Wednesday, March 14, 2012

American Psycho Film and Book Analysis

The character of Patrick Bateman is a character who sulks in a deeply rooted hatred of himself. He hates himself because he knows exactly the kind of shallow, empty person that he’s become and he recognizes the kind of shallow empty society he is a part of. Bateman is depicted as the epitome of the soulless Yuppie from the 80’s, the kind that had money to burn, and things to buy, buy, buy! The kind that only cares about being in tune with the height of fashion, wearing the latest trends, the most expensive brands, the best of the best.

Yuppie in deed!

This fantastic character was first presented in Bret Easton Ellis’ novel ‘American Psycho’ a novel that was equal times hated and equal times revered. The book presents us with a savage portrayal of a 27 year old man who makes his living working on Wall Street in a company called Pierce and Pierce. He’s into “merger’s and acquisitions”, though when he’s hitting on girls in clubs he tells them he’s into ‘murders and mutilations’, a comment that falls on deaf ears because nobody really listens to themselves in this shallow society, they’re just going through the motions. The book is a wild satire, and when read with the right mindset can be seen as a hilarious commentary on consumerist society.

Bret Easton Ellis

Still, there’s no denying that this is essentially a book about a guy who goes around killing innocent people because he doesn’t agree with who they are. It’s a book about a guy who hates himself and the world he lives in so much, that he simply has to murder all those whom he considers a detriment to society. And when he kills people, the descriptions in the book are truly awful. I mean this guy really goes down on his chosen victims. Perhaps you’ve seen the film and know a bit of what I’m talking about, but the book is so much more graphic then the film ever was. There are certain differences from book to film; for example, in the film Bateman’s apartment is squeaky clean, in the book his apartment is filled with human parts all over the place, bodies decaying, blood splattered on the walls…on the film they minimized this in favor of augmenting the characters obsessive cleanliness. We do see a severed head inside of his refrigerator, and he does have a couple of bodies decaying at Paul Allen’s apartment, but it’s not like in the book where it’s Bateman’s apartment that is the center of all the mayhem. In fact, in the book he has an extra apartment in Hell’s Kitchen where he decomposes bodies in acid. I did like how in the film Bateman mentions the Hell’s Kitchen apartment, though it is never shown on the film, it kind of let us know that the filmmakers knew the book very well, they just couldn’t film everything.

Director Mary Harron and Christian Bale talk out a scene

In fact, fans of the book might get a kick at how even though the film doesn’t show ever single situation and murder committed in the book, at the very least they are referenced and alluded to all through out the film. For example in one scene Bateman mentions that he killed “some old fagot with a dog” which is one of the more graphic and controversial deaths in the book. When Jean, Bateman’s receptionist finds a notebook that Bateman scribbles and doodles on, if you freeze frame those scenes, you can see that the doodles Bateman’s made on his little notebook are doodles of the murders that actually happen in the book, but we don’t see on film. Obviously they were too horrible to appear in the film, and I get that. It’s true, some of the murders described in the book are way too graphic and over the top. After all, we are talking about a novel that’s been banned in many countries, never sold to anyone under 18 in others, and sold only in shrink wrap in others!  I don’t blame the people of Germany for considering this book to be “harmful to minors”; this my friends is a truly violent book!

But were not talking about a simple slasher film here that makes heroes out of the bad guys, this is a film that means to comment on real issues dealing with the world were living in. The book and the film never show Bateman’s behavior as being good or positive or as something to emulate or admire; in fact, it is made quite clear that he is loosing it, that he is psychotic and dangerous to society and to himself, bottom line is, this is not a happy man. On more than one occasion the character actually recognizes his psychotic behavior. During a pivotal scene of the film he admits to his lawyer that he is a “pretty sick guy”, and during another scene he tells someone “I like to dissect girls. Did you know I’m utterly insane?”  Bateman actually recognizes the fact that he is going insane, but it’s as if he could do nothing to stop it from happening. So it’s not like the film is making Bateman into some sort of a hero. What he is in my opinion, is a victim of the world he lives in. Society has created a monster, it’s driven him insane with its blatant consumerism, the racism that he’s been brought up in and the superficiality of society; the importance given to physical beauty as opposed to internal beauty and countless other things that make up the world we live in. Patrick Bateman -the monster- is loose on the streets of Manhattan and it wants payback for what he’s been turned into! Another way to look at this character is that he is judging society for what it has become. This is the kind of film where we don’t side with the protagonist; what we’re meant to do is watch him degenerate and descend into madness and then learn from the reasons that sent him there.

