American Psycho (1991) – By Josh Samford

 I guess the first time I remember ever hearing about Bret Easton Ellis’ magnum opus was through an episode of Entertainment Tonight discussing the film version which had just went under production. All I recall of that little report was the discussions about how horrifying and disgusting the book was; and as a wee kid – I was of course terribly interested. My first view of the film, I thought it was an interesting film that didn’t really leave much of an impression on me (aside from may the threesome scene) – but it would be years before I discovered the madness of Bret Easton Ellis and his nihilist writings. Which for good or bad, has made an impression on my life and his work has grown on me to the point where I now consider Ellis one of my favorite authors. Ellis, I believe like many others, is a moralist by trade. He never passes judgment upon his characters, but never tries to cookie cutter them into a position that they obviously aren’t. He displays for his audience the absolute most horrible human condition possible, then allows his audience to judge the society around the situation. Nothing is EVER clear cut within a Brett Easton Ellis novel.

At some point I had stumbled upon Less Than Zero the film version a little while back. Maybe it was from the small segment on the sometimes brilliant/often times dreadful VH1 show "I Love The 80’s"; I can’t say for sure. However, I was drawn to the film from the clips they showed and their brief summary of the film depicting a group of teenagers fighting to get their best friend off drugs and such. I read up a little on the film, as any computer/film geek most assuredly will and found out about the controversy involved in the film and book being so completely drastic from one another. I tracked down a VHS copy of Less Than Zero shortly thereafter and found that it really wasn’t that bad of a film. Certainly not anything that would blow my mind of cause me to go out and try and advertise for it; but it had an interesting backbone – and being drawn to controversy like everyone else and already at this point dying to read American Psycho (as I live in a small town, it took me a while to actually track the book down at a local dealer) I checked the book version out at the local library. I still remember those long nights working at the saw mill I was currently employed at; reading about Clay and his never ending drug fueled binges along with his equally depressing and horrifying friends who all help to completely defile their own childhoods one step at a time. I’m not meaning to go on so long about Less Than Zero; but the whole point I’m trying to make is that Brett Easton Ellis will change you. Ellis hits you like a sledgehammer and depending on what emotion he is wishing to drag out of you – he will get what he wants. Whether it is disgust, whether it is anger, depression… he is a master of emotional production. Less Than Zero left me in a state of depression for around a weeks time. I kid you not. The book had me remembering friends I have grown up with, who are now in similar situations. Drug addicted and with no future; only not fortunate enough to have the wealth to fall back on. It was a horrifying view at a civilization of people I am blissfully unaware of, and although he works in extremes, there is still that level of realism in his writing. Who knows exactly what the rich get up to when left to their own devices? Although I can assure you they aren’t all chopping each other up with chainsaws or molesting children; Ellis tackles the issues of conformity, addiction, greed, status-obsession and self-love with a blunt and unnerving style that can be only his. This is why I recommend his work only to those open to something that is beyond the limits. Bret Easton Ellis most assuredly is that.

American Psycho is Ellis at his most extreme in terms of violence – and unfortunately there are people who see only that side of the story; depite when reading the book it becomes incredibly obvious that the violence is only used to further hammer in the point that the author is trying to make about the duality of character and the utter atrophy of human emotion at the end of the century. There are many ways to interpret the book, but very few easy answers. Patrick Bateman is a character that although he gives you no reason to like him, shows nothing good, likeable or charming about his true nature – he is an absolutely enamoring character. The character that Ellis created follows the direct resemblance of a true psychopath. Pat Bateman is the living breathing definition of a psychopath. One who uses his charm and control to get by in society and to grow closer to those around him in order to use them – but without remorse or any feelings whatsoever inside of him that would tell him how other people might feel. Bateman cares about only himself and his sickening desires. He is a sadist who takes pleasure in the pain of others. He is a racist, a misogynist and a cannibal. What is worst about Bateman though is the fact that he has no definable pattern in his killing behavior. He doesn’t kill just women, he doesn’t kill just men, he doesn’t kill just children – he kills; for the sake of killing. This makes Bateman a contrary to most serial killers, he is like a surgeon just looking for some practice. Taking drills to women who are nailed to planks of wood just to see what kind of sickening behavior he can get up to. Although this book isn’t reality, it is scary how Ellis was able to delve into the mind of this bizarre criminal and deliver such a realistic journal of his insanity as it slowly slips out of his own grip.

American Psycho is definitely a book that is only going to be for a specific niche of people to enjoy. The novel starts off so incredibly slow that I have to admit I found myself skipping paragraphs. There are pages and pages where Bateman simply describes what clothing people in the room happen to be wearing, what kind of furniture they have, who designed it, etc. This is used to express how in this society people simply ARE what they wear and what is on the outside USUALLY reflects what is underneath. The book goes on for about 130 pages before Bateman’s homicidal tendencies are brought to the foreground. Then from there out the book grows into chapters that alternate between the mundane, expository and the horrifyingly violent. American Psycho twists and turns and leaves the audience either heaving or utterly blown away. I, myself, was one of those blown away. After reading this book, I am off to discover more of Ellis’ work and can’t wait to continue into his nihilist realm where people and the society around them really are THAT bad; and that survival and redemption may no longer even be possible. It’s not a happy view of certain segments of society, but Ellis gives it light in his passion for an underlying hope that we don’t all have to be this way and maybe some people can wake up from stumbling upon his work.