I just watched American Psycho.
Not a bad flick, certainly not as affecting as the book, but it got me remembering.
A few years back, a friend of mine, a dedicated Brett Easton Ellis fan, loaned it to me thinking Iíd like it. To this day I canít honestly say whether I liked the book or not. It certainly wasnít curling up with a good and comfortable friend. It wasnít a nice summer beach read, and you certainly wonít find Oprah plugging it on her show.
Reading it was more like watching a greasy bum on the subway wave a gun around and then hold it to his own head. On some level, you know you donít want to watch him smear his brains across a seat full of commuters but youíre sure as hell not going to look away. For that instant you just have to see what happens next. Sure, no matter what the outcome youíll Ďtut tutí and Ďhow awfulí it afterwards, but for that moment you are entralled.
American Psycho is so horrid, so lurid, so incredibly shocking that I was ashamed to read it in public. Iíve read a lot of gorey horror novels, Iíve watched a lot of bloody slasher flicks, but I never worried about their creators. I never wondered if their souls are dark and twisted things, worried that they might be tempted to act out on some murderous hidden impulse, but American Psycho took my mind down alleys it didnít need to go.
Brett Easton Ellis is probably a fine upstanding person, but there are scenes in that book that make me wonder. I wouldnít want to be alone in a room with him and a sharp knife.
After the movie was over I perused the special features. It was mostly a collection of talking heads from the movie and publishing world relating the history of the book, how itís first publisher rejected it after the huge feminist outcry, how even after it was published 70% of the book stores in the country refused to carry it, how militant feminists used to sneak into book stores and dump blood all over it, people getting arrested in B. Dalton Book Sellers for reading it aloud, etc...
Apparently a large segment of the population thought it would turn men into raving blood thirsty lunatics. All of that strikes me as completely silly, and after listening to all the Ďexpertís voice their opinions I decided Iíd add my own two cents right here on thestrangelands.
American Psycho is certainly not an anti-feminist novel, and might even be read as a very feminist piece of literature concerned with the objectification of women as objects. But at heart it is a denunciation of consumer culture, itís dehumanizing effects, and in particular the unwillingness we have to see people we know, who we think are one of us, as anything but what we expect and how we subconsciously work to keep up those illusions.
Itís protaganist is a serial killer and wall street power broker who admits he is nothing but a shell, caring only about the cut of his suit and the size of his apartment. The only impulse he has besides consumption is violence and for him, both the act of dressing well and the process of artfully attaching a disemboweled prostitute to the floor with a nail gun carry the same level of importance.
The effectiveness of the book lies in itís adherence to that same idea. A pornographic description of the paper a persons business card is printed on slides into a lurid sex scene which slides into a graphically detailed slaughter scene. And all this is done with no change in tone, with no break or hesitation. All are one.
In the world of American Psycho, nothing matters except appearance and desire, and no one wants to understand anything that upsets the illusions that their own lives are based on.
No one remembers your name, but they remember the cut of your suit. Everyone talks, but no one listens. A person confesses to a murder and itís laughed off as a joke.
Itís not about the objectification or murder of women, itís a denunciation of a culture which objectifies everything, including people, and cares about no one.
The only difference between the mass murdering narrator and the rest of the characters in the book is his desire to connect with someone, even if it is in their death.
It is a truly frightening book, and in my weaker moments I worry there might be a larger grain of truth in American Psycho than I want to admit.
So after I read it, I mentioned it to a couple of other friends. Our own Carey and Ray included. I gave them what I still feel is a pretty apt description. It is very well written, completely enthralling, and perhaps the most effective novel Iíve ever read, but I would under no circumstances recommend it to anyone, and would in fact recommend that they forget all about it.
Of course they both instantly borrowed it and had pretty much the same opinion.
If that doesnít make you want to read it, I donít know what will.
Youíve been warned.