When American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis' story of 1980s yuppie culture as told through the perspective of a well-groomed maniac, hit bookstores in 1991, it came prepackaged with a substantial amount of outrage.
The author's two previous novels, Less Than Zero and The Rules of Attraction, told tales of youth gone cold. Page after page, readers were given a startling look into the lives of young adults who went far beyond the the culture of vapidness and shallowness that was omnipresent throughout what is arguably America's most vapid and shallow decade. These characters wandered into a world of extreme desensitization in which drug overdoses, sexual assault, and snuff films didn't even elicit a simple batting of an eye.
Readers thought Ellis had taken them to the very edge of the cliff and given them a view of the abyss. And that's when the author gave them a little push, showing them that the abyss is exactly where the real story lies.
American Psycho took the concept of desensitization up a few dozen notches. While the characters in Zero and Attraction were merely indifferent observers of inhumane acts, American Psycho featured a main character who was actually the perpetrator of these unspeakable horrors. Patrick Bateman, something of a cross between Ted Bundy and Charlie Sheen's character in Wall Street, took the materialism and ethical bankruptcy of the Reagan era to its psychological conclusion. Premium business cards, reservations at exclusive restaurants, and state-of-the-art home entertainment appliances held a great deal of value. But human beings?
While most young urban professionals saw mankind as nothing more than obstacles, marks, and opportunities, Bateman takes this ice cold outlook to its absolute limit. To him, people are meat and little else. Especially if we're talking about women, which Bateman sees as inconsequential collections of cells and Christian Dior that are meant to be raped, bludgeoned, stabbed, dismembered, and even eaten.
So why is the FilmBar showing the film adaptation as part of its "Women In Horror" series? Because like Bateman himself, American Psycho is not what it seems.
Feminist groups and icons such as Gloria Steinem fought to keep the book off shelves for the obvious reasons. They objected to the use of female characters as murder fodder, and Ellis' first-person narrative only bolstered their argument in a way. Bateman describes his atrocities with ice-cold apathy, and as is the case with most outrage bred from misunderstanding, critics threw concepts on nuance and context by the wayside and incorrectly concluded that perhaps Ellis was the one who was talking, not Bateman.
When news of the film's impending production surfaced, Hollywood knew these objectors would make their grand return to ensure Bateman never made the leap from the page to the screen. Their response? Have Guinevere Turner and Mary Harron pen the script, and put Harron in the director's chair.
While it can be argued that the studio's choice came from the same place that phrases like "I'm not sexist, I have female friends" are born from, you can't argue with the results. While the book's murders were seen through Bateman's soulless eyes, Harron chose to show these monstrous executions from a different angle. Audiences would see the horror on the faces of the women, the panic as they did their best to escape Bateman's ultra modern apartment with all their limbs intact. The butchering was no longer just Bateman's story to tell. The unmitigated reality of such carnage was served raw, whether the audience liked it or not.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
In doing so, Harron told a story that stayed true to the book's criticisms of rampaging capitalism and its figurative cutthroat consequences, while simultaneously putting Bateman's literal cutthroat consequences front and center. With this slight turn of the dial, Harron avoids the pitfalls that films like Scarface or The Wolf of Wall Street tend to fall into. This film's protagonist is in no way meant to be celebrated. His environment didn't create him, it merely enabled him. You'll hear no excuses and you'll find no glamorization, but you will feel the visceral impact of the violence, no matter how hard you try to brace yourself. Make no mistake. Patrick Bateman is a very, very bad man.
American Psycho could have been a straight-up sexist slaughter-fest destined for a straight-to-DVD existence, but Harron and Turner's point of view gave the film an undercurrent of unfiltered honesty that doesn't always translate off the pages of a book. For these reasons and more, it's no surprise why FilmBar chose this one.
And of course, Christian Bale's performance is incredible. Just ask his stepmother, Gloria Steinem.