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The Bloody Banality of American Psycho

Bret Easton Ellis' novel anticipated the bleak-humored, pop culture-obsessed sensibilities of the 1990s. But is it any good?

by | June 7, 2016 | Comments

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When it was released to thundering controversy and massive hype in 1991, Bret Easton Ellis’ satirical novel American Psycho was a scandal, a pop-culture phenomenon, and a flashpoint for heated arguments about censorship, free expression, misogyny, violence, corporate responsibility, and pornography more than it was a book people might actually read and, even more improbably, enjoy.

That’s because American Psycho is an exceedingly difficult book to read. The novel’s endless parade of explicit, stomach-churning, pornographic, boundary-pushing violence against animals, homeless people, and young women makes it a struggle to finish, especially for delicate souls like myself. But it’s also hard to read because so much of it is boring, tedious, monotonous, and repetitive to the point of perversity.

What makes Bret Easton Ellis’ lurid controversy magnet such a strange, tricky proposition is that its dreariness feels largely intentional. It’s supposed to be shallow, vacuous, and deadeningly repetitive. It’s devoid of insight into the human condition, and it’s filled with deplorable characters who are similar to the point of being interchangeable — one of the novel’s running jokes is that its murderous, woman-and-humanity-hating protagonist and narrator, Patrick Bateman, is constantly mistaken for peers who look, act, dress, and talk the same way because they are all products of the same colleges, prep schools, and social circles.

After suffering through nearly 400 pages of lovingly rendered ultra-violence against women and even more lovingly rendered descriptions of what everyone is wearing, I couldn’t help but feel like we’re not supposed to enjoy the book. Instead, we’re supposed to feel implicated by it, to see our own emptiness reflected in the pulpy story of an inhuman ghoul who comes off as the worst person in the world even before he begins doing unspeakably cruel and deranged things to women — sometimes while they’re dead, and sometimes while they’re still alive — so he can derive an extra level of sadistic pleasure from their agonized screams and soul-consuming terror.

But just because something is part of an intentional satirical strategy — and to give Ellis credit, the book certainly has a consistent authorial vision and voice, in the sense that it makes the same goddamn points over and over again — does not mean it is good.

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American Psycho feels like the kind of book people buy without any real intention of reading.

American Psycho feels like the kind of book people buy without any real intention of reading. In that respect, it’s like Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History Of Time (which, alas, wasn’t quite brief enough to actually be read), except that a copy of Hawking’s best-seller strategically placed on a coffee table implicitly conveys that the owner of said copy is intellectually curious enough to want to read a famous book by a smart guy who knows all about science and stuff, while a copy of American Psycho hints that its owner is hip, edgy, unintimidated by the kind of violence not generally seen outside of snuff films, and eager to have an informed opinion in the debate about the novel’s cultural value.

When, after countless false starts, the film was finally adapted by I Shot Andy Warhol director Marry Harron with Christian Bale in the lead in 2000, it officially removed the final reason anyone would possibly subject themselves to reading Ellis’ exploration of the moral corruption of 1980s Manhattan. Harron’s movie is the rare film adaptation of a culturally significant novel that’s widely, if not universally, held to be superior to the text that inspired it. Harron and co-screenwriter Guinevere Turner took what little value there is in Ellis’ book and tightened, sharpened, and amplified it while wisely excluding the enormous amount in the book that’s dull and repugnant.

A literal, exhaustively faithful adaptation of American Psycho would run six hours, be banned in every country, and be unwatchable, but these filmmakers did a spectacular job alchemizing literary dross into cinematic gold. It helped that they were able to show what Ellis could only describe, and when a work is all about superficial appearances, that’s an enormous advantage.

One iconic scene in particular is an especially good example. During a lunch meeting, Patrick Bateman is filled with existential dread when his professional colleagues pull out business cards whose intricate, exquisite details (“bone coloring, Silian Rail lettering” or “eggshell with Romalian type”) both dazzle and enrage him because his card pales in comparison. On the page, the scene falls relatively flat because the details that make the film scene so wonderfully specific in its satire are crowded out by an avalanche of similar details about clothes, electronics, and consumer goods.

American Psycho the novel feels like a bizarre, bloody shotgun marriage between a Brooks Brothers catalogue and sadistic literary porn. Bateman is compelled to identify the designer, style, and features of the clothes of everyone he encounters. A typical early passage, where Bateman checks out three “hardbodies” (his default description for every woman with a nice body, i.e. most of the women in the book) while clubbing with friends reads, “One is wearing a black side-buttoned notched-collar wool jacket, wool-crepe trousers and a fitted cashmere turtleneck, all by Oscar De La Renta; another is wearing a double-breasted coat of wool, mohair and nylon tweed, matching jeans-style pants and a man’s cotton dress shirt, all by Stephen Spouse; the best-looking one is wearing a checked wool jacket and high-waisted wool skirt, both from Barney’s, and a silk blouse by Andra Gabrielle.” Honestly, I found the idea that a man who does not work in fashion would instantly be able to identify so much information about every garment he comes across far more unrealistic than Bateman murdering dozens of people in brutal, perverse, and fairly public ways and never getting caught.

Like Patrick Bateman, Ellis is a big believer in overkill. If he only needs to repeat something five times to really get his point across, Ellis will repeat it a thousand times. If you enjoyed the description of the women’s clothes in the paragraph above, you’re in luck, because there are literally hundreds more passages pretty much exactly like it.

There are telling, novelistic details that succinctly and indelibly capture the world and people they’re describing. Then there are numbingly excessive details, like the ones here, that add little to our understanding of Patrick Bateman’s mind and only serve to pad out the word count to a punishing length. American Psycho doesn’t need an editor: it needs a butcher to lop off its first third.

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Christian Bale modeled his brilliant performance on Tom Cruise after watching the famed Scientologist on TV with David Letterman.

And the crazy thing is that the mind-numbing first hundred pages of the book has little actual violence. Bateman’s worst crimes are clearly the ones where he tortures, murders, mutilates and abuses the bodies of young women, sometimes with the assistance of small rodents. Those are genuinely sickening. But his secondary — and still very substantial — crime is that he’s terribly dull, a man without a soul, with a festering sickness where his conscience should be.

Bateman is less a man than a malevolent spirit defined by the labels on his designer clothes, his perfect body and face, the impossibly expensive, exclusive restaurants he frequents, and the soulless, glistening mainstream pop he not only champions but critiques, or rather extols, in three separate manifestos on three of his favorite artists: Whitney Houston, Genesis, and Huey Lewis and The News.

As with everything else in the book, the use of music is heavy-handed and obvious. Because Patrick Bateman lacks a soul, he adores music that reflects his soullessness. In his world, “professional” is the highest possible praise. He says his favorite compact disc is Bruce Willis’ The Return Of Bruno. He’s so unapologetic in his racism (the N word is doled out liberally, along with slurs and epithets of all stripes; to be anything other than rich, white, straight, and male is to be subhuman in his world) that he not only prefers black music to be made by soulless white men; he prefers black music to be made by soulless white men who aren’t even musicians.

Like so much of what we’ll be covering here, American Psycho revels and delights in its own artifice, in its plastic disposability, in the sense that not only does it not chronicle the world as we know it, but it describes a world that could not exist, that does not exist, that functions only as a commentary on pop culture and evil and spiritual emptiness and the dispiriting decadence of a ghoulish ruling class.

Part of this is accomplished by making Bateman the most unreliable of unreliable narrators, a madman who regularly describes things that could only exist in the fevered imagination of a confessed lunatic. Ellis doesn’t delineate between what is real and what is fantasy, and blurs the line further by having people repeatedly profess to have recently dined with people Bateman has described murdering in extensive detail. Bateman also repeatedly talks about his life as if it were a movie; he seems weirdly cognizant that he is a fictional character, a villain in a story instead of an actual human being. The lines blur so extensively that it’s possible to assume — and some have — that none of it is real, that it’s all a pornographic, violent power fantasy from a man who may not be a mass murderer or may not exist at all as anything other than a yuppie boogeyman, the worst of the worst.

