American Psycho

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 “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here” warns the beginning of the 1991 novel American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. So here’s the deal with American Psycho… Ellis had just published Less than Zero and Rules of Attraction gaining acclaim as a fresh writer serving as a spokesperson for the vapid, disposable junk culture stereotypes of Generation X in the 1980’s. American Psycho was published with immediate controversy. Many within the feminist movement sought for the immediate ban of the book due to its sexually violent and graphic content mainly targeting women. Many bookstores refused to carry the book and the original publisher backed out of the deal. Why all the controversy? Well the book is total gore.  Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here?

I saw the film first when it came out in the theatres in 2000. At the time I thought the film was awesome, but it wasn’t until I revisited the film a month ago that the film took on a new meaning, given the context of our contemporary social problems…war, violence, economic dismay, polarization, disposable consumerism. It was this second viewing that made me interested in the book. I was a sophomore in high school when the book was released and I remember being curious about it, simply because of the amount of controversy it created. Nonetheless, I never made it past the first chapter. My second attempt at the novel was fierce. Its relentlessness captivated me.

I wish that I would have read the book first before seeing the film. Nonetheless, I think the film is a cinematic masterpiece and Christian Bale’s performance is among his best. The film adaptation is determined to remain honest with the energy of the novel, but it does not capture the complexity of the novel itself. Also, it bothers me when I see a film first and then while reading the novel I see Reese Witherspoon instead of a character of my own visual creation.

The novel is totally disgusting!!! I would not recommend this book to anyone who is even remotely offended by ANYTHING. If you want safe, predictable horror then this is not for you. If, however, you want to read post-modern, satirical social commentary, which happens to use gore, mutilation and a Wall Street CEO serial killer’s warped narrative as a vehicle to expose the brutality of the American dream, then by all means read away.

Be warned there are parts of the novel that are so brutal even I had to ask myself did Bret really just go there? Yes he does. One chapter may be devoted to the vivid description of the dismemberment of someone coupled with extreme sexual content while another may be gushing in corporate speak about the brilliance and cultural value of a Whitney Houston recording.

The work is psycho indeed and sociopathic in its emptiness of character, with just enough slices of insight to keep one compelled. By choosing to make Patrick Bateman the epitome of the ridiculously and callously rich Wall Street yuppie, Ellis’s satirical attack is specifically targeted towards men who create the systems of objectification of women and the poor and minorities, men who perpetuate patriarchal violence, and advocate disposable consumption and the exploitation of anything in the pursuit of shallow self-gratification.

The seemingly gratuitous nature of this novel is ironically important; it allows you to actually feel repulsion and dread in a society that encourages the numbness of humanism in the face of ultraistic consumption. That is um I don’t know maybe important?

-Andrew

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