Going utterly insane!

Various things drive Bateman insane, among them his intense hatred for homosexuals. Though this was ignored in the film, he murders an old gay guy who starts hitting on him while walking through Central Park. By the way, Bateman also kills the old mans dog by strangling it to death. Maybe Bateman would be happier if he’d been taught to co-exist with different kinds of people? He is also portrayed as a hippy hater, always considering them to be less than him, the less fortunate are that way because they want to be, he has no sympathy at all for others. He makes fun of other ethnicity's when he considers them lower than him. One moment in the book has Bateman going into a club and making fun of a group of black people by trying to talk the way he thinks they talk; it’s safe to say that part of Batemans unhappiness comes from his blatant racism. Bateman hates the homeless for not doing something about their lives; again, no sympathy. He hates how fake his co-workers are. They never call him by his real name, a common theme through out both the book and the movie. This is the kind of world in which people don’t really know people, so they never really know each others names! They keep confusing each other with other people, which gels perfectly well with the fact that Bateman feels he has no actual distinguishable personality. He knows Huey Lewis and the News entire discography, he knows everything about Genesis and Whitney Houston (whole chapters of the book are dedicated to this knowledge) but he doesn’t know himself, he doesn’t know who he is. He is physically fit, but not emotionally or psychologically mature.

Bateman tries finding love in his life, but all he can achieve is sex, and he manages to turn even that into a sick and twisted affair of the most aberrant kind. In the film Batemans sexual encounters are not as graphic because again: what’s described in the book is way to visceral to film. Same as the violence, the sexual situations described in the book are totally out there and described in detail. Bateman actually ends up having sex with a dismembered head if you can believe it! The sexual elements are so strong in the book, that the filmmakers had to edit 18 seconds out of a scene involving a threesome just so it could get an ‘R’ rating instead of an ‘NC-17’; if they had actually filmed the sexual situations seen in the book, the film would have never seen the light of day. Reading those sequences was like watching a sick twisted porn flick where all those involved get dismembered in the end.  Hell, in the novel Bateman actually eats some of his victims! This is yet another big difference between the film and the book. In the film they only allude to Batemans cannibalism, while on the book it is described in splendid detail.

What would this film be without Christian Bale? I mean, I don’t think a better actor could have been chosen. Do you think Di Caprio could have pulled this film off with as much vulnerability and rage and insanity as Bale did? I seriously doubt it, but Di Caprio was considered for the role. What's great about Bales performance is that he really goes nuts in some scenes, my personal favorite is the one where he does his phone confession, he really talks and acts as if he was crazy. He also plays it with this sense of comedy, you kind of get the feeling that Bateman is actually making fun of people through out his life, mocking them, which in my opinion he is. Aside from Batemans stone cold performance, we have Willem Defoe playing a New York detective who has a hunch that Bateman might be the one behind all the killings. Dafoe's character was expanded for the film, he isn’t in the book as much. Chloe Sevigny plays Batemans innocent and naïve receptionist, she is so in love with Bateman that she doesn’t even see his dark side or she chooses to ignore it. The whole cast of young actors that make up Batemans body of co-workers is fantastic as well: Jared Leto, Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas, all great in my book. They really captured that fake superficial lifestyle and attitude. Reese Witherspoon plays the gloriously ditzy air head of a girlfriend that Bateman has. She ignores that their relationship is non existent and instead chooses to plan their wedding.

All in all, I’d say the film captures very well the essence of the book. Though it does leave a lot of things out, it is completely understandable considering just how graphic the book can be. I mean, one moment in the book has Bateman actually capturing a kid in a zoo and killing him in the shadows! He later accepts that there is no joy in killing a child because the child has no history or life experiences to extinguish, which is the pleasure he gets from killing adults. But damn, even I say that moment was a bit too much! So the film is basically a more “controlled” version of the book that manages to say what the book has to say as well, it comments on the same issues, but it does so in a slightly more constrained manner. Still, the movie does have its extremely bloody, violent and sexual moments, just not as graphic as in Ellis’ novel. Director Mary Harron delivered a stylish and slick looking film, appropriately cold looking. She squeezed out a magnificent performance from Bale! And kudos to Harron, this is a woman directing a film about a guy who treats woman with complete disdain; it took guts for a woman to make this film. I also applaud Easton Ellis for writing such a great yet misunderstood book, the themes and issues commented on the book needed to be addressed and Ellis was not afraid to do it; here’s a writer with some true guts to say what has to be said about the kind of society we’ve turned into. Can we look at our collective fractured psyches and fix things up a bit?  

