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American Psycho Ending Explained-How Jordan Peele’s Nope Continues The Fallacy Of The American Dream

Bret Easton Ellis’ polarizing ’80s fever dream American Psycho, about the excess of wealth, privilege, and psychopathy, still captivates an audience 22 years later. Director Mary Harron’s interpretation of the savage novel is known for many things. Among those, a bevy of talented actors, including Christain Bale, Willam Dafoe, and pre-Joker Jared Leto. It also has beautiful cinematography and a whopper of an ambiguous ending. Over the years, there has been much ink spilled about what really happened and what it all means. The source material is just as murky. So many times, seemingly impossible things happen that force us to suspend our beliefs. The real question of whether any of the killings actually happened is less important than the pervasive obsession with the spectacle.

When nostalgia is at an all-time high thanks to fantastic series and movies like Top Gun Maverick and Stranger Things, to name just a few pieces, American Psycho used a different mirror to reflect what was going on in the era marked by insane extravagance. Ellis’ novel didn’t try to sugarcoat any of the characters or their situations. These are all pretty reprehensible people whose only defining characteristic is their vapid obnoxiousness, which they have endless amounts.

Twenty-two years later and we are still drawn to the spectacle. Jordan Peele’s Nope which premiered to massive box office numbers, focuses on the fallibility of humans. Our propensity to become sickly fascinated with death, destruction, and pain often blind us to what matters most. We are our own worst enemy who begs for bigger and better at any cost. The American Dream is a fallacy marked by greed and inequity. It’s why the idea of a Jurassic Park is plausible. People are the worst, and they can be counted on to do just about anything to make money and be entertained. That is the real message of American Psycho. Patrick either kills or imagines all the killings because he is desperate for something, anything to matter. He would rather get caught and be recognized as a monster than continue to live his pointless, exchangeable life.

Our main character Patrick Bateman is a sadistic monster. There is no question. There is no room for interpretation. He wants to do all those sick and depraved things to those around him. Often Patrick says vile things to those around him. He admits to being in “murders and executions,” but the woman hears him say “mergers and acquisitions.” He tells others about keeping heads in refrigerators and wanting to stab women. Everyone laughs these things off or hears what they want to hear.

It could be symptomatic of the insanity that colors the entire film. Everything the viewer sees is through Patrick’s carefully curated view; therefore, it could all be the delusion of a very troubled mind. It could also be the superficial quality of a wealth-obsessed society. Everything is set up to protect people like Patrick, even if they don’t deserve it. Using this framework, the landlord covered up the gore in Paul’s apartment because she needed to avoid an investigation. The apartment is a valuable piece of real estate.

As with Jean, it is because we want to see the best in those we admire. So, despite his misogynistic comments and casual dismissal of her feelings, she cares for him. That is until she finds all the sick drawings in his notebook. For others, it is simply because they are so preoccupied with themselves that they fail to see the chinks in the societal armor right before them.

As much as the spectacle matters, so does the system that sets up success for people like Patrick Bateman. In American Psycho, Patrick may not have committed all the crimes he imagines. He probably doesn’t shoot up a bunch of cops, chop down his coworker, or kill several prostitutes, but he could have killed a few of the others. Because of his white alpha maleness, the system is set up to protect him. If you are a woman or a minority, it is easy to be jaded and believe everything Patrick does happens. A landlord cleans up dead bodies and paints an apartment because they want to continue to make money from it. His lawyer claims to have eaten with Paul twice to protect his client. Viewed this way, society is as much to blame as Patrick for his violence. They helped create and nurture his demon.

One of the main criticisms of the novel and the movie is the objectification of women. There is a lot of violence in American Psycho, and most of it is directed toward women and the vulnerable. Some of it is physical, but behaviors and words are also abhorrent and perpetuate societal ills. Is it better to confront the problem and the disgusting depravity of Bateman’s mind, or is the very act of looking making it a spectacle? Once something becomes part of the spectacle, does that make it lose its agency?

As a woman, I sympathize and empathize with people who have been pushed down or worse by a patriarchal society, but I always think the spectacle isn’t the problem, the people that view it are. History is not blind, but man is not. Although Patrick Bateman did not exist, there were those like him. Maybe they weren’t serial killers, but they were serial abusers.

Did Patrick kill a bunch of people and leave them to rot in an apartment, or did he hallucinate everything and spiral down to an inevitable black hole waiting to consume him? The novel seems to plead the case that some of both answers are true, and the movie leans more heavily into fiction. However, Harron and her co-writer Guinevere Turner indicated they didn’t intend for the film to be so ambiguous. Their intention was not to let Patrick off the hook by making it all a hallucination. If none of the kills were real, it cheapens the message. Patrick is a bad person who will continue to do bad things and get away with them.

In the end, the importance of the story lies more in why the viewer thinks the way they do as opposed to what actually happened. What matters is the horror or the spectacle of Patrick’s mind and the utter devastation of watching a man who is so deeply unhappy and damaged. Society created a system that built, protected, and promoted this alpha male type. It regurgitated out countless cookie cutter archetypes nearly indistinguishable from the next. This is what ultimately drives Patrick. His desire to stand out and be seen devours him. He may not have killed a ton of people by the end of American Psycho, but that doesn’t mean he won’t after the events of the film ends.

It’s almost impossible to separate fact from fiction because Patrick’s blood-soaked glasses color everything. Just because he has a major psychotic break at the end doesn’t mean everything was the product of a delusional mind. When he calls his lawyer and leaves that long message, he is begging for help. His lawyer maddeningly views it all as a joke and becomes angry when Patrick becomes disturbed. The lawyer even claims to have eaten twice with Paul but considering he doesn’t know Patrick’s name after meeting him multiple times, that is questionable. These are all such surface people; one is no different from the next.

American Psycho
Official trailer screengrab

Many of the kills are so cartoonish they couldn’t possibly have happened, at least not the way Patrick envisioned them. He couldn’t have seen an ATM tell him to feed it a kitten or blow up a cop car with a gun he was surprised to have in his hand. He probably also didn’t kill a woman running downstairs by dropping a chainsaw on her. Chainsaws have dead man switches that would stop the motor, and the odds of hitting a moving target are infinitesimal.

There is also no visible wound the next day after she kicked Patrick in the nose. Either he is an expert makeup artist, or none of that happened. When he disposed of Paul’s body, he leaves a trail of blood through the lobby that the guard ignores. When the lobby is seen from the outside, there is no trail, nor is there one on the sidewalk.

He probably killed the homeless man, his dog, and the woman from the movie’s beginning. He claimed the red stain on his sheets was the product of a cranberry juice incident, but this may have been one of the only real murders in the film. By killing sex workers and homeless people, he can get away with his crimes indefinitely. If this is the case, the real estate agent at the end is a byproduct of Patrick’s unsettling vibe. He creeped her out, and she wanted him to leave because he made her nervous.

Everything Patrick does or imagines he does, depending on your perspective, is in search of something, anything to make his meaningless existence matter. There will always be someone richer, more successful, smarter, better looking, etc. That’s a big problem for someone for whom everything they value about themselves stems from how he measures up next to everyone else. When the void is consumerism, there will never be enough stuff to fill it.

Patrick gives all the appearance of being an American success story, albeit a douchey one. He is a monster, though. The real horror of American Psycho is that Patrick was made by all of us. We are all culpable for glorifying his wealth and success while simultaneously erasing his individuality. The focus should not be on Patrick but on the system that allowed him to thrive. Patrick was obsessed with making himself a spectacle. We are, in turn, obsessed with the spectacle of his violent mind. Like Nope, we should not look as closely at the monster and instead try to save the victims and prevent it from happening.