By Amy Catano |
In Bret Easton Ellis’s novel American Psycho (1991), Patrick Bateman is the insanely neurotic antihero who must have the best of the best. Among his many material possessions, he owns an apartment on the Upper West Side that should be sufficiently capable of causing envy among his peers. When I decided to explore the neighborhood where his apartment, on 55 West 81st Street, was located, I automatically understood why Patrick Bateman wanted to live in such a posh locality. The soothing talk of stocks and numbers dotted the street—music to a Wall Street executive’s ears. There were various fine eateries in the neighborhood in case one needed to schedule a quick power lunch or dinner, or perhaps an after work drink. People walked their dogs, talking in low hushed voices. Other residents enjoyed a quick jog with a view of amazing architecture, with security cameras to ensure that their jog was a safe one. Every building had a doorman, every lobby a high chandelier. As I traveled east towards Columbus Avenue, one of the cross-streets for Bateman’s address, the sidewalk was lined with brownstones with an expansive array of classic outdoor décor, such as vines. The Upper West Side resident does not pay only for the actual roof over one’s head in this neighborhood, but for the surrounding roofs and people sheltered by them. For a meticulous consumer like Patrick, the building in which he lived—appropriately named “American Gardens” as it would have had a view of the gardens of the Museum of Natural History—had everything except a view over Central Park, which is what Patrick really envies. True to his nature, he bought the second best thing within his reach.
Visiting Bateman’s fictional stomping grounds was a nice, quick vacation for me, traveling from my loud, overcrowded Washington Heights neighborhood. The exclusive address, 55 West 81st Street, is a symbol of the financial aristocracy Patrick Bateman is attempting to join. In both the 1991 novel and the 2000 cult classic film adaptation, he flaunts his address as much as possible. The allure of the address is the assumed superiority of those that inhabit the neighborhood. Residents are safe to assume that their neighbors are well-behaved, affluent citizens. 55 West 81st Street and Bateman’s need for it to have value to those that surround him are just one of the many things that drive our novel’s main character into an imaginary world. In order to fit in with his peers, profession, and life that he has planned out for himself, he must continually acquire material belongings. The more exclusive, expensive, and elusive the object is, the greater value it has for our exorbitant Mr. Bateman. However, this materialistic obsession causes Bateman to commit criminal acts, unbeknownst to his neighbors. The novel centers on how Bateman’s mania for fitting in with a certain social circle drives him to a psychotic break. The most ironic twist I discovered is that, just like the fictional Bateman, his address does not exist— “American Gardens” is actually “The Gatsby” located at 51 W. 81st Street.
The director Mary Harron does an excellent job of bringing Ellis’ creationto life in the film adaptation of the novel. From Bateman’s mutterings to his meticulous fidgeting, or fretting, Harmon brings to life Ellis’s words. Played by Christian Bale, Bateman is a fussy, overzealous, tightly strung man who gets angry over the shade and letter stylization of his peers’ business cards (Ellis 44-45, Harron). The routine and pompous attitude that Bateman exudes is replicated in the on-screen adaptation. Most importantly, Harron is able to replicate the personal importance of Bateman’s address. When he first states his address to the detective investigating him, the detective simply says, “nice” (Ellis 270). This monosyllable causes Bateman to smile from ear to ear. His address is important and fancy enough to be recognized by the average man. However, as mentioned above, it has its flaws. It is not in the best of locations. Bateman can always do better. In the film, he mentions to his secretary, when she compliments his apartment as he looks out the window, that while it is indeed great, it could use a view of the park. He also believes that just like him, his apartment deserves respect. When his old crony Elizabeth asks for the address and Bateman responds with the building’s name and she again asks for the physical address, he feels an immense amount of disdain towards her (Ellis 286). It is the moment that seals her fate.
The posh “American Gardens” may be a fictional entity, but the very real dream of “having it all” is a message that still echoes into our generation from 1991. Ellis’ message of ridiculous material goals that must be attained in order to be socially acceptable still plagues the masses. Children must know four languages before the age of five and their grades must be exceptional in elementary school to get into any of the best colleges. Adults must own all the cars and all the houses in order to be considered somewhat successful. Our society is one of wants, but you do not always really need them. Therefore, sometimes our wants become a figment of our imagination. Welcome to the new American Dream—the American Psychosis.
American Psycho. Dir. Mary Harron. Perf. Christian Bale, Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas. 2000. On Demand.
Ellis, Bret Easton. American Psycho: A Novel. New York: Vintage, 1991. Print.