I heard the news today, oh boy! It seems that Christain Bale is in some sort of domestic abuse trouble. He was arrested (and released) after allegedly assaulting his mother during an argument at a posh British hotel. I’m not usually into the gossip thing, but I am interested in Christian Bale, and I have been ever since seeing him in “Empire of the Sun” years ago. Now, after reading Will’s review of “The Dark Knight,” and enjoying his snarky comments about Bale’s performance, I began to remember that I wrote a review of American Psycho months ago and never posted it. The movie version of “American Psycho” stinks, and I thought Bale’s performance in that movie was terrible. He was the worst possible choice they could have made for the role of Patrick Bateman–the absolute worst, but, then, I thought the novel should never have been made into a movie in the first place. Some novels need to stew in their own juices for eternity. American Psycho is one of those novels.
Here is my review of American Psycho–the book, not the movie:
There was a huge public outcry when American Psycho was released. Reviewers admonished people not to read it. It was labeled subversive and misogynistic and utterly without merit. It was said to be filled with gratuitous sex and violence, and Ellis was panned as being a “media whore” who wrote the book so he could have his fifteen minutes of fame.
Well, that was all the impetus I needed! I flew to the nearest bookstore and flew home with a pristine copy. I read until the wee hours of the morning and finished it the next evening. I decided the novel was total trash and stuck in my bookcase, thinking I would probably end up throwing it away later on. Disposal of the novel never happened though, in fact, over the next several days I found myself pulling it off the shelf and rereading entire passages just to make sure that I was recalling them correctly. I had American Psycho on the brain, and it was not an enjoyable experience. Even though it was creeping me out, I just couldn’t get it out of my head. It was the most disturbing book I had ever read.
It’s been at least fifteen years since I’ve read American Psycho, but I remember quite a bit about it. I can recall entire sections of this novel, probably because I reread them so much. Last night, as I was thumbing through my copy in preparation for this post, I started feeling the same repulsion and fascination that I felt when I read it way back when.
Now for the nuts and bolts: American Psycho is not a good novel, but it is an important one. It’s satirical, but not in a comical way. Satire does not always have to be comical. The protagonist, Patrick Bateman, is a successful Wall Street wunderkind by day and serial killer by night. He is a textbook sociopath. Mutilation and torture arouse him, and violence soon becomes the only means through which he can achieve sexual climax. The novel draws parallels between Bateman’s career as a cutthroat stockbroker and his career as a gruesome murderer. American Psycho is trying to tell us that capitalism is as violent and merciless as Patrick Bateman, and Bateman’s disregard for women as anything but body parts to be abused and discarded is a mirror reflection of modern society’s objectification of women.
Here’s a passage that displays some of the novel’s themes quite well:
“…I didn’t work out this morning because I’d made a necklace from the bones of some girl’s vertebrae and wanted to stay home and wear it around my neck while I masturbated in the white marble tub in my bathroom, grunting and moaning like some animal. Then I watched a movie about five lesbians and ten vibrators. Favorite group: Talking Heads. Drink: J & B or Absolut on the rocks. TV show: Late Night with David Letterman. Soda: Diet Pepsi. Water: Evian. Sport: Baseball.” (p. 395)
I believe quite a few feminists had conniptions about American Psycho, and I can totally see where they were coming from, but I also think they didn’t want to understand it. The novel deserves to be read critically and objectively. At its core, American Psycho is a story about the thoughts and actions of a thrill killer. In order to make Patrick Bateman believable (and detestable), Ellis had to write dispassionately and graphically. The violence, especially those passages containing sexual violence, had to be written with the same cold hardness that any sexploitative slasher film uses during its most graphic scenes. There can be no feelings; serial killers have no feelings. At a deeper level, Bateman’s detached views of everything: from his wardrobe to his career to his relationships to the way blood spurts after cutting a victim’s legs off with a chain saw, symbolize our own detachment. We have become so inured to graphic sex and violence that very little moves us. In order to become aroused from our stupor, we require a steadily decaying diet of violence and depravity.
American Psycho, like A Clockwork Orange and other postmodern nihilistic satires, has no need to be on anyone’s top 10 list. We don’t have to like it, but we do have to appreciate what it is trying to tell us about ourselves. In my opinion, it should be regarded as one of the most important indictments of modern society’s narcissisim and inhumanity ever written.