20 June 2009

American Psycho

Yesterday I finished reading American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. First off: extremely disturbing novel. Second off: extremely disturbing novel.

A quick summary of the story-line... Yuppie: a young upwardly mobile professional individual; a well-paid middle-class professional who works in a city and has a luxurious life style. One the surface Patrick Bateman is the epitome of a yuppie. Skin off a layer and you have the skeleton of a yuppie. He is simply not there. He seems to be the perfect guy in Manhattan but he's a brutal murderer who is completely out of touch with reality (hence the term psycho).

My take on the story... While reading the first half of the book I was not interested. It wasn't that it was a slow read but that I wasn't interested. Perhaps dark satires that are gruesome like this one aren't my kind of book. Anyway, at first I didn't like the book, but I really hate to "quit" on books, so I trudged onward, page by page. In retrospect I see that Ellis developed the story very well. About 2/3 through I started to be interested in what was going on, despite the utterly obscene behavior of the main character. I don't know what clicked in place to hook me on the book, but it became a page-turner for me.

In the beginning Bateman is obsessed with materialistic things. He goes on about his shower routine, the products he uses, his jealousy of colleagues with better business cards, his dedicated exercise regime, his diet, his hair, his skin - everything on the surface of one's life; this is all that Bateman is: the appearance of a person... of a human. He only seems sensible. "On the inside nothing matters." That is the book's point. As the story progresses Bateman's obsession transfers to his sick craving for murdering.

How I interpret the book's message is that society has become so involved with what doesn't matter (popularity, wealth, appearance, possessions, sex, etc. - it's a long list) that what should matter (friendships, emotions, uniting to solve the world's problems, etc. - also a long list but rarely given as much credit as the former list) goes into extinction.

The second part of the message is that society also turns a blind eye towards not only attempts for repentance and confession but also of anything outside of one's small little bubble of a world. For example, in one scene a girl is asking Bateman what he does for a living. Bateman responds causally that he's "mostly into murders and executions." The girl only hears what she expects to hear: mergers and acquisitions. Bateman's honesty is ignored and replaced with what folks want to hear.

As Bateman slips out of reality throughout the book, his murders worsen. The most appalling murder was the one involving the starved rat... I won't go into detail, but for those of you who also read the book, you know what I'm talking about. *shudder* I don't want to give anything away, so I won't go into more detail than I've provided already, but the end of the novel is very well done.

As for the movie... not nearly as gruesome as the novel (naturally as movies cram novels into 2 hours). I liked the movie, and it enhanced my understanding of the novel. Christian Bale nailed the yuppie and he was a wicked psycho. Some things were left out in the movie, and others were modified from the book, but all in all, good movie. Watching the movie definitely deepened my appreciation of the book; this was a first for me.

A few closing thoughts: In the book I didn't get the purpose of the chapters on music, but in the movie I enjoyed how the music was worked into the story (especially Huey Lewis and the News' scene). I still don't understand the Patty Winter's blips throughout the novel. I think maybe there was no point, and I think that is the point of their presence. I liked the ending of the movie and - to give nothing away I'll say this - his actions' consequences. Ellis did make a bold point about the world we live in. Lesson learned: keep materialism on the surface; something has to serve as the skin. But, more importantly, don't let the meat of life rot away.

The novel and movie links:

Wikipedia Article - Novel
Wikipedia Article - Movie

The movie trailer:


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