The film, which was directed by Mary Harron and written by Guinevere Turner, explores many themes such as toxic masculinity, the wealth divide, white privilege, and sexism. In many ways, these themes are more relevant today. Some films do get better with age, and while American Psycho is very dated in terms of scenery, dialogue, and setting, the core themes of the film really bring to light issues that plague modern society.
The film's primary antagonist, the sycophant financial investor Patrick Bateman, is played in an over-the-top parody of itself by Christian Bale. Bale is known for his incredible ability to completely immerse himself into any role. Without this level of commitment, the film likely wouldn't have been so successful. Bateman's character is the cornerstone of what makes American Psycho so great because of how utterly terrifying the character is, and even more so upon a return watch. The film spawned a flop of a sequel (that didn't include Bateman's character at all) and even inspired a musical.
American Psycho Explores Toxic Masculinity
The setting of 1990s, upper crust New York City is the perfect background for a film about toxic masculinity. While that's not the only focal point of American Psycho, Bateman and his associates are all greasy, ingratiating financial investors who are in competition with one another to get the hottest women, the biggest promotions, and the most prestige. A whole scene is dedicated to Bateman and his colleagues comparing and analyzing each others' business cards to determine whose is the most aesthetically appealing.
Image is everything, as is referenced by an opening sequence where Bateman describes his exhaustive morning routine which involves special beauty treatments, exercise, and other methods to keep himself looking sharp and worthy of commingling with powerful executives. Even Bateman's relationship with his fiancé, Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon) seems to be ornamental since she's young, beautiful, and comes from a good pedigree. She, like everything else in his life, reflects his status and privilege. The interior of Bateman, the viewer learns, is entirely hollow.
Bateman is eventually driven to murder, first out of rage after being shown up by a colleague (Jared Leto), and later when he murders that same colleague so he can gain an advantage by, literally, snuffing out his competition. Bateman also engages in risky sex with prostitutes, who he harms physically after video-taping them to stroke his ego.
He is a textbook sociopath, but the film implies that he's also a product of his environment, where men are not only encouraged to take what they want without apology, but are demanded to do so in order to be successful.
Patrick Bateman Is Worse By Today's Standards
In today's world, the #MeToo movement is focused around survivors of abuse banding together to take down this outdated, patriarchal worldview and combat oppressive, toxic masculinity. Many of the men who have been ousted by the movement are reminiscent of Bateman and his colleagues. They abuse women because they can, they do whatever they need to do to climb the corporate ladder, and offer no apology for their bad - and occasionally illegal - behaviors. While he was most certainly awful twenty years ago, he's worse by today's standards.
Interestingly enough, while the novel was written by a man, the film was both written and directed by women. Director Mary Harron didn't shy away from exploring gender inequalities and the brutality of privileged men who think they can get away from murder. While the ending is ambiguous about whether Bateman actually committed murders (and got away with them), the notion he's a legend in his own mind and able to do anything his heart desires because of his privilege should speak to why he's a villain and a clear contender for one of the worst in film history, even if he didn't shed a single drop of blood.