The Toast | Book vs Movie: American Psycho

A year ago, I traveled to Europe for a week and a half. I had only brought A Clockwork Orange to read (see my previous movies post to witness my undying love for this book), and of course, I blew through it in a couple of days. I was in Berl

in, Germany when I finished the book, and the hostel I was staying out happened to have a book exchange. Out of the novels they had, the only one I was interested in reading was a battered copy of American Psycho. On the inside of the front cover, the book’s original owner had started a list of its travels, to be updated by each person who read it. Pretty cool, no? This book was bought in Dublin, Ireland by one Denis Cosgrove (who I have yet to locate), found in Malapascua Island in the Philippines, and brought to Germany, where I became its second owner. It is now sitting on my bookshelf in Woodside, New York. When the time is right, I’ll leave it for someone else to read.

Enough of the gooey stuff though. It’s time for the second weekly installment of book vs. movie. In the red trunks we’ve got the 2000 bloody film American Psycho, directed by Mary Harron, and in the even redder trunks we’ve got the 1991 novel American Psycho. Both focus on Patrick Bateman, a wealthy investment banker who lives in 1980s New York. Bateman constantly name-drops and describes the vapid characters around him as they spend incredible amounts of money, snort cocaine, and are otherwise consumed by meaningless conversations. Bateman realizes he is stuck in this shallow world, and he hates himself and the people around him for it. Yet, he has no empathy for those who are less fortunate than he is either. His hate is non-discriminate—it branches out to the poor, minorities, and homosexuals. He begins murdering people, comparing it with works of art. At the end of both works, we’re left with the question: was it real, or all in his head? Very much a satirical view on consumerist America, we can relate and utterly despise Bateman at the same time.

 

  • Both the film and movie follow this general storyline, but there are key differences between the two. First off, the film is much, much, much more watered down than the book is. This is understandable, considering it probably would have never seen the light of day had it followed the novel word for word. Ellis’s descriptions are downright sickening. I was reading a section on Bateman mutilating two prostitutes while sitting next to an old lady on a plane, and I thought I was going to have a heart attack every time she looked over. While the film does have some disturbing moments, they are nothing compared to Ellis’s highly detailed descriptions in the book. Some of them are still so vivid in my mind after reading this book years ago—like Bateman slicing open a living dog’s belly, and its guts spilling out onto the sidewalk. As far as violence in works of art goes, I’m personally in the camp that there is never too much. I believe that art is a tool to show us how wretched or how good the human spirit is, and the description that Ellis gives allows us to see firsthand how truly horrible a person can be. Even though we live in a society where violence in entertainment is key, we’re generally shielded from the truly sickening stuff. The book is a real eye-opener in that sense. +1 Ellis

  • My second point isn’t so much a difference as it is a commendation. The casting of Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman was absolutely perfect. No one else could have done a better job. You could have put young Marlon Brando in a time machine, and I’m certain he wouldn’t have been able to encapsulate the character as well as Bale did. He’s handsome and has that perfect balance of charisma and crazy that makes him perfect for the role. However, I wasn’t a huge fan of the rest of the casting. Reese Witherspoon would be the last person I picked as Evelyn, Bateman’s fiancée. She didn’t encapsulate all of Evelyn’s yuppie bitchiness. And even though I love Chloe Sevigny, I thought she didn’t do her character justice either. Bale made up for it all anyway though. +1 Harron

  • Last of all, Mary Harron totally got the tone of the book right when she made the film. Although it comes off a bit more b-movie-ish cheesy, it still works. The novel is cheesy, too, but in a more intellectual way, if that makes sense. The film still encapsulates the uncomfortable and off-putting nature of Bateman, which I really enjoyed. This is accomplished by most of the voiceovers and dialogue being spoken verbatim from the book. I also liked that the film looked like it was made in the late eighties or early nineties, which is when the book is set. Even though Harron obviously couldn’t fit every scene from the book in the movie, she tries to reference them either in dialogue or in some other way. One example of this is Patrick’s doodlings—he draws murders that take place in the book, but not in the film. +1 Harron

This time around, Harron took the gold home with her excellent adaptation. Of course, Bret Easton Ellis is the true champion for penning this thought-provoking book in the first place, but watching the movie if you’re not the book-reading type wouldn’t be too misleading. Stay tuned for next week, and duke it out in the comments if you don’t like the outcome!

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