American Psycho is seemingly all details, and some of the details are inspired, like the constant references to Les Miserables, a grim yet toe-tapping exploration of the bleak lives of the wretched of the earth enjoyed by people rich enough to afford tickets to its endless Broadway run. Les Miserables is poverty porn. Fittingly, while Bateman’s peers may love Les Miserables , they treat the contemporary descendants of the musical’s subjects with abuse and disdain, and Bateman, of course, treats them much worse, with murderous barbarity.

Time has given some of the novel’s clumsy pop-culture references a new resonance. Christian Bale famously modeled his brilliant, hilarious, star-making performance on Tom Cruise after watching the famed Scientologist on television with David Letterman. In American Psycho (where Bateman’s favorite show is Late Night With David Letterman) the protagonist only really looks up to two non-musicians (Huey Lewis is sacred, the rest of humanity is scum). One is Tom Cruise, who lives in the penthouse of his building and who he fumblingly compliments for his performance in Bartender (which Bateman mistakes as the title for Cocktail). The other rich, famous alpha-male who inspires a Wayne-and-Garth-style “We’re not worthy!” deference in this otherwise supremely arrogant and evil man is a Gordon Gekko-like exemplar of cheesy 1980s greed, the crazy-haired TV clown who is currently the most talked about man in the country: Donald J. Trump.

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Donald Trump and (now ex-) wife Ivana are referenced regularly by Bateman, always with an uncharacteristic reverence.

Trump is as much a fixture in the book as Les Miserables. He and (now ex-) wife Ivana are referenced regularly by Bateman, always with an uncharacteristic reverence. They are god and goddess in his world, or at least king and queen. Late in the book, Bateman, deep into a downward spiral of madness, gazes adoringly at a Trump building glistening in the sunlight and contemplates pulling out his gun and blowing away a pair of African-American hustlers running a three-card monte game. The scene eerily mirrors the fears of contemporary Trump detractors.

American Psycho doesn’t really break through the tedium until Bateman’s mask of sanity begins to slip. At this point, interchangeable conversations about fashion give way to interchangeable murders and freak-outs that are at least animated by a sleazy, lurid energy, and the book begins to develop a dark, shadowy momentum.

American Psycho gets more interesting as it goes along, but it remains shapeless, clumsy, and for the most part, desperately unfunny, especially compared to the film adaptation. Ellis’ stylistic gimmickry and game-playing — like having the narration switch briefly from first to third person late in the book, as Bateman’s desperation mounts and the walls seem to close in — is far more compelling than his prose.

Ellis’ American Psycho is far more interesting to joke about and think about and talk about and analyze than it is to read. The book is noteworthy and important more than it’s good, and the manic, non-stop pop-culture references, blurring between reality and fantasy, and postmodern elements found in it would be realized far more artfully and entertainingly by other books, television shows, movies, and music in the years to follow, including the film version of American Psycho, which took the book’s ugly clay and transformed it into a gorgeous sculpture of smart-ass cinematic pop art.

A quarter century after its release, American Psycho remains a scandal, controversy, pop-culture phenomenon, and a flashpoint for heated argument arguments about censorship, free expression, misogyny, violence and pornography more than a book people might actually read, and even more improbably, enjoy.

Yet, all these years later, the book retains its power to shock and offend. That may be a bit of a dubious distinction, but I suspect it’s one a provocateur like Ellis would embrace. Then again, I was repulsed by the gory, visceral ugliness of its violence and misogyny and offended in large part by the poor quality of its writing and construction, which I suspect Ellis would find considerably less flattering.


Nathan Rabin if a freelance writer, columnist, the first head writer of The A.V. Club and the author of four books, most recently Weird Al: The Book (with “Weird Al” Yankovic) and You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me.

Follow Nathan on Twitter: @NathanRabin

  • forevrclown

    I loved Gremlins 2, and it aged fantastically – the beasts and the building still look good, well shot, and the humor is sharper than my 9 year old brain could grasp at the time. Good article and info about Dante, Nathan! They should honestly just re-release this movie. Hell, this would be a great ‘Film on the Rocks’.

  • Billy Beefcaked

    You can smother a turd in the most delicious chocolate on earth, but no matter what it is still a turd….as is the case of Gremlins 2.

  • Epic Collision

    Why does everyone ignore that the murders never happened, they were all in his head, alluded to in the book and confirmed in the movie…he was an “American Psycho” a complete fraud, self involved and vapid. The violence was a manisfetation of his contempt of his work mates and companions, his killing spree was so obvious that he couldn’t possible escape notice unless it was all a fantasy. The police only question him about one thing, the guy who was still alive…and no the real estate agent was not part of it, he really didn’t kill anyone with a chain saw for her to clean up as to not impact its value, it was a side point to mislead.

    • Duncan Cole

      Indeed. I would say it’s even clearer in the book as it mostly written in first person but when he really starts to freak out near the end it switches to third like he’s making up a story starring himself.

      In general, I prefer the film but there is one scene from the book that I was very disappointed didn’t make it to the film. It’s the part where Patrick & pals are having a 3 (4?) way conference call about where to eat that night. It’s fucking hilarious and with the actors they cast, plus some cool editing tricks, it would have really worked on screen too.

      • Ace Stephens

        …but when he really starts to freak out near the end it switches to third like he’s making up a story starring himself.

        Are you sure this isn’t meant to imply his further disconnection from a realistic sense of self? Because that’s the impression I got.

    • Phil Hood

      I’m pretty sure the director of the film said on Charlie Rose it’s not all in Bateman’s head and the murders did happen. Still I feel it’s all down to interpretation and prefer to view the events in the film as you put, “manifestations of his contempt of his work mates and companions”.

      • I saw an interview where Bale mentioned the murders were in his head, so he and the director must have had “creative differences”, haha.

        • Ace Stephens

          Where is this interview? I think I’ve only seen him refer to that as a way some people see it or similar rather than expressly that that’s the way he saw it. But maybe I missed something or misinterpreted.

          • You know, I was going to get the clip on youtube for you, because I remembered the interview was from the DVD released back when I was in high school or college, but I only found two interviews from it and in one he said “it was all in his head” alluding to the persona Bateman plays at the office. Either there is another interview from it I am not finding or my memory is faulty, which is the liklier case. Sorry about that. He was more vague on Bateman whereas the director definitely thinks he actually murdered everyone and said so in a round table interview with her, Bale, and Ellis. She said “as far as I’m concerned it was not all a dream or something, I don’t know where people get that idea” and then the author would just smile and say he didn’t want to open his mouth and say anything that went against the film.

          • Ace Stephens

            Okay. Thank you for clarifying. I’m decidedly under the impression that the film emphasizes that he did it while stressing his insanity (and, more than that even, the insanity of the world in which he lives). So hearing that Bale was roughly saying, “Nah, it’s all fake…” or similar kind of left me rattled and in a position where I felt I’d have to completely reassess.

            Of course it’s all up to interpretation (as all things are but particularly art…) but, in terms of what the more worthwhile/contextual one is to me, it’s that he did it. Otherwise, it’s just kind of, “Hey, this messed up guy lives in a messed up world.” and the message seems less biting in its satirical bent.

            And I don’t think one would find that Ellis is prone to subtlety in these regards – if he goes for something like this, my understanding from various things is that he typically goes for the throat. (Although I fully understand playing up “Who knows?” due to wanting to drive interest in the art rather than wanting to provide “easy answers.” I mean, most good art isn’t about those…)

          • Ellis has definitely said he wanted to not answer questions regarding the ending and whether Bateman actually did these things or not. He said he laments the direction of the movie a bit because movies have to answer questions, and the novel so perfectly made it open-ended, in my opinion. At the end his lawyer tells him Paul Allen is alive because they just had lunch recently, well after Bateman supposedly killed him, but he is telling Bateman this while mistaking Bateman for someone else. So did he actually have dinner with Paul Allen, or did he have dinner with someone who he mistook for Paul Allen? The movie had a similar scene, if not the same, but with everything else and the director’s beliefs that he clearly did it, it leans in that direction.