Rating for the Book: 5 out of 5
Rating for the Film: 5 out of 5  


Jack Thursby said...

Yeah, I remember studying this book at university for Post-modern Literature. It's very brutal. A girl in my class actually just walked out after reading the first chapter.

It's a difficult read but you've got to detach yourself somewhat from the violence to understand the pitch black humour Ellis is getting at underneath.

The film was probably as close as you could get to adapting the book without going completely obscene. Bale gave a first class performance - utterly fake and completely unhinged.

Apparently Liongate are currently considering a micro-budget remake? The mind boggles what that's going to be like.

For me, I always preferred Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City - similar-ish message but no violence. Guess I just have a weak stomach.

Unknown said...

Yeah, I have to go with Jack on this one and prefer McInerney's BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY. Good book and the film version is actually quite well done.

It's been ages since I've read the novel but like the film isn't most of what we're seeing largely taking place in Bateman's fevered imagination? This seems esp. apparent in the film towards the end when Bateman starts killing security guards and cops and getting away with it! The film intentially goes over the top and become unrealistic because it is Bateman's mind that is unraveling. At least, that's what I always figured.

Franco Macabro said...

Jack: I actually got the pitch black humor in the whole thing, that scene at the christmas party, with the christmas dwarves was pretty funny, but also the satyre of the yuppie lifestyle. The violence in that book was so crazy, that I literally couldnt believe some of the words I was reading, that moment involving a hungry rat...and a girl that was nailed to a floor...boy that was totally nuts.

A remake of this? Wow, I wonder how they think they can improve on that film, its so great the way it is. STill, I have to admit, curiosity doesnt escape me.

I need to read and the book for Bright Lights Big City, and I'll try and get my hands on the film soon as well, thanks for the recommendations.

J.D.: Yeah, it's all in his mind. There's a moment when he realizes that Paul Allen isnt dead, that he never killed him and that he imagined the whole thing. AGree, that scene does go over the top to let us know it isnt real, especially with helicopters hovering about his apartment and police cars blowing up like that! I think this is the reason why he looks at his gun so surprisingly, as if saying "wow, this little gun blew up that police car like that?"

I guess that was the directors way of pointing out the absurdity.

Elwood Jones said...

"American Psycho" was the book which sparked my love affair with Bret Easton Ellis's work, though the key thing here is how it highlights the differences in censorship between books and cinema.

As you rightfully pointed out the book is spectacularly brutal and graphic in places, even though it's first death doesn't happen to around the 100 page mark and
perhaps it was the love that I had for novel, which made it so hard for me to get into the film version, unlike "The Rules of Attraction" which I felt tied in more to the book than "American Psycho" did.

Still Christian Bale truly embodied Patrick Bateman for me

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks for commenting Elwood:

It started my love for his books as well, I went and bought Less than Zero and Imperial Bedrooms. Looking forward to reading those.

Speaking about the books first pages, I loved it, you really get to know about Bateman's empty life before the killing starts.

Many things were left out, a lot more stuff went on in that christmas party, what about the scene in the end of the book, when the taxi driver recognizes him and then sticks him up? Awesome scene!

The scene with the child in the, that was a scene that I thougth was hard to read, the worst part is that when the public finds the child, and the mother starts to scream over her dead child, Bateman then passes himself for a doctor to get a look at what he did to the kid, grueling to read..

Ultimately the film feels like a fast forward neater version than the book. The descriptions of Batemans apartment where so much grittier and nastier than what was shown in the movie, in the book the apartment resembles a bloody mess fom a Hellraiser the film it's all spick and span.

Anonymous said...

My girlfriend just had me watch this movie. At the end she declared: "see, he just gets away with all those murders!" I didn't want to argue about it but I had been thinking he imagined the last few murders towards the end when he was clearly losing it, with the police cars exploding, and the helicopter outside. And I could've sworn he killed the same bellman twice in the lobby of his building. Yet I have not read the book, does he actually kill anyone at all or is it all in his head?

Franco Macabro said...


Anonymous: To my understanding, he didn't kill anyone at all, it was always, all in his head. It's what he wishes he had done with the evils of society, but never had the guts to do because as he's attorney later tells him, he's too much of a coward to do anything like that.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure it's up to you if the murders were committed or not. I think the point is that it DOESN'T MATTER if they were or not. You don't have to change the story for it to work either way, either outcome is perfectly plausible.

