Confession: I saw the movie first. When it was new–and have been a little bit obsessed with it for years. Who doesn’t find Christian Bale running down the hallway naked with a chainsaw and 80s white sneakers hilarious? Because if you don’t, I’m not sure we could be friends. I find that movie dark and a brilliant satire, yet hilarious. And I’m just now reading the book for the first time.
Here’s my conclusion. Bret Easton Ellis books are better as movies where they have to cut it down to 2 hours or less. Less Than Zero is fantastic. American Psycho is amazing. I even enjoyed Rules of Attraction even though a few of the scenes made me uncomfortable. I get the point he’s making in each film. But the point he makes in American Psycho the novel is, like Pat Bateman himself, too much.
I had to force myself to finish this book. I didn’t want to, but I felt like I owed it to the story to see it through to the end and do a true (albeit very late) comparison between the book and the movie. I had to see if the endings were in sync or if the screenwriters went in a different direction. It didn’t. This is not an exit. So subtle, yet so compelling.
Who knew a movie could be better than the book? This is the first time that’s happened for me. I even re-watched the movie after finishing the book to make sure I wasn’t looking through rose-colored glasses. I wasn’t. I guess it comes down to some of the incredibly disgusting things that Patrick does as part of his twisted existence is better seen visually instead of described in intricate detail. The subtly of the porn in the background, or the decapitated head in the freezer as he’s reaching for sorbet for another woman plays better than having page after page describe it in intimate detail.
There are flashes of greatness in the novel–and those were put right on the screen… almost word for word. What didn’t work for me was how overt the novel became. Much like the decade as the point of the satire, it was so excessive that it became tough to stomach. The themes of superficiality, emptiness, and flagrant showmanship with complete disregard for any accountability were all well made without the need to describe how he murders a child in front of its mother at Central Park Zoo while getting away with it.
The novel is 399 pages and I honestly think about 200 of them could have been cut while not losing the impact of the message. In fact, I would argue that the message gets destroyed a bit by the overabundance of the examples of Bateman’s insanity.
The obsession with status, with labels, and with the need to appear as though you’ve got your shit together in the decade of decadence and excess. The hollow pursuit, the emptiness with chasing what’s perceived to be important without questioning whether or not it matters to you–all there and still excellent points. But to me there’s an important difference between making a point and being gross. And the novel just goes into being gross for the sake of it.
If you’ve never read the novel, I wouldn’t recommend it. And I won’t be reading another one. But if you haven’t seen the movie–watch it, at least once. Yes, it’s technically horror, but it’s so much more and it’s brilliant. There is an idea of Patrick Bateman, but the man does not exist.
There is an idea of Bret Easton Ellis, but I think his existence is better with more editing.
However, I take issue with the backlash he received when the book came out. It seems too many people forgot that a character isn’t necessarily a true mirror of the author. And even if Pat Bateman was modeled after Ellis, as he later admitted, there’s such a thing as taking a set of characteristics to the absurd to make a point. Whatever, if you have a problem with it, don’t read it. Someone thought it was worth publishing so let’s not lose our heads.