            I think both formats are enjoyable, but I do love that the book is more open to interpretation. It’s pretty funny, but Bateman is not a good narrator of his own story. I think he would randomly break into a review of an album, kinda like what we see when he murders Paul Allen in the movie, and he switches narratives near the end, like he’s so disconnected from himself it really is hard to see it as a true murder story. For me, anyway.

          • Ace Stephens

            In my view, in terms of craft, the disconnect is why I see it as that (“true”). Bateman is someone who (deep, deep down) wants to be human, to be connected to his humanity. That’s why we’re seeing his story rather than that of others. He‘s struggling with it. But after he’s actually committed these sorts of murderous acts, his conscience/psyche has a complete break and so he just spirals while continuing to kill (so we get this weird disconnect further conveyed by the sort of third-person take). But then he looks for relief, for humanity, for justice, for society to keep him in check and deal with it and, instead, because he’s surrounded by these other hollow monsters who don’t even really want to be human in the end…it means nothing or simply serves to further negate the sense that “humanity” is what matters in that world. So he’s left as a monster himself.

            I recall seeing someone in a documentary speaking about how someone like a big shot Wall Street guy (I don’t recall what they were exactly) basically said to them, “What we’re doing is terrible. I want to stop but nobody will do anything to stop us.” (as though he basically had no choice). And the person relaying this story roughly indicated that this conveys the disconnect going on regarding certain “top-tier” social groups, their mentalities and the damage occurring there. They often know that what they’re doing is not necessarily “right” but it’s legal or at least something they can get away with so…they don’t really let knowing it’s probably “wrong” stop them. Even sometimes in cases where they want to stop or be stopped.

            So, because of things like this, I can see the argument that this is our society now…since these types of people still exist. It’s just not as clear as it was during the ’80s.

            But, to me, if you say, “Oh, he didn’t really do it because they made it a bit clearer – by calling it into question – at the end…” that’s more of the “easy answer” than dealing with the damning implication that these “sorts” really can get away with anything in some cases “by virtue” of their horribleness and how the environment around them enables it.

            So where’s the tragedy if Bateman is just a guy in a bad social circle with mental issues rather than someone earnestly seeking redemption due to his (far, far underlying) humanity and being denied it because they refuse to even acknowledge his heinous wrongdoing? I don’t see it (the tragedy and therefore dark comedy or “tragicomedy” there) unless it’s solely about the tragedy of the American upper class being this way at the time. …But I don’t see why Ellis would leave it at that and (to a degree) spare his subject.

            He superficially seems to spare him (from the more obvious consequences) but, due to the satirical nature, he’s actually condemning him to get away with it – and be stuck as this sort of monster forever.

          • Mm, don’t know about that. I’d have to reread the book, but I feel like he was really proud of himself for what he did, and he eventually tried to have people find out and they couldn’t make that connection even when he was talking about “murders and executions” and they just heard something else. I felt like he was wanting to be seen and by the end he wasn’t really getting noticed and that was partially what drove him over the edge. That’s why I like the idea he didn’t do it… he’s trying so hard to get people’s attention when in actuality these heinous acts aren’t even being committed, so there is nothing to notice, despite his desperation. I do think he thinks he has killed many people, and yet his own lawyer doesn’t know who he is. His fiancee knows nothing about him… but he makes a point of watching himself in his sexual acts, or directing people, because he has delusions of greatness the rest of the world can’t see “for some reason”.

            But I dunno. He didn’t seem to like anyone, truly, so I don’t know how much he would really want to connect with anyone.

          • Ace Stephens

            I felt like he was wanting to be seen and by the end he wasn’t really
            getting noticed and that was partially what drove him over the edge.

            You’re suggesting that ego was driving it more than a sense of humanity? …Perhaps. My main interpretation is shaped far more by the film because I’ve seen it repeatedly (I read at least most of the book a few years ago now – I’m not a big reader of novels). I just recall a sense that I thought was shared in both – that he wanted some kind of accountability for himself. Maybe you’re right and what he really wanted was…recognition.

            He didn’t seem to like anyone, truly, so I don’t know how much he would really want to connect with anyone.

            I don’t mean “humanity” in that sense (unless you include “himself”). I mean it in terms of what makes a person a person – perhaps a “soul” (conceptually). I feel he had that, a sense of that or at least an idea of it that ultimately drives his wild desperation as he continues to lose his mind and seeks any sort of sense that it matters that he does these horrific things.

            For instance, the scene in the film with his fiance where he basically writes her off…that’s a hopeful scene to me. He sees how empty she is (yet doesn’t want to put her in harm’s way by continuing the charade), how there’s nothing there between them and he breaks things off. What does she call him? “Inhuman.” And he points out that he’s in touch with his humanity. To me what he’s saying is that he’s not going to be trying to do the thing everybody says – just going along – simply because everybody says rather than because it’s true to him. The issue ultimately being, as the film progresses, that the thing that’s showing him he’s connected to his humanity, that something’s wrong (which he keeps admitting but nobody listens…including his fiance)…is killing.

            I think both works have a lot of layers in these regards and the satire basically takes everything about what his circle considers “decent” and makes it – generally through his fixations which are often related to the perceptions of others – evil/corrupt/self-involved/etc. in order to show that the true evil is in this odd, misguided concept of what is “appropriate” (I mean, who cares about the arbitrary components of business cards that much…) overtaking one’s humanity (and individuality), negating it and stripping it away. Similarly, that makes the evidently evil elements satirical as well, indicating (within a satirical/sarcastic sense) an actual sense of nobility or heroism. Bateman wants to be human…and he seems to experience a sense of that by killing…and then realizing it’s wrong. And so he wants to stop (by being stopped). But “they” won’t let him. So he’ll never stop (he’ll always try to “connect” to his humanity through killing but not quite or fully manage to do so) and what little remains of his humanity – if anything – will always be…diminished/suffocated/etc. because of these social concerns that…nobody in their right mind should care about.

            Both works, to me, seemed to portray that the only way he could break away from “their” conventions was to allow himself to go that far, perhaps in a desperate attempt to connect to something beyond merely a superficial notion of himself (the film outlines how there’s nothing “there” at the start, just an “idea”…and then acknowledges a sort of pain at the end…and I believe that pain to be a result of his humanity – here meaning a sense of conscience or accountability – not being “allowed”…and that clear cut-off regarding responsibility being the suffocation of his humanity which will fuel his further killing). So the struggle of the film, in my view, is his attempt to connect to someone/something that is truly him – his tragic flaw is his humanity.

            And I think it says a lot about how truly horrible things must be in a circumstance that the “exceptional” and “wrongheaded” thing about someone is that (whether they can “help it” or not) they actually think some things are wrong and should be punished. To me, that’s a/the main part of the satirical bent of the work. That’s “the message.” Humanity can’t survive in that world and any expressions of it become corrupt (killing), misinterpreted (confession), etc.

          • Ohhhh, if you never finished the novel you really should, that’s what solidifies the differences for me. I flipped through it during breakfast and it has a scene near the end of the second act that shows Jean his secretary, maybe the only character in the book in his world who is “human”, hugging him and he thinks that it utterly confuses him to feel this warmth, and he doesn’t really elaborate on how he feels but how if this was a movie he could imagine the camera angles and fireworks in the background. This makes him nervous and he uses his “return some tapes” excuse to avoid her, even though he said his bloodlust was quelling and at the end of the chapter imagines being with her in Central Park with balloons. I think it is the most human feeling he has in the whole book and the only time he shows a desire to be with someone, but he is so confused he runs away. When he is with Evelyn he just mentions being bored by everything. I don’t think he had an ounce of affection for her in the book and dumped her because dating her was tediously dull.