Franco Macabro said...

True ultimately it doesn't matter if he killed the people or not, the movie makes it points either way, which is really what matters at the end of the day, that the message intended by the author and the filmmakers is put across. They succeeded in criticizing an empty, self centered society.

CineCefalo said...

I think the music Bateman talks about is very important to understand the spirit of the yuppie culture: the spirit of emptiness.
One thing has always struck me: he loves Genesis, but Genesis in the Phil Collins-era, because in the Peter Gabriel-era Genesis were "too artsy, intellectual". I think this is a clue: there's no place for art and creativity in Bateman's book, there is room only for emptiness. Look at the music he loves: Huey and the Lewis? Whitney Houston? For me, useless music, absolutely meaningless. And Bateman wants to give this music a dignity it hasn't, speaking randomly about love, self-preservation, commitment and social issues. He tries to fill a void impossible to fill, not only with himself, but also with anything that surrounds him.

Franco Macabro said...

@Anorak: I agree with you on this, that is certainly one way of looking at it. Bates encyclopedic knowledge of 80's pop music is obsessive, I guess it was also meant to show how pointless and lonely his life had become.

Also, the whole consumerism angle, he buys the latest electronical gadgets (like cd players where at the time) and knows all the latests artists (at the time) and yet he is a complete inept in social skills, he cannot co exist well with others.

Thanks for your comment!

Anonymous said...

I think there were multiple personalities. Bateman was the main personality but the detective and the lawyer are other personalities. I think Paul Allen and all of his "friends" are his own personality. I also think christy was him also

Franco Macabro said...

Interesting way of looking at it.

Anonymous said...

I like your book to movie comparison. Though I am surprised that no one commented on the protagonists selfhatred. Yes, he is a racist, a misogynist, an over the top superficial person with no compassionate bone in his body (or so it seems), but more than anything, he loathes himself.

Bateman hates that he is part of an empty society where people are mere mannequins. His murders are all connected to his selfhatred.

He kills people that are exactly like him, thus getting rid off the driving forces of the 80s yuppie society. At the same time he is also a victim of said society, not being able to activly change himself and his surroundings. That's the reason why he kills homeless people and gays. He sees himself (his rola as a victim) in them. The child murder can also be interpreted as pity murder because he does not want someone to grow up to be him.

At the end, the only person he can't bring himself to kill is Jean because she is everything he would love to be. She is the only character with a personality and the only hope for a better society, if you will.

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks for commenting Anonymous, Bateman certainly hates himself, because he is one of them, one of the yuppies with too much money and too many drugs.

Superficial people, nobody even knows each others real names. This is a really amazing novel, it does go over the top at times, but were talking about a real psycho here, it aint going to be pretty!

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks for bringing up that theme too, it's the very theme the article starts out with, how much Bateman hates himself, the novel is like a mirror of society. It forces you to analyze yourself and makes us wish we never end up like these guys, souless yuppies who only care about the latest trend, the best brands, the slickest cars...but really being worthless as human beings, selfish creatures.

Anonymous said...

Backing up what anonymous said previously about Patrick and his friends being the same person, as they exchange business cards in the movie they all have the same job title "vice president".

Anonymous said...

Hi I just finished the book and only read it because one of my favorite actor Matt Smith from Doctor Who is playing Patrick in the musical version of the film. That been said I have to admit that the book in itself was a bit, ugh, if I can be quite honest on some of the torture scenes [the nail gun scene, rat scene and eating the girl] really wigged me out and if you don't know what wigged out means, that means feel really out of place and made it so I couldn't really eat anything afterwards. Anyone else fell this way after reading those part or any parts in general.

Now on with why I wanted to comment in the first place. I have to admit that this book really set me off that I am donating it to the library so it is out of my house. I know that seems weird but if I don't do it, I'll keep re-reading the torture scenes [mainly because I am a minor myself and want to learn how to write in a more detailed way] and that's not normal. Do know if anyone else noticed but Patrick when he killed his ex gf Bethany that he was a bit "easy" on her when he killed her, not like the hookers and random girls. Wouldn't you think he's be a bit more torturous with his ex because he actually knew her and had a history.

