One of the perennial debates around both the book & the movie American Psycho was how much of it was based in reality and how much was the hallucinations of a deluded psychopath. Having just reread the book and rewatched the movie, I have some rather strong opinions on the issue as it specificlaly relates to the movie.
My argument is that you first need to accept that American Psycho was 100% real in order to interpret what, I think is the most crucial scene in the movie, the real estate agent scene.
Consider, from the script:
INT. PAUL OWEN'S APARTMENT BUILDING - DAY Bateman walks into the lobby of Paul Owen's building. He has a surgical mask in one hand. DOORMAN What can I do for you, sir? BATEMAN 20B. DOORMAN Of course. Mrs. Wolfe is up there right now. BATEMAN Mrs. Wolfe? DOORMAN The real estate agent? You do have an appointment, don't you? Bateman steps out of the elevator and walks cautiously down the hallway. Owen's door is open. The apartment is freshly painted and has been immaculately redecorated in English country-house style: overstuffed sofas, lots of chintz. There are flowers everywhere, and a YOUNG YUPPIE COUPLE stands admiring the place talkingto the realtor, MRS. WOLFE. Bateman wanders down the hallway, looking for familiar signs. He stops at the closet where we last saw two dead girls hanging. He opens the door and the light switches on, but it is empty. Mrs. Wolfe approaches, smiling. MRS. WOLFE Are you my two o'clock? BATEMAN No. Mrs. Wolfe eyes him strangely, then looks down at the surgical mash clutched in his hand. Her expression changes. MRS. WOLFE Can I help you? BATEMAN I'm looking for...Paul Owen's...place. She stares at him impassively. BATEMAN Doesn't he live here? MRS. WOLFE No, he doesn't. BATEMAN Are you sure? MRS. WOLFE You saw the ad in the Times? BATEMAN No. Yes. I mean yes, I did. In the Times. But... doesn't Paul Owen still live here? MRS. WOLFE There was no ad in the Times. Bateman is shaking as they continue to stare at each other. MRS. WOLFE I think you should go now. BATEMAN But I think...I want to know what happened here. MRS. WOLFE Don't make any trouble. Please. I suggest you go. Bateman backs away slowly. MRS. WOLFE Don't come back. BATEMAN I won't...don't worry. Mrs. Wolfe glares at him as he walks down the hall, rattled, and gets into the elevator.
If you accept that everything in the movie thus far really happened, you can derive the correct backstory for the scene.
After a few months of lack of communication from Paul Allen, whatever bureaucratic gears would have swung in place for someone like Mrs Wolfe to go to Paul Allen’s apartment to check up on him. Upon arriving at the apartment, they would have been confronted with the exact scene that Christi, the hooker, would have seen in her frantic dash around the apartment, corpses hung in body bags in the closet, the words DIE YUPPIE SCUM scrawled in a guest bedroom.
Faced with this, visage, Mrs Wolfe (who’s name, btw, is inspired by Tom Wolfe) would have realized that reporting this to the police would cause enormous scandal and ruin the commercial value of that apartment, possibly the entire building. So instead, what she does is enact a coverup, dispose of the dead bodies herself, hire a cleaning crew to eliminate all traces of it having been a slaughterhouse and then cynically put it on the market for her own profit.
Understanding this going into the scene, you can see the nuances of the scene all point to this interpretation.
MRS. WOLFE Are you my two o'clock? BATEMAN No. Mrs. Wolfe eyes him strangely, then looks down at the surgical mash clutched in his hand. Her expression changes.
Mrs Wolfe has pieced it all together, this is the confirmation that this man was the one using this apartment as a slaughterhouse. She already knows what he did here.
BATEMAN I'm looking for...Paul Owen's...place. She stares at him impassively. BATEMAN Doesn't he live here? MRS. WOLFE No, he doesn't. BATEMAN Are you sure? MRS. WOLFE You saw the ad in the Times? BATEMAN No. Yes. I mean yes, I did. In the Times. But... doesn't Paul Owen still live here? MRS. WOLFE There was no ad in the Times.
She’s caught him out in a lie, she’s told him that she’s well aware of who he is and she isn’t afraid of him, not even a little.
MRS. WOLFE I think you should go now. BATEMAN But I think...I want to know what happened here. MRS. WOLFE Don't make any trouble. Please. I suggest you go. Bateman backs away slowly. MRS. WOLFE Don't come back. BATEMAN I won't...don't worry. Mrs. Wolfe glares at him as he walks down the hall, rattled, and gets into the elevator.
This coded conversation becomes crystal clear once you know what each of them knows about each other. It would be more convenient for the both of them if they both pretended not to know what happened here.
Any other interpretation of the scene simply can’t explain this intricate and highly coded conversation.
There are many scenes in the movie which expose the reactions of other people in society to Patrick Bateman’s actions but this is by far the most direct. And it’s purpose in the movie is to show that, no matter how horrified we are with Patrick Bateman as a person, his evilness is overshadowed by the banal evilness of the society he lives in. The movie continually reminds you of the suffering brought about by his America, yuppie America, Reagan’s America. The homeless on the streets, drug abuse & social decay. Mrs Wolfe is the exemplification of this yuppie America that Patrick Bateman is also a part of and, when confronted face to face with it, Patrick’s own psychopathic behaviors are not only controlled, they are trivialized. Mrs Wolfe is, by far, the most evil character in American Psycho.
By viewing the story through this lens, you see that Patrick Bateman’s psychopathic behaviors merely serve as a foil to bring the rest of society into stark relief. Luis Carruthers being more interested in the overnight bag than the corpse inside of it, Evelyn self-absorbed ignoring Bateman’s confessions of mass murder, The absurd status games played with restaurant reservations.
But in order to preserve this interpretation of the world, you must believe in the consistency of the world presented. If you are to argue that anything that happens is hallucinatory, then it robs the entire social satire of it’s impact. Hence, I argue, the only correct way to interpret American Psycho is as a completely faithful telling in order to preserve it’s integrity as a movie.