            No, I do not think he is seeking humanity of any kind. He kills a child in the book, and then pretends to be a doctor to hold him while he dies in front of a crowd of people. At this point the deaths have escalated to ludicrous levels, where the whole satirical look at yuppie life is muddled. If this is really happening, and not at all in his head… well, maybe Wall Street people are drones but people at a zoo with cops trying to save the day, I’m not really sure how he could possibly get out of questioning. He murders with the windows open, in his own apartment. He goes out of his way to get caught in some cases and is disappointed when he can’t be, which, at this point, makes me think it has to be in his head. A colleague wants to ask one of Bateman’s victims to dinner with them and he doesn’t respond to it as anything strange, even though, according to the text, this woman’s corpse is still in his living room. I think it can go either way, he did or didn’t, but I lean a bit toward didn’t. I think he is looking more for existence than humanity, and perhaps that’s what you meant, though his disconnect from others is frantic by the end. Maybe you will come to a different conclusion if you ever get around to finishing the book. Near the end is his famous speech where he declares himself to be nonexistent, and I wondered how far that statement carries.

          • Ace Stephens

            …it utterly confuses him to feel this warmth…he runs away.

            I think a lot of people run away from what they want, particularly when they aren’t quite sure how to process it. I feel if Bateman is perceived as a robot/automaton who “wants to be a real, live boy” and doesn’t know how to, that makes the whole story gel. Then the terrible things he does to “fit in” with others (monsters) make sense and the terrible things he does to escape them (feel something real/human) do as well. And when we see him defy (one or another of) those things, it is often one nature overriding the other in desperation. He rejects others because he does have feelings for them. He kills because he wants to be killed or be saved or have some sense of him be present/acknowledged/etc. His detachment is a result of his connection and vice versa. While others in his position are just detached. Which is why there is such a disconnect or shift toward the end – he’s pulling further away as he grows more desperate to be closer and this instability of his competing natures is causing the “break” from self and reality to worsen. Thematically, of course.

            This is why the book is about Patrick Bateman – he has a sense of self-awareness, humanity, that the others (in that circle) don’t. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be hearing this story.

            He kills a child in the book, and then pretends to be a doctor to hold him while he dies in front of a crowd of people.

            Just to note: I don’t read satire literally (in terms of “What if this was really real?!” – although there’s some consideration of what it says/reflects there) in many regards as it defies the whole point to me so, while one might look at this and moralize/question to an extent, I just see more evidence of the protagonist’s internal struggle.

            If this is really happening, and not at all in his head…

            I wasn’t arguing that. It’s told in first-person, so the whole book‘s in his head. I think when it shifts to third person (the voice that should be more objective) is when the narrative has reached a breaking point of being more subjective (in terms of relating solely to his perception). Again, “hard” satire so, in my view, almost everything is an evident exaggeration or points toward its opposite (or what it’s immediately juxtaposed with, if it is) to make a point.

            …people at a zoo with cops trying to save the day, I’m not really sure how he could possibly get out of questioning.

            This can be read a number of ways (I’m not recalling the book well right now so I can’t place a sense of the specifics here) but I believe there is a sometimes awkward assumption on the part of audiences that fictional worlds which have been shown to differ from our own in some respects must still hold in related ones that – in some cases – would have naturally changed as a result. So the police/people of that immediate world might, in fact, (commonly) be almost as superficial and easily-duped as those of the entire “world” Bateman’s from. But there are likely many ways to interpret that.

            Within the satirical construct, I view things like Bateman’s conniving/admissions as symbolic of his internal struggle. He wants to stop but “it’s his nature”-type stuff so when things “get too real,” the natural course is to run away or con – find some way to get out of it.

            He goes out of his way to get caught in some cases and is disappointed when he can’t be, which, at this point, makes me think it has to be in his head.

            That’s what makes me think it’s the opposite. What he wants/does/is as a person is constantly treated as immaterial by a materialistic society. It’s a component of the satire that allows him to get away with it in order to stress that he might be allowed such a thing in such a (largely exaggerated) world. Again, I really don’t follow a literal reading because satire exaggerates and juxtaposes in order to comment. Although, obviously, one’s frame of reference remains, in some sense, tied to one’s awareness of ideas within the world at large.

            …he doesn’t respond to it as anything strange, even though, according to the text, this woman’s corpse is still in his living room.

            Doesn’t this speak toward how “everybody looks alike” (the vanity or visual conformity of his relative peers) and how Bateman ping-pongs back-and-forth – to the extent some might conflate the two – between aware (“human”) and disconnected (“inhuman”/”monster”)?

            …though his disconnect from others is frantic by the end.

            My view was that this was his psyche or similar desperately searching for the conscience, consequences, humanity, etc. It’s his last-ditch effort to be human, his own person, with a sense that this all matters. I think the sort of “third person” thing helps symbolize this separation from “self.”

            Maybe you will come to a different conclusion if you ever get around to finishing the book.

            I have read the ending but I probably haven’t finished the book. I have a habit of skimming some portions of novels but I tend to commit to the first and last fifty pages or so regardless. Generally, reading fiction can be slow-going for me and my retention of specifics can get lost in the recollection of ideas or themes or connections. So maybe whole sections wouldn’t work with this upon a reread or when getting to portions I previously was sort of casually flipping through. But, in terms of having read it, I’d guess I’m around 70% (So, in terms of having finished it, I have and I haven’t probably?). But this was years ago so it certainly doesn’t help my recollection now. Particularly given that I’ve probably watched the film twice since then (Had to reschedule the 35mm plans too…arghh. Wednesday now.).

            Near the end is his famous speech where he declares himself to be nonexistent, and I wondered how far that statement carries.

            To me, these sorts of statements in the film/book “read” as him accepting the negation of self/humanity which has occurred.

          • I think it’s very possible that the ending’s interpretation also changes based on how far you take the satire. I feel like the satire is there until there is someone to break through the satirical cover, usually an outsider from Bateman’s world. When the detective speaks with Bateman he catches him in a few lies (the location of the Four Seasons for example) and Bateman is so used to being around people who wouldn’t dare give the impression they aren’t in the know on some new trend or pop culture, and would just go along with it or change the subject. But the detective presses him and he gets flustered. His secretary is also on the outside, and she never finds out about his dark side as she does in the movie. She’s not particularly special but she seems genuine, and that’s something Bateman can’t understand since he is always playing a part of some kind. So I feel like the cookie cutter colleagues and lifestyle he leads that echoes theirs is where the satire begins and ends. People outside of these circles react very differently to Bateman in the book and his logic does not work on them. At least, that is my reading of the material.

            The fun of the novel is of course figuring out what is real, what isn’t, etc etc. Yeah, you could wonder if Elizabeth was alive or dead, if she was killed and the colleague wasn’t aware of it even though several days had passed, but Bateman’s reaction was odd. The name Paul Owen (it was Paul Owen in the book, Allen in the movie for some reason) causes him to respond one way or another in the novel, and the fact that nobody seems to notice he’s gone is a source of aggravation for Bateman. I would assume he would respond similarly if he had actually killed Elizabeth, but instead he says she’s annoying or something like that, present tense. Doesn’t even remind the reader he killed this woman a few chapters back. He later is accused of killing someone and is robbed at gunpoint by the accuser, and Bateman tries to figure out who he killed and doesn’t think he actually did it but isn’t sure anymore. His lawyer mentions that Bateman is pathetic and can barely get up the nerve to call a call girl, which is a very different image from what Bateman holds of himself. So yeah, the whole time it is really hard to figure out who is who and what is what. The lines blur often. It’s interesting.

            I have trouble thinking surreally, so if you take a story too far out of reality despite basing it in reality, I can get a little confused. So I have a little trouble reading some of these “normal characters” and think they are living in the same disconnected world Bateman is. I kind of need something to ground the story’s reality for me, like the main character did in Fahrenheit 451 and such. Bateman is the main character but he doesn’t do that, he distorts the reality and the already surreal environment he works in even more. So I need characters like Jean, haha. If you can go full surreal and accept that real world rules don’t apply to this story at all, then we aren’t going to agree on many aspects, I think. It’s how my brain is wired. Odd because I’m a comic artist by profession, haha.

