that’s a stretch by any means, the film evolves further into a cartoon as the film progresses and has behaved similarly earlier on. 

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For one thing, Bateman has continuously admitted to murder and has shouted explicit death threats to no reasonable response. His dirty deeds are constantly overshadowed by the flagrant materialism around him. When he drags a dead body in a bag he gets away with it because Carruthers (Matt Ross) is too beguiled by the quality of the body bag’s brand. And, really, to make my whole argument quite arbitrary… The film’s director (Mary Harron) has gone on record stating that she had no intention of people thinking “it was all a dream” but had every intention in retaining the novel’s ambiguity, and notes it as a failure on her part to make that clear. But I think she’s made it perfectly clear, and I think she’s sustained that ambiguity. It tells you, it’s in dialogue, it’s on paper. So if you want to participate in a competition over stoner logic on dreams, take it to Nolan’s blockbuster tease on the ordeal, Inception. Don’t take it to Bateman, who’ll most likely evade your interrogation by going to return some video tapes.