Here’s everything about the business cards in American Psycho:
The business card scene is a moment where high-powered investment bankers unintentionally ridicule themselves by comparing their business cards in an over-the-top fashion.
Bateman is obsessed with Paul Allen’s card because it is clearly the best card in the room.
This reflects Bateman’s insecurities in general.
So if you want to learn all about what the business cards in American Psycho are really about, then this article is for you.
Let’s jump right in!
What Is American Psycho?
If you aren’t already familiar, American Psycho is a movie that was released in 2000.
It stars Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman.
It’s a horror movie about an investment banker who ends up involved with a string of grizzly murders, and saying any more than that would ruin the movie.
The movie is based on a book of the same name.
While the movie and book largely cover the same content, there are discrepancies.
Today, I’m going to focus on the movie depiction, largely because it has visuals for the business card scene that add a lot to the discussion.
It’s worth noting that there will be spoilers in this content.
I don’t need to cover too much of the movie—everything is largely focused on the business card scene—but some aspects of Bateman cannot be discussed without risking spoilers.
Consider this your formal warning.
Who Is Patrick Bateman?
Now that I’ve covered the spoiler warning, we can talk a bit about Bateman.
He is the titular American psycho, and the story is very much about him and his psyche.
The story follows him as he goes on a brutal murder spree, only to reveal later that the murders might have only happened in his head.
By the end of the movie, the audience doesn’t know if Bateman is a murderer or just losing his mind, and neither does Bateman.
It’s left ambiguous on purpose, meaning that the movie is either about a brutal murderer or a man who is descending into madness.
Either way, he’s a bad person who faces no real consequences by the end of the story, and that’s the real point.
What Are the Business Cards in American Psycho?
Early in the movie, there is a scene where a handful of investment bankers compare their business cards.
It’s a surprisingly clever scene as it sets up much of the movie.
In this short scene, we learn a lot about the characters and the setting for the movie.
At the same time, the scene uses dark humor to poke fun of the source of the content: investment bankers in the 80s.
There’s a lot packed into just a few minutes of film, so perhaps I should take a minute to fully explain the scene in detail.
After that, we can get into what the scene really means and why it’s all presented the way it is.
The scene takes place relatively early in the movie.
Bateman is sitting at a conference table, and a few other guys in the office come and go during the moment.
In the very beginning, Paul Allen is there, confusing Bateman with someone else.
In a short conversation, Allen reveals that he has a prime reservation at the most sought-after restaurant.
He’s clearly the envy of everyone else in the room, and then he leaves.
It’s after that that Bateman pulls out his brand new business card to show off.
A group of men in the office look it over, and one by one, they each pull out their own business cards.
Each character talks up the card as he reveals it, discussing paper styles, colors, and fonts.
The scene culminates with the reveal of Allen’s card (and he’s still not there), where Allen proceeds to win the competition (again without even being present).
I’ll be breaking the scene down as we go, but if you haven’t seen it, it feels like the embodiment of the phrase “weird flex, but ok.”
Also, you can watch it here.
What Is the Deal With the Business Card Scene in American Psycho? (3 Things)
Now that we’re all on the same page and you know what happens in the scene, we can talk about meaning.
There’s actually a lot packed into this one moment in the movie.
The scene is able to make social commentary, reveal things about the setting and the characters, all while providing rather crafty dark humor.
#1 Insanity of the Workplace
Perhaps the strongest theme on display is that the business card scene is highlighting the insanity of the workplace.
This is a room full of people working in investment banking—a job notorious for excess and extremity, especially during the 80s.
The group of characters is so determined to outdo each other in every way that they are competing over who has the nicest business card.
Keep in mind that there are absolutely no standards guiding this competition.
If you watch the scene and can’t tell which card is supposed to be the nicest, that’s on purpose.
Yet, these characters are so bought into their workplace culture that they come to a unanimous agreement as to which card is the best.
It’s ridiculous on purpose, highlighting just how over the top this whole business can be.
#2 Making Fun of the Setting
At the same time, the scene takes a somewhat dark approach to mocking everything that is going on.
Each character is extremely proud and determined to be the alpha in the room.
They go to great lengths to distinguish themselves from their peers.
Yet, they fight over reservations at the same restaurants.
They all wear suits that look alike.
They even get similar haircuts from the same place.
The very topic of comparison—business cards—highlights complete conformity and a lack of creativity or individuality among the group.
All of the cards look the same, and somehow, they turn that into a competition about which of them has the best taste.
It’s ridiculous on purpose, and it openly mocks the mentality that was likely present in many investment banking firms over the years.
It’s an unflattering satire of the very setting it depicts.
#3 Character Representations
Even while the scene is highlighting and criticizing the setting, it is also providing subtle information about the different characters.
Well, it’s providing unsubtle information too.
Bateman narrates the whole scene, and we learn a lot about him and his perspective on things through that narration.
At the same time, we also learn about him and the other characters by looking at their business cards.
Each card gets a close up, and you can analyze a few things about the card and how it reflects the character who carries it.
Bateman’s is the most notable.
At a glance, it’s a rather plain and bland business card.
Black print on white paper does nothing to catch the eye or stimulate imagination.
It’s boring and fits into the background easily.
But on closer inspection, you can see that everything in the card is slightly off.
The lettering isn’t quite centered, and the card has a very subtle visual image that is tilted.
The lettering itself is also chosen in a way that Bateman’s name seems a bit tilted too.
All of the cards have the last name in all caps, but Bateman’s somehow looks slightly more extreme than the others.
It all hints toward his unhinged nature—hiding beneath the surface and not at all obvious from a first impression.
Why Is Patrick Bateman Obsessed With the One Business Card in Particular?
It’s interesting how much information we can glean from one scene and the business cards that are depicted, but there’s even more layered into this moment.
Even while the scene mocks the similarities between all of the men competing over business cards, there is one card that stands out from the pack.
When Allen’s card is revealed, every man in the competition recedes.
It’s unanimous that his card is the best, and many even pull their own cards out of view before the big reveal.
They knew who the winner was before even seeing the card.
As for Bateman, his response is downright visceral.
He nearly falls to his knees in stunned tears when he sees the card.
He spends the entire competition smugly assured that he has the best card (even though no one in the room agrees with that sentiment), but he can’t kid himself when he sees Allen’s card.
He admits defeat, which is very difficult for someone of his disposition.
The Reflection of Paul Allen
This whole thing is, of course, a reflection of Paul Allen and his relationship to Bateman.
Allen is the alpha.
He holds the higher position.
He has the nicer stuff.
He’s the envy of everyone in the office, including Bateman.
Bateman isn’t really obsessed with Allen’s business card; he’s obsessed with Allen.
He is simultaneously jealous of and threatened by Allen, and his ego has a hard time coping with those feelings.
Bateman can’t handle feeling inferior, but Allen makes him feel inferior almost incidentally.
The scene opens with Allen confusing Bateman with another character.
It’s not malicious on Allen’s part.
He simply looks down on Bateman so much that Allen can’t be bothered to keep his name straight.