            It’s a really short book, like 400 something pages. I was able to read the last 150 pages or so at breakfast but I totally understand if books aren’t your thing. I love movies, too, and I do love American Psycho’s movie even though it presents a slightly different approach to the material (odd because so much of it is taken right from the book). I think we disagree on a lot of the interpretation of the material but what both agree the work is enjoyable, which I think is pretty cool. Not many stories that can do that! I enjoyed talking with you about this too much, though, I think, because I kept picking up the book to compare your thoughts to the text instead of picking up a pencil to work, haha. Oh, the perils of working from a home office…

            You seem like you would be fun to see a movie with, though! Like you enjoy breaking apart a film and analyzing all aspects of it. I love doing that, but I seem to be the only one in my circle of friends who does, haha. Hope you get that American Psycho viewing in sooner than later! I will likely do the same once I finish this chapter of my own story.

          • Ace Stephens

            People outside of these circles react very differently to Bateman in the book and his logic does not work on them.

            But the detective still kind of shrugs things off in the end, right? Because others seem to have seen the victim and all of the other sorts of issues that have arisen due to the world they live in. Meaning that the detective is ultimately just as subject to that world rather than a firm sense of self/truth/etc.

            As for why it was “Paul Allen” instead of “Owen,” it was probably for legal reasons.

            I would assume he would respond similarly if he had actually killed Elizabeth…

            Why? I think there’s a sense from the book (and the movie, I guess…) roughly along the lines of suggesting that (in terms of how they’re treated) women are rather disposable whereas men are valued on the basis of monetary concerns. And they all have to look good. Since Bateman is seemingly a product of class, in some regards, it would seem he would be more likely to fixate on the individual that world indicates to him has a level of importance.

            So yeah, the whole time it is really hard to figure out who is who and what is what. The lines blur often. It’s interesting.

            I agree in that regard but, both because it’s satire and deals with someone losing what little sanity they might have…that’s why I tend to view it as not being expressly literal. Of course, to some extent, the prevailing notion of his having killed people and wanting to have a sense of closure regarding that comes through. Otherwise, what is the book even about? That’s the thing I struggle with. Simply the satirical construct isn’t enough to sustain/justify a story in this regard and the same satirical statement could be made in far fewer words/minutes.

            If you can go full surreal and accept that real world rules don’t apply to this story at all, then we aren’t going to agree on many aspects, I think.

            I think the rules relate more to the genre and sort of “world” or exceptions established. To me, those become the rules just as they would in a fantasy epic. Once you know there are trolls and whatever, one tends to go, “Oh, okay. I get what this is like.” And then, particularly if there are allusions or some sort of meaningful buildup otherwise, if dragons pop up later, one tends to be more like, “Uh…okay.” rather than, “What? Dragons?!” So then if there remain humans in that work, I don’t assume they’re humans just like us – I perceive that they’re humans in a world of trolls and dragons and that, if they are aware (which they likely would be…), this has shifted the way they inhabit the world as well. Possibly constraining them in some manner. So, in other words, living in a world of monsters doesn’t “allow” humanity, as I think I said something like that earlier. So, in American Psycho, even the “good people” around these people…their being human, having a conscience, etc. doesn’t matter because that’s how corrupted things are. Even the good people can’t overcome it all.

            It’s a really short book, like 400 something pages.

            I can get through a non-fiction book like that easily. But when it’s a novel, my mind’s left building the whole world and yet it (my visual perception/conception of it) has got this dreamlike quality because they don’t address certain things since they don’t suit the work’s focus. So it becomes rather arduous for me to read a novel fully as my brain might, a little bit unconsciously in many cases, sort of wonder what color the drapes are or who these other people that were glossed over at a meeting are. Whereas, when the context is, “This really happened” for a book, I know it’s not my place to imagine (it’s there whether I imagine it or not) and I must just sort of accept what has happened. So it’s far easier to visualize because any details I get “wrong” or must fill in or can just leave blank are truly…irrelevant. It’s like reading a well-written newspaper article about some occurrence. Whereas a novel is like telling me to solve a mystery with every new word. I read the first 150 pages of Red Dragon a few months ago and it was great…but I couldn’t keep going. It’s exhausting. My process/hangup/etc. here is because it’s like using a computer with a ton of big programs (many of which might relate to the immediate program’s work) running in the background. It’s really slow and takes a lot of memory or similar. Of course, wondering what exact style of bracelet someone was wearing or what the exact psychological makeup of a given decision was…doing these things without (hopefully) getting in the way of some later revelation, description, concern, etc. can be difficult to a degree. I’m generally quite good at it but sometimes I’m like, “Oh, it’s a bit like this…” and then things shift and I have to revamp various elements in my mind’s eye.

            But this reason I’m okay with non-fiction is the same reason I like film. If I miss what color something is, who cares? It was there (even if just onscreen – otherwise, it’s usually irrelevant). And whether I happened to catch this or that random detail onscreen or not is typically irrelevant to the playing/narrative overall. Whereas, in a novel, it’s reading and rereading lines to get a further sense of nuance, scope, detail.

            I think we disagree on a lot of the interpretation of the material but what both agree the work is enjoyable…

            I imagine I’ll like the book more than the movie, in terms of discerning its quality as “art” to me, if/when I ever get around to 100% completing it. However, as of now, I don’t exactly consider it “fair” to be like, “It was really good but I’m not done yet but I can indisputably claim that it’s better than this other work that exists in a complete form to me…” I’m not a huge fan of the film – although I do consider it very good but I don’t fixate on it. I have works/properties I’m fixated on and this is far from one of them.

            Oh, the perils of working from a home office…

            Ugh. I’m essentially there too (not your home office, though – that would be weird). I do screenplay coverage off-and-on (where I’m far more concise than I am here – a bit like my fiction/non-fiction disconnect) and I’ve done some dramaturgical work for plays in the past. So my brain’s kind of stuck in this world where it’s like, “What kind of material is that? Is that the right kind?” and everybody else is like, “Who cares?! Nobody’s going to notice and, if they do, it’s going to be seen for four seconds.” But I’m always trying to get it as close to correct as possible. Same for attempting to ensure that narratives meet story beats (if desired to do so) and that the world of the work is cohesive/intelligible. I’m fine reading screenplays/plays/etc. because they play mostly like films. Nobody is taking ten minutes as an aside to tell me how someone felt when they were five and bruised their knee because it represents the inner turmoil they feel about…whatever. Or, if they are, I’m almost certainly telling them that they should probably take that out.

            You seem like you would be fun to see a movie with, though! Like you enjoy breaking apart a film and analyzing all aspects of it.

            I do – it’s kind of my job (at least in the blueprint stage). Although it’s odd. When I talk to people online, I get the impression that many feel I “ruin” things because I take things too literally yet my favorite works are often satirical, farcical, etc. commentaries on things and all about deconstructing and things like that. Which I guess goes with my work in a sense but, rather obviously, I’m not trying to suck the “art” out of work by formalizing it. I’m trying to make it more easily communicated to an audience. Which includes streamlining it and/or looking at the practicalities of production.

            Again, there’s a level of irony, juxtaposition, etc. here, seeing how my replies are long, verbose, rambling, confusing, etc. yet I’m in charge of discerning/conveying clarity in various instances. I suppose that might be why I relate to or expect a level of sort of duality in things, including Bateman. Although I don’t think much of my perception in that case is projection. I’m just left looking at craft and going, “Why is this a story worth telling when the satirical ‘joke’ could be done in a few minutes?”

            Hope you get that American Psycho viewing in sooner than later! I will likely do the same once I finish this chapter of my own story.

            I’m seeing it in 35mm on Wednesday now. Film Forum is showing a series focused on genre films directed by women. I’m in New York most of the time as of late. Which might explain some of how I view or contextualize American Psycho. Because there are people a lot like this and I see how the sort of “push” of life in the city can cause even important things to fall through the cracks.