I will admit the kid being killed was a bit much. I mean damn, how did no one see it, I know it was in the shadows, but come on, that's why I feel it WAS in his head. The rat scene was a bit much I mean damn that was just downright mean and necessary but I understand that the author needed to have a different tactic in killing someone but damn that guy needs Jesus. lol The scene where he skinned the girl and fucked her severed head was something that a real serial killer would do so that to me felt like it was in his head. And if Patrick really was a neat freak he wouldn't have done that to his apartment. I mean he loves his suits and all his important things so I don't really think he would really do that to his own material possessions.

The scene where he kills the gay guy with the dog, that had to be in his head cause he is on a busy New York street and just kills a dog and man and no one notices, I know NYC is the city where people don't really pay attention and I know it was the 80s but it doesn't matter what decade someone will notice and report it to the police.

The randomness of the details of the story was a bit weird. Like the part where he put vaginas on benches at the Gym, I mean no one is going to report that? Yeah right.

I have to admit that I didn't think this book would be THAT violent, oh sure the Paul getting axed and the two whores that get killed [that were in the film] I knew those would be in the book but I just thought it would be a kill here, a kill there, not this much senseless violence. Of course the book is called American Psycho so you have to expect some gory scenes because it's called American Psycho not American Sensible-Well Adjust Serial Killer.

One last thing before I go. The book was really written even with the graphic scenes, if it wasn't, we wouldn't be commenting about it, right? The film when I watched it the first time I liked it, but it wasn't the best film ever made. I did enjoy Christian Bale's performance as Patrick which was very entertaining even if it was demented.

Thanks for reading my comment.
Melissa aka Taya
Richmond Va

Franco Macabro said...

Taya: I hear ya, this book can be a bit much at times, I mean, there's a reason why it's banned in so many countries, and sold in a plastic bag in others; definetly not a book for everyone, much less minors. I mean that scene with the art...god that was definetly the top of the gross on a book filled with many gross scenes. I could understand it if people threw this book away after reading it, or simply stopped reading it all together. I guess it's for those brave souls who can distinguish fact from fiction, and those who can read between the lines and actually capture the themes it's trying to put across, which at the end of the day is what really matters in a book like this one.

But yeah, the film also points to it all happening on his mind, I agree.

Anonymous said...

Love the book, read it dozens of times. utterly perfect and captures my soul.

Bence Bardos said...

The film might be entertaining but it is way oversimplified. It's not only the fact that lots of scenes are left out (and not just the rape/murder/torture scenes, a few important aspects like his relationship with his mother and brother too). Also, needs more repetition, more restaurants, more clubs, more shallow conversations since that is the main reason behind his madness, the monotony of society. The ending is quite simplified too. It doesn't really have that confusion about Bateman being an unreliable narrator, it settles with the fact that he's not caught. In the book it's different, we can't be sure if he's a real serial killer or just demented. The comparison of Bateman and the music he listens to is very true. About multiple personalities - I think the opposite is more relevant, the thought that there is no Bateman at all. He is just a void with a mask of a personality, an image hiding that he doesn't exist. He's more of an allegory than a real person, reflecting society.

If you are interested, here's my analysis and comparison (I preferred the book):

Franco Macabro said...

Agree with you Bence, the book does over simplify things, but I guess this is to be expected in a book to film translation, things have to be left out and edited, or else we'd have a four hour long movie. Still, for the most part I think the film did a good job of translating the book. Like you, I also preferred the book, it's a richer, fuller (and substantially more demented) experience.

Unknown said...

Really great read, i especially liked the hints at Marxism that he can't help but be a product of his design/society. I'm doing an English Literature essay on the book about whether "American Psycho is a condemnation of capitalist society/ideas?" and if so to what extent. Any suggestions of key sections in the book which anyone thinks would be good?

Franco Macabro said...

I think it is a condemnation of capitalist society. It's a society where everyone has tons of money, they have all this excess, yet they don't even know each others names properly, nobody listens to anybody. I guess the comment being that the byproduct of capitalist society are shallow, selfish people who only care about their own personal benefit, and screw the other guy. This is why there's always a competition as to who has the better presentation card, who has the best suit, shoes, clothes...the byproduct of capitalist society is people who care more about things then themselves. You gotta destroy the competition in capitalism, nothing exemplifies this better than the chapters when Patrick Bateman chops up Paul Allen with his axe, simply because Paul Allen was his biggest competitor professionally.

Hope this comments help, sorry about the delay! And thanks for reading and commenting!

Unknown said...

I like them both. If they would put every little detail on tbe movie it would be caos! People are weak.
I feel bad for the character but at the same time Damn that dude be craycray. Both were amazing! And both were detailed in their way.
Great review as always Franco.


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