Ghost Stories and Serial Killers. Why I Love American Psycho

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I'm slowly getting into the Halloween mood with my reading and watching choices. I read The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde and American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis for an LGBT reading event. The Canterville Ghost is an entertaining, family-friendly ghost story, but I liked Wilde's other works better. However, American Psycho blew me away.

American Psycho: the book vs. the movie

I watched Mary Harron's movie adaptation for the first time a few years ago and it instantly became one of my favorite movies. I was never a huge fan of horror or crime movies, but this one was pure enjoyment from the first second to the last. Christian Bale is incredible in the role of Patrick Bateman, a serial killer, but other actors in supporting roles are also great (you probably all know Chloe Sevigny, Reese Witherspoon, Jared Leto and William Dafoe). Here is the most famous scene from the movie:


As I mentioned before, I don't enjoy violence scenes that much, but the movie isn't too graphic anyway. If you haven't seen the movie yet, I strongly suggest you do so, because it's a great comment on the narcissist generation of western society. It's also accompanied with an awesome pop music of the late 1980s. It obviously isn't family friendly, but you won't lose your dinner if the above scene wasn't too much for you.

If you're interested in reading the book, I certainly recommend it, but you may prefer to do it on an empty stomach. I was reading it with expectations I got from the movie and I was honestly shocked while reading certain chapters - and I thought that violence saturated TV generation prepared me for everything! This is where the power of the written word kicked in - words can play a scarier game with your mind than direct images.

Mistletoe Mild spoilers alert!

So yeah, the scariest parts (killing in the ZOO, what he did with prostitutes' bodies etc.) of the book weren't included in the movie and I actually think this was the right decision. These chapters weren't so scary because of the graphic descriptions by themselves, but more because of Bateman's narration. The way he is describing his feelings and behavior is heart-breaking. I felt disgusted, but also concerned and sad.

Ellis captured the generation of  "absent father" amazingly, but I wish there was more information about his childhood (I have a feeling that the author made this on purpose). We only learn that he is a child of divorce, his brother is a drug addict, his father is the owner of the company where he works and his mother is senile at the time of his adulthood. One time he mentions that he raped the family's maid as a teenager. So it's clear that he had anything he needed as a child (financially speaking), but he didn't get genuine love from his parents. 

There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable... I simply am not there.
He is portrayed as a typical narcissist and consumerist which is perfectly captured in the opening scene (above). Take notice of what he says about the idea of Patrick Bateman. He's obviously highly intelligent because he has a good ability of self-analyzing, but his suffering is unfortunately beyond repair. He suffers from OCD, perfectionism and hallucinations (the latter may be drug-induced). He desperately wants to fit in the society, although he despises it. In the book he confesses his wish to be loved and taken seriously by others. However, he is unable to return such feelings toward others because he can only regard them as objects or means to fulfill his desires. His urge to kill is never completely satisfied, so his homicidal behavior becomes more frequent and brutal towards the end.

Both book and the movie are concluded with an open, unclear end. Patrick miraculously escapes a killing spree and confesses his crimes to his attorney, but he doesn't believe him, claiming that he had lunch with Paul Allen (whom he murdered in the famous movie scene). He revisits Paul's apartment where he brutally murdered two prostitutes, but there is no trace of the composing bodies. This made me wonder if it was all only Bateman's hallucination, but the fact that Paul's apartment was strongly scented with flowers suggests that something is gravely wrong in this place. So did he commit these murders or did he only imagine it? The movie seems to support the latter interpretation, but the book is written in the favor of the former one.

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