          • Oh, I get that too, people think I ruin a movie because I sometimes find something wrong with it that I just can’t get over, and rather than talk it out with me they just stop seeing movies with me. I tend to not like a lot of popular things and what I really like nobody else likes. You or anyone else can disagree with me, it won’t change my appreciation of the film/book or put a damper on my day.

            I’m based in Japan (though I’m American), spent 10 of my years here in Tokyo where there is pressure to conform but not quite the same as what you see in American Psycho. Yuppie-centric movies from the ’80s are some of my favorites to watch by myself. Nobody my age (32) likes them because nobody remembers that time, I guess, but they all seem to follow similar themes and I guess I’m fascinated by them. Could not get anyone to see Wolf of Wall Street with me when it came out, haha.

            Mmm, I love books. I love reading. I love non-fiction works, too, but I tend to read fiction and then listen to podcasts about science or history instead of read about them, since I can ink and pencil while I listen. Have you ever tried audio books, or does that not make much of a difference for you? I’m not a fan myself, since part of the enjoyment I get from reading is acting everything out in my head and if I need to I can always flip back a few pages to re-read something.

            I don’t know if you do the whole Facebook thing, but I wouldn’t mind following you if you do. Maybe from time to time we can talk movies. No pressure or anything, but even if we disagreed I still enjoyed the talk, but I understand if that’s weird for you or whatever.

          • Ace Stephens

            I generally enjoy popular films – and just films in general. Some (popular films) are terrible yet, for certain ones, many never seem to want to admit that they are…even if they’ll concede nearly every critical point. Which I find odd. Nobody is saying they can’t like/enjoy it if it really isn’t that good. That’s what “guilty pleasures” and “so-bad-it’s-good” stuff is about.

            I’m around your age range and also tend to value the “80s” films that touch upon troubling issues present (particularly) in certain portions of America at the time. Those in my peer group or social circle don’t…seem to care about history except in regards that I don’t find very useful or interesting.

            Have you ever tried audio books, or does that not make much of a difference for you?

            I’ve tried them and they seem a bit more tolerable but I run into similar issues. I’m either so wrapped up in it that I’m trying to visualize/psychoanalyze everything within the constructs of the story (so I need to pause or listen to portions again)…or I basically (and often literally) fall asleep. Even if it’s some thrilling part, I might nod off. Like I said, reading novels or the like is exhausting for me. And when it’s not exhausting…it’s also exhausting. Just generally in a different way.

            As for following me, you can follow me here on Disqus and occasionally drop in on my random comments only to realize that they often seem ridiculously long and particularly rude, dismissive, “improper,” etc. – probably more so because of phrasing issues or stressing “a reasoned perspective” than because I’m genuinely an awful person or something. Although I’m sure being an awful person isn’t helping. *doesn’t help old ladies cross the street*

          • I really only have a Disqus account for the comments section on my website, but sure, I’ll follow you. I might drop in if I see a conversation with you talking about some movie I’ve seen, but I don’t generally keep up with Disqus.

          • The Dude

            anyone else find it interesting that bateman is so closely linked to batman? That’s what we should really be pondering..

            As for my two sense, regardless of its interpretation, the movie makes it VERY clear that he imagines everything.

          • The Dude

            How does an apartment building go from being a murder house into a show room quality rental over night? And if it’s not overnight, why don’t we see Bateman doing anything about it?

            How does a chick running, screaming and banging on every door in an apartment not raise a few red flags with ANYBODY?

            How does a running chainsaw falling 7 stories not cause ANY disturbance to ANYBODY in an apartment complex?

            (Excuse me for not reading through everything but…) How does the body being dragged by Batemen through the lobby go unnoticed?

            How does the entire scene where Bateman reads an ATM, telling him to insert a cat into it, justify ANY other actions he takes after that point?

            And another HUGE red flag is that for anybody that has spent time in New York, you know that the city NEVER sleeps, and yet when Bateman is going on his killing spree, the whole city is practically dead…. no pun intended.

            And finally, IF he is actually guilty of his crimes that he CONFESSED to, why the hell is he not being handcuffed and taken to jail for his actions at the end of the movie?! Makes NO sense to me…
            Oh yea that’s right, because it NEVER HAPPENED.

            Alright, I’m done. Someone answer these questions for me.

          • Jo

            Ace, I think that Ellis will tear his hair out and laugh hysterically since the very point he is trying to illustrate about American society is reduced to and negated by speculation of whether or not he committed the murders!!

          • Ace Stephens

            I don’t consider it speculation. To me, it’s clear he did (I don’t see any genuine point otherwise – particularly not regarding Ellis’s typical approach…). I find it frustrating that this is the dominant conversation about the matter as well. But I’m sure the, “But it was all a dream, see! Isn’t that cooler?!”-view holders (Such as yourself?) are frustrated with my interpretation. But that’s all irrelevant.

            Just like people being outraged at Ellis rather than those he’s satirizing, it could be argued to be beside the point. Personally, I think it (Bateman’s having done it) emphasizes the point.

    • Ace Stephens

      The reason people “ignore that the murders never happened” is because they plainly did happen. If the entire purpose of the work was satire then that ending (that he did do it all – granted, while losing his mind more and more) stresses the satirical point. That’s what the buildup is all about – it notes that those around Bateman mistake him for others (and others for him and on and on) often enough because they’re all so superficial and out-of-touch with their humanity that they basically let a complete psycho get away with it due to their not really wanting to process the reality. And the notion that others seem to “look the other way,” have cleaned up things due to their own self-interest, don’t quite process that he’s the same guy because “they’re all the same” in their hollow pursuit of perfection, etc. is the whole point. That, even if he wanted to be held accountable, even if he had a brief moment of humanity, there is no redemption because he’s part of a “world” that has no conscience. That’s the tragedy of the figure and satire of the piece encapsulated in one climactic (anticlimactic) moment.

      So when you take that away, you take the whole film away. Pretending the murders didn’t happen because of a contextual misreading of the ending is ironically the sort of denial (taking that view because it’s more “convenient” than acknowledging the reality) that the film is satirizing…

      • I disagree, but I can’t tell if you have read the book or not. I feel like the book leans more toward the idea that he made it up and didn’t realize it, whereas the movie is more as how you put it, where everyone looks like everyone else and if one man dies they don’t really notice, etc etc.

        But I also like that people have different interpretations of the ending, and what’s great is that both ideas work very strongly, in my opinion. The idea that these people are so self-absorbed and yet trying to be better than their peers, who are just copies of themselves essentially, that they wouldn’t even notice if one of them screamed “I just killed someone!”. OR if a delusional man was so deep in the world of wealth and wall street that he would make up a super villain persona of himself begging to be found out for what he really is or isn’t, that he would be a psycho and yet nobody would notice, etc etc etc… I like both possibilities, honestly. I think there were a few scenes in the book that made me go “oh, this didn’t actually happen” but the movie is more pursuading that he is a real serial killer, I think. But I have not seen/read either in a while, so maybe I should revisit the book soon.

        • Ace Stephens

          I feel like the book leans more toward the idea that he made it up and didn’t realize it…

          I think the book is more purposefully ambiguous but that the film is “unclear” purposefully yet unintentionally, as a result, implying to people (then again, “general audiences” regarding film have a knack for taking implications far too literally) that it was likely not the case (that he killed these people).

          I like both possibilities, honestly.

          I can see the potential to interpret both takes/possibilities (although I guess that’s a bit of a false dichotomy in that maybe he killed some but not others or…whatever) but, in terms of taking the satirical context to the nth degree (as Ellis is very prone to doing)…it pretty much has to be that he did it. Otherwise, the whole story’s almost “quaint” rather than “enraging.” It should make people go, “What the Hell is wrong with these people?!” And yet, if it’s simply that he has mental issues and others are too wrapped up in themselves to take it seriously…okay, so? That’s not grabbing this subject by the jugular. It’s not a particularly great approach to craft either. That’s like a half-measure that backs out at the last second in order to avoid “offense.” And…I mean, we both know Ellis generally isn’t the type to do that. But is he the type to go way over the top and then, once people say, “Wait, what?!” (mad at him rather than the “outrageous” thing he was pointing toward)…shrug in order to muddy the waters a bit and go, “I don’t know…”? Absolutely.

