Based on a 1991 novel by Bret Easton Ellis, America Psycho (1999) tells of Patrick Bateman, a New York City banking Executive (Christian Bale) who conceals his psychopathic identity from his friends and colleagues as he ventures deep into violent indulgent fantasies. The young entrepreneur spends most of his time keeping up appearances for his fellow investment bankers, most of whom he hates, and his fiancé Evelyn Williams in upmarket restaurants.
One evening as Bateman and friends ostentatiously display their business cards focusing on style and design, Paul Allen’s business card appears superior to all the rest, which particularly enrages Bateman, who starts thinking of revenge. The incident, however, triggers Bateman’s psychopathic ego, and he starts his killing spree by murdering a homeless man and his dog. From this point, Bates tries balancing appearances with possibly torturing and killing numerous victims.
The personality disorder Bates displays is psychopathy. The disorder is defined as a mental disorder where a person manifests antisocial tendencies, lacks the ability to establish meaningful personal relationships and love, struggles learning from experience, and shows extreme egocentricity, among other behavior linked to the condition (Porter et al., 2018).
Therefore, psychopaths often show behavior that conflicts with social norms and expectations, violate and disregard the rights of their victims, express arrogance and anger constantly, and find it easy to hurt or manipulate others. For people identified as psychopaths, abuse does not necessarily mean violence. Notably, psychopathy is not an official mental health illness. It is diagnosed as ASPD by experts, meaning that it is categorized by the DSM-5 in the four cluster B personality disorders alongside narcissistic personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder (Brazil et al., 2018). For these reasons, psychopathy can be a complex condition to treat because clients often believe there is a problem with their behavior.
Bateman displays many symptoms associated with psychopathy. Superficial charm is a significant element of psychopathic personality disorder where the individual often says or does social acts because they are well-received by observers and not because the psychopath wants to be accepted. The concept refers to the tendency to be verbally facile, slick, charming, engaging, and smooth (Porter et al., 2018). Similarly, Bateman knows how to maintain a sociable and charming façade by surrounding himself with friends and coworkers who are just as wealthy and good-looking. While in public, the American psycho puts on a good show where he pretends to care about important issues in the world, which prompts him to brag about the business card he prints, hoping that it elevates his public image among his associates.
Another tendency Bateman displays is the disregard for his victim’s rights. A callous disregard for other people’s rights, especially victims, is the most devastating characteristic of people identified as psychopaths. The characteristic is often a propensity for violent and predatory behavior. Without shame, psychopaths charm and exploit other people for personal gains and self-satisfaction because they lack a sense of responsibility, and empathy, hence finding it easy to con, lie, and manipulate victims (Brazil et al., 2018).
In Bateman’s case, his irresponsibility and disregard for human rights are reflected in the unplanned tortures, sexual assaults, and murders he commits. As Elizabeth, one of Bateman’s victims, tries to flee, she discovers many female bodies besides the homeless man, the dog, the cat, and the policeman he kills, showing that he does not hesitate to take his life when he feels like it. The nature of the murders Bates Commits is consistent with extreme dispositions with the ruthless, callous, and self-serving treatment of others.
Bateman also displays a desire for simulation when he gets bored. The propensity to experience boredom is associated with an individual’s emotional shallowness and a robust stimulation-seeking urge (Balash & Falkenbach, 2018). With a temperament that always searching for excitement and lacking a genuine connection to others, psychopaths are quick to engage in antisocial behavior. Batemans is at most times bored and constantly seeking stimulation through violence, sexual assault, and drugs, with his impulsivity evident in the crimes he commits.
Among the theories that can be used to explain Bateman’s disorder is the Psychopathic Personality Theory. Psychopathy is defined from behavioral, dimensional, and categorical perspectives. The dimensional model considers the disorder as an extreme manifestation of a personality continuum, while the categorical view asserts that certain people are psychopathic while others are not (Porter et al., 2018). Contrarily, the behavioral perspective defines a personality disorder as the presence of a specific pattern of irresponsible and antisocial behavior, with individuals identified as psychopathic engaging in these tendencies.
Unlike the behavioral approach, the dimensional and categorical definitions depict psychopathy in relation to personality elements (Balash & Falkenbach, 2018). The description of a person as irresponsible, egocentric, impulsive, deceitful, pretentious, emotionless, and aggressive seems to identify Patrick Bateman as the type of person whose prediction of antisocial behavior tend to be accurate. The description makes it reasonable to treat Bateman as an individual with an antisocial personality disorder that often leads to reckless and criminal behavior, which mainly involves hurting victims.
Balash, J., & Falkenbach, D. M. (2018). The ends justify the meanness: An investigation of psychopathic traits and utilitarian moral endorsement. Personality and Individual Differences, 127, 127-132.
Brazil, I. A., van Dongen, J. D., Maes, J. H., Mars, R. B., & Baskin-Sommers, A. R. (2018). Classification and treatment of antisocial individuals: From behavior to biocognition. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 91, 259-277.
Porter, S., Woodworth, M. T., & Black, P. J. (2018). Psychopathy and aggression.