American Psycho is a film that has sparked countless debates and discussions over the years. One of the most popular topics is whether or not the entire movie is just in the main character's imagination. However, as this podcast will explore, the "imagination theory" doesn't change the heart of the story. Instead, the film serves as a commentary on the vapidness of corporate America and the predatory nature of those in the financial industry. Through its surreal framework, American Psycho delivers a message about the culture of self-absorption and the consequences of ignoring the bigger picture.
The Surrealist Framework of American Psycho's Message
One aspect of American Psycho that is often discussed is the surreal quality of the film. The idea that nothing can be relied upon as reliable information adds to the overall feeling of disconnection between the characters. This disconnectedness represents the larger theme of the movie where people in high-status positions tend to ignore, misinterpret, and disregard events that don't affect their own personal pursuits.
The film mocks the superficiality of its characters by showing how their approach to life is all surface level. Their business cards, suits, drugs, and even their mental states are interchangeable. This stylized approach adds to the surrealist feel of the movie. It is as if the characters are part of a dream-like world, where nothing is quite as it seems. At the end of the day, the surrealist framework of the film serves as a vehicle to convey the larger message that our society is often so focused on its own personal pursuits, that it ignores the bigger picture.
The disappearance of Paul Allen is a prime example of this. While his coworkers do mention that he is gone, no one seems to investigate it further. It is as if the idea of him being missing is not important because it doesn't affect them personally. This further drives home the point that the characters' approach to life is all surface-level. Overall, the surrealist framework of American Psycho's message is a clever tool used to drive the film's larger themes home.
Why the "Imagination Theory" Is Just a Vehicle
Looking at films that use the "it's all a dream" trope, it seems like the dream theory in American Psycho is just a vehicle to showcase the predatory nature of people in the financial industry. It's not the focus of the story, and it doesn't really affect anything. The film doesn't pull a "gotcha" moment at the end, like some other movies have done, to completely undermine the entire story. Instead, it leaves things open to interpretation, but at the end of the day, it's still the same story about a psychopath in Wall Street.
The Culture of Self-Absorption
In corporate America, there is a culture of self-absorption, where people are more focused on appearing successful rather than actually being successful. This culture allows Patrick, the main character, to get away with his heinous actions, as nobody in the office knows each other's names, despite being surrounded by the same people every day. This culture of conformity and lack of individuality is also seen in the way everyone looks the same, from their suits to their haircuts and glasses. It begs the question of whether the corporate culture fosters the ability to commit such atrocities in plain sight.