          Is he doing that because he doesn’t know (as in doesn’t have a very good idea) or because he doesn’t want you to “know from him”? The latter, I’d venture.

          But I have not seen/read either in a while, so maybe I should revisit the book soon.

          I should too. I’m going to watch the film today in 35mm. Because I’m an elitist like that…*insert stuffy, self-satisfied laughter here*

          • I kinda responded to some of these thoughts in my other response to you, haha. I wish I was in a book club so I could make people read it with me and talk about it. It’s a great conversation piece. Up until now I have basically just considered both options of did he do it or didn’t he, and I remember laughing really hard in the book when I felt like he didn’t do it. I think he was pickling the remains of one woman, or maybe just Paul Allen, I don’t remember. It was so wild and so over the top it was borderline cartoony. Man, I wish I could remember the book better, it’s been like 15 years since I read it. Would love to read it again and talk about it, but alas, I am not in a book club, haha.

            Either way, I love either interpretation, but I like the idea that this yuppy has made up a murderous alter ego for himself and isn’t even aware if it’s real or not. I think he thought inanimate objects were stalking him and talking to him, so I think it is entirely possible he made up the murders. In a way, you would have to be crazy to get so upset by “eggshell white” vs “off-white with a watermark” and to focus so heavily on other mundane details of his life. But eh, difference of opinion, heh. If you prefer the murderous route, which totally has its merits and its own themes and messages, you can definitely interpret that way and get the full enjoyment I did, I think.

            I’m going to re-read the novel this weekend. It has been decided! Enjoy your stuffy, self-satisfying film re-viewing, haha.

        • Andrew Baggaley

          Sorry, but Ace Stephens seems to be the only person who who read the book, saw the film and understood what was going on. Your summary is indisputably exactly right, Ace. There is no ‘it’s art so it’s about interpretation’. Lord of the Rings isn’t about high speed car chases because I interpret it that way. It’s about a little guy with a ring. Or something.

          • Jo

            Hi Andrew. I read both the book and saw the movie and I was disgusted by the dearth of understanding and nuance portrayed in the movie by that gormless idiot director. If ever there was an unfilmable book it was this one. I don’t want to speculate about the end (ok I will – I think it was all in his head) but that is hardly the point of the book. The murders and rituals are all just props to illustrate his very poignant point and I think Mr Rabin over there missed all of this entirely.

          • Ace Stephens

            I am right about something on the internet? Truly a momentous day!

    • Torun Sjødalstrand

      I read a theory somewhere that theorized that some of the murders/actions happened, some didn’t. Like the ”crazy” things weren’t real, like killing ”Christie” with a chainsaw, or blowing up the police car by shooting at it. The more realistic killings, like that of the homeless man, Al, did happen.

  • MrsShuck

    Predicted the 1990s? It was about the pop-culture infused greed and avarice of NYC Yuppie Culture in the 1980s.

    • ZQFMGB

      Yeah, I’m not sure the author of this article quite understood what he was reading. Those early, numbing, day-in-the-life passages are necessary to really drive the contrast and impact of the later violence before it escalates to the point of absurdity. If one has already absorbed the film and is just zipping through the text, waiting to see how certain well-known scenes were originally written, I can see how one might get impatient, though it would be missing the point to do so. However, you could certainly argue that Ellis is deliberate and sadistic in the way he practically ignores the audience in his early pacing.

  • This article helps gives me a stronger sense of lofty literary ideas ideas versus quality of execution. Thank you, Nathan. I hope that when I create graphic novels they will be truly beautiful and grand.

  • Matthew Paul

    I went to the new “American Psycho” Broadway musical a few weeks ago. It was great. It brought out the dark humor more than the book and was livelier than the movie. It was funny, sexy and had good music. They brought down a plexiglass barrier to protect the audience from the flying blood. The songs were a mix of new music by Duncan Sheik and recognizable 80’s tunes. Unlike the book and movie, the musical may be a little to “New Yorky” to be popular elsewhere.

  • blake011

    I thought the book was hysterical. I mean the violent sections which only occupy a small section of the book are horrific but the satire is spot on and its a very funny book. I thought it was fantastic.

    • sagerbj

      I actually think it’s the funniest book I’ve ever read. At least in terms of a fictional narrative. But none of it is in the dialogue. Like, there’s a whole chapter dedicated to a weekend in the Hamptons that Patrick and Evelyn take. And it’s 3 pages of Patrick describing all these romantic escapades they go on…then a page about him losing his mind, eating sand and yelling at the moon. It’s great.
      Or; one of the running gags is about how painfully accurate Patrick describes everything his rich friends wear and say. But when he’s describing anything about, say, a cab driver, the best he can do is generalizations and paraphrasing. So every time he quotes a cabbie, he follows it up with “or something like that, who cares.”

      • blake011

        Some of the dialogue is quite funny. I just remember there was an entire chapter where they were arguing about dinner reservations that almost all dialogue that had me laughing out loud.

  • The writer of this article didn’t get the book, and that’s fine. I could tell pretty quickly he doesn’t get the kind of humor in the book, which is definitely dark on top of satirical. The horror is so awful it’s hilarious, especially when you get to the point in the book where you start to wonder if it’s all in his head or not. I saw the movie first, loved the movie, then read the book and it became my all-time favorite novel. Book is much better than the movie, though I laugh every single time Christian Bale ponders feeding a cat to the ATM machine.

    It’s all right if you don’t get it, but it’s definitely a great read for people who understand the humor and what those “long, tedious descriptions” are all about. The book isn’t for everyone.

    • Ace Stephens

      I’m a little bewildered by the author’s seeming confusion about the tone (the humor in particular) as well. Those “boring, tedious, monotonous, and repetitive” elements are a part of the work’s entire approach, essentially being “the joke.” That is, it follows a structure/intent similar to “The Aristocrats.”

      • I think 80% of the people who read the book didn’t quite get it. I remember laughing, and people would smile and approach me and ask “What are you reading?” and they would see the cover and sort of slink away. I am really impressed Ellis had the patience to write out those descriptions of Bateman’s morning routine or whatever, things that only Bateman and his colleagues would care about, because without those moments the novel would have absolutely failed. I don’t get why people love the business card scene in the movie so much but yawn at that sort of thing in the book, since it is just as funny if not more to read those scenes.

        I’m looking at it right now on my bookshelf and considering giving it another read, haha.

        • Ace Stephens

          You have to really know it’s hard satire. It’s not toying with being satirical at all. (It’s likely quite far from the case but, in retrospect…) Nearly every sentence is drenched in a sort of sardonic/sarcastic/sadistic attack on the disconnect present in the 80s “elite” mentality (by embodying it – the relentless self-involvement predicated on social concerns regarding others but with no genuine human awareness/connection).

          I think a lot of people have issues with contextual readings of things and issues with distinctions regarding fiction and reality. So they read a book where women are treated horribly and tend to infer things about the author’s attitudes toward women that relate to that but not in any truly reasoned manner – similar to how makers/fans of horror films are often vilified erroneously on the basis of misguided moralizing. But, while I’ve often said things like that people don’t follow (particularly the fiction/reality) context well these days, more than that, I’ve been saying for years that “Most people don’t really understand satire.”

          • I’m a woman, but I think I have too much sense to be a staunch third-wave feminist, which are the people who hated this book and its “cruelty to women”. I mean… yeah, women get murdered… this book/film doesn’t glorify it, though. I truly believe most people who boycotted the book not only just missed the point that it is meant to showcase the superficiality of these people by playing it straight from their own perspective. Nobody in the book is a decent character, which is why nobody is sympathtic or heroic in any regard. The other people who boycotted…. well… they probably didn’t even read the book. In fact, maybe most did not…

          • Mister Sardonicus

            Isn’t it odd how liberal third wave feminists can find themselves in total agreement with conservative Christians?

        • Pinkk

          That’s easy to explain. There’s a difference between reading the text and seeing the visual display of it.

          It’s like reading a fight scene and watching a fight scene. The watching comes out better than reading the description of it.

    • Duncan Cole

      Apparently, another thing with the descriptions about what people are wearing is that if you go and look up all the clothes you’ll find that everyone looks ridiculous. I believe Ellis said that they’re all effectively dressed up like clowns.

      • Ha! Amazing, I should do that. I read something similar about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or whatever it was called. Lisbeth buys everything from Ikea, but if you look up what she buys she either has the worst taste ever or the author was making a little joke. But that book… not a series I want to revisit. Definitely not at the same level of quality as American Psycho.

    • Jo

      Hi Oga – I have to disagree. I don’t believe that this Nathan Rabin person is in the least qualified to comment on such a seminal work. Some people should not be entitled to their deeply ignorant, precious, PC, misinformed and decontextualised opinions… Thank goodness most of the people in this forum are in fact better informed and more articulate

  • Ace Stephens

    woman-and-humanity-hating…

    It may come as a shock to some but, while he might single out women in particular, women technically (eyeroll) are human and therefore a part of humanity, making the above distinction rather redundant (if not wholly irrelevant).

    …while a copy of American Psycho hints that its owner is hip, edgy, unintimidated by the kind of violence not generally seen outside of snuff films…

    It helps when someone can contextualize fiction as fiction enough to realize that fictional depictions of violence aren’t actually “violent” (unlike snuff films where the whole point would be to see real-life violence/suffering/death occur). Plus, it’s odd to see someone (seemingly unironically) analyzing the “social concerns” surrounding displaying a book like American Psycho since the whole thing’s about vapid social concerns.

    So I can’t tell if the author is being meta in this regard or distinctly lacking in self-awareness or what exactly…

  • Emerson Korum

    Surprise, surprise. Another snowflake “freelance writer” interprets satire too literally. Just off the top, I’d wager Nathan has never read American Psycho all the way through, but rather saw the movie, checked the books wikipedia page, read Bret Easton Ellis wikipedia page, and went from there. The reason it seems like anybody could do Nathan’s job is because anybody can do Nathan’s job. My question to Nathan would be this; what have you added to the discussion of this book that wasn’t stated, and overstated, and regurgitated dozens of times by about half the critics that reviewed it upon release in the 90’s? Oh my, a post-modern evaluation of a book written 25 years ago, this time viewed through the lens of the Donald Trump controlled media cycle — riveting.
    The mere fact that this is the headline article of Rotten Tomatoes is indicative of just how much they’ve embraced the embarrassing moral authorities demanded of our society.
    Come on guys, it’s a book, and a satire at that. I understand that Nathan took a few sentences to delve into what he found “boring” in the book (I.E. the descriptions of clothing, etc.), but like I said I’m not sure I believe he read it.
    Shame on Rotten Tomatoes for propagating such a one note article. The problem isn’t that he has a negative opinion of the book, there are certainly books that I don’t like that lots of other people really do like. The issue is that people will read this article and consider themselves informed. They will accept the book for what Nathan’s opinion of it is and maybe watch the movie up until the scene Bateman kills the homeless guy in the alley.
    The sad part about all this is the materialization predicted in the book has proven correct. The concern Bateman exhibits for clothes and image and everything else seems to be what dominates the millennial generation’s thought process, and I would know, I’m 21 years old.

  • Piper312

    I’m not sure I get the headline that he “predicted the 90s” I’m pretty sure the book is about the Reagan era’s culture of greed. You know, like Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. Its just another take on that idea.

  • Inkan1969

    The article claims that film adaptations that are better than their literary sources are rare. Is that right? I thought there were a good number of great movies based on bad novels; “American Psycho” and “The Godfather” being the definitive examples.

  • Jo

    OMG, has this Nathan Rabin person no sense of humour or insight at all? I a fabulous review of the book (I’m afraid I recall not where or by whom) described the book thus: “(It shows) how lethally addicted Americans are to their own blandness.” Of course, this was by a REAL reviewer who can actually write with no thinly veiled jealousy of genius writers like Ellis. Get some therapy Nathan…

  • Fred Barnett

    Christian Bale rocked the film. It is crazy and entertaining, and you, Nathan, wish that you could have written it.

  • Total Badass

    The book’s ending ruined it for me. I almost took it back to Barnes & Nobel for a refund.

  • Malik

    I don’t think anyone’s accused the film to be superior to the novel. The singular success of the film is Christian Bale’s perfect performance. Every other element is watered down fluff. To be clear, and Ellis has made this clear, the novel made no claim to the future, had no insight on what was to come, but most importantly, wanted to explore what had just happened to the American way of life.
    On another note, while this is purely a matter of subjectivity, I must say that the novel was absolutely hilarious. Every ridiculous conversion between these implicitly shallow characters, every outlandish observation made by the narrator, all made for really humorous readings. I don’t understanding where this man is coming from on these matters, but I have to say that this article was almost embarrassing, and I must urge everyone who’s read this article to read the novel despite what this man has written and what you may hear from others. The novel is truly remarkable and stands as a wonderful oddity in the American literary canon.

  • brotherlud

    Talk about missing the point. I feel like I read a book review from a tenth grader. The book is not just a series of violent scenes strung together between fashion and stationary ads. The book is about the emptiness of the 80’s, and the cultural effects of living in a millimeter deep mile wide pool of existence. When suits and business cards matter so much then nothing else does. Life loses meaning, you kill and have sex to feel only to realize you can’t anymore, so you try try again. Its called American ‘Psycho’ -look up just what it means to be a psychopath, the behavioral characteristics. This novel is a dark sad poem of what it means to make your entire existence about grabbing the brass ring and what happens afterwards when you finally hold it in your hands. I heart the 80’s.

  • ChimpJnr

    I remember truly hating the book at the time. Along with “London Fields” by Martin Amis (an author who I always think of when Bret Easton Ellis comes up), I loathed every minute of reading it. Strangely though, I’m tempted to go back and give both a second read now.

  • shastamcnasty

    this guy is a moron

  • shastamcnasty

    i like when he pretended to be a doctor at the zoo

  • Joshua Stovall

    Yeh well i predict my georgia property will be prime beachfront in two hundred years, and you’d have to try your hardest not to make it so/ If anyone is like you, or in any way similar, this would occur. unfortunately, predictions are obvious and terrible things, and they happen by either sheer idiotic luck or terrible consequences.

    You found one guy who’s ire was raised, and then posted it on the internet for fame.

    Shame on you.

  • Mister Sardonicus

    Ellis crystallised the concept of the soulless yuppie in the popular imagination. Patrick Bateman is a character that isn’t going away anytime soon, and I consider that a literary win. The author notes that everyone with a copy of A Brief History of Time is trying to appear smart, while everyone with a copy of American Psycho is trying to appear hip. Well, that is the crux of this novel, focused as it is on superficial appearances and empty status seeking. But do people really own these books only for those reasons? Well, only a Patrick Bateman type would believe so. Bateman is also depicted as a fan of Talking Heads, only because they’re a cool band.
    What makes Ellis’ novels so chilling is that you can tell he’s intimately familiar with the shells of human beings he writes about, and may indeed be one himself. Patrick Bateman’s thought process is akin to a catalogue of consumer products and fashions, because what he physically owns is all that comprises his being. I don’t see how Ellis could have written it any other way, and I don’t see it as a fault of the novel that many passages detailing the arrangement of sushi (for example) can be skipped. It’s essential to the satire, the inner monologue of a soulless yuppie, whose banal existence is unchecked by real human emotion.
    Anyone have a reservation for Dorsia?

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