'American Psycho' Review: Book Versus Film
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'American Psycho' Review: Book Versus Film

Which one is better?

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'American Psycho' Review: Book Versus Film
Photo by Cassi Josh on Unsplash

I'll start by stating that I like the film and the book, but I am now left pondering which one I like better, or rather, which one I believe is better. My answer keeps changing and I would really like to come to a cohesive conclusion.

On The Text:

When I finished reading "American Psycho" I had mixed feelings. I was impressed by the novel's addictive quality in spite of it being incredibly repetitive and, in some ways, monotonous. I loved the satirical appeal of the text. The novel paints a hilarious (yet accurate) caricature of 1980s Wall Street pomposity, upper-class classism, misogyny, and the impending mania that comes with tirelessly projecting one's worth onto other people. Patrick Bateman is an incredibly nuanced character. He is neurotic, obsessive-compulsive, desperate to keep up appearances in spite of hating the world and everyone in it – and these qualities are fascinating.

Bateman's character study drives the plot. I was always eager to see just how far he would go, and also how far the author would go — in regard to the graphic violence. I was not disappointed. The novel is replete with scenes of cannibalism, necrophilia, mutilation, murder, and unabashed insanity. I found myself nodding along with Bateman's breathless criticisms of people's tastes, his overwhelming disgust for his contemporaries, and especially his superiors. His jealousy feels visceral. His powerlessness is a modern tragedy.

I suppose what I'm really trying to say is that whether you love Bateman, hate him, or want to kill him; you have to admit that he is interesting.

A chapter I would like to focus on is Lunch with Bethany, as it exemplifies some of the novel's strongest aspects. After a long awkward exchange with Bethany, an old girlfriend, Patrick becomes so infuriated when she pays for the meal that he becomes physically ill – a scene which I found very telling:

"I'll pay for it," I sigh.

"No," she says, opening her handbag. "I invited you."

"But I have a platinum American Express card," I tell her.

"But so do I," she says, smiling.

I pause, then watch her place the card on the tray the check came on. Violent convulsions seem close at hand if I do not get up. "The women's movement. Wow." I smile, unimpressed.

Outside, she waits on the sidewalk while I'm in the men's room throwing up my lunch, spitting out the squid, undigested and less purple than it was on my plate. When I come out of Vanities onto the street, putting on my Wayfarers, chewing a Cert, I murmur something to myself, and then I kiss her on the cheek and make up something else. "Sorry it took so long. Had to call my lawyer."

I like this scene and others like it in the novel (see "April Fools," "Tunnel," and "Another Night" – which consists entirely of a meandering dialogue regarding dinner reservations and overwhelming bitchiness on all sides.) These are all examples of a character study done right; this is showing without telling, and it is also telling without downright explaining. These chapters not only reveal the nuances of Patrick's inner workings but they also clearly illustrate the bizarre Wonderland he is forced to exist in.

I am focusing on "Lunch with Bethany" because it is a good example of all that is both right AND wrong with this novel. Patrick, now physically sickened by her gesture is later driven to madness by her decision to marry Robert Hall, the owner of the infamous Dorsia, and he resolves to murder her with blunt knives and a nail gun. He is further motivated by her critical remarks regarding the orientation of a painting on the wall, insisting that it is upside down. The torture and murder of Bethany is gratuitous and graphic.

Now, herein lies the biggest problem I had with the book. There is no doubting that this violent episode is well-written, cringe-inducing, and a guilty pleasure to read, or rather, endure. But scenes like this represent literally the tip of the iceberg. After this chapter, the violence escalates to bizarre proportions, becoming almost cartoonlike in its absurdity. Any chapter entitled "Girls," which contains paragraph after paragraph describing mutilated faces, the piles of body parts stacked up in the fridge and bathtub, even a ridiculous sequence in which Patrick chews on a raw intestine while watching "The Patty Winters Show" – ripped out all sense of my suspension of disbelief. I recognize that this was probably the author's intention; however the frequency of these episodes still became annoying to me, monotonous and frustrating, and overall a chore to read. By the time I reached the climax – a swelling chase scene which involves Bateman running around New York City murdering people left and right with nary a consequence – I was exhausted. I didn't care anymore.

After I finished the novel, I felt a nagging emptiness. I felt that it had been a waste of my time, as I'd had to trudge through so much meandering boring violence and 80s music reviews to get to the meat of the character, and even then that amounts to naught since Bateman is an unreliable narrator. The ending, as with the film, is confusing and intriguing, but I like to believe that Bateman at least killed Paul Allen – the real Paul Allen, not some guy he merely thinks is Paul Allen. But really, now, let's cool it with these heated Freudian dissections of his character. He doesn't know if he's insane – he doesn't know if he killed those people – so why should you?

Regarding the Film:

I love this movie.

The opening sequence perfectly highlights the important themes in the story: the constant confusing of identities, the disgusting pomposity and dripping wealth of the characters, and of course, the overwhelming fakeness of Bateman and his "friends."

The movie, like the book, serves as a great character study, although I find movie Bateman to be much less loathsome than book Bateman. He's more sympathetic, and you can tell that at his core he really does want to "fit in," unlike book Bateman who seems to get some sort of sick satisfaction from hating people.

It is slightly disappointing that the film couldn't have been more graphic. You get the gist of it, yes, but not by a long shot. The chainsaw scene was executed well, though, and I liked Bateman's battle cry after dropping a chainsaw smack into a woman's back.

The misogyny, however, doesn't translate as well on screen. Book Bateman really hated women, only referred to them as "hardbodies" and openly fantasized about slicing them up to almost everyone he met. He hated Evelyn, his fiancée, so much that he killed her dog, stood her up multiple times, and tried to feed her a urinal cake dipped in chocolate. Movie Bateman, while still a narcissistic woman-hater, seemed a bit more reserved in this regard. It didn't really seem like he was killing women because he hated them, but rather because they were easier to prey on. Not to mention that all of his male friends are his intellectual equals while all the women in his life are complete airheads.

Bateman's drug use is way better detailed in the book. He's coked out of his mind or sedated almost all the time. More importantly, perhaps, all of the people in his life are also on drugs, and this greatly affects his capacity to communicate sincerely with others.

The Al scene (in which Bateman murders a Black homeless man called Al) is much better executed in the book. I loved that in the book the killing gives him an appetite and he goes into a McDonald's and gorges himself, all while making a point to sit where he thinks Al would have. This is such a sharp contrast from the episodes in which he dines at 5-star restaurants and picks at his food or ignores it altogether, usually preferring to do lines of cocaine or drink copious amounts of J&B instead.

The use of narration/voiceover in the film is very effective, but underutilized. In the novel naturally, we're in Bateman's head all the time. In the film, there were too many times when I wondered what he was really thinking about while spewing all that self-important B.S. from his mouth.

Bateman's relationship with Jane (his secretary) is also murky at best in the film, whereas in the book it is clear that he has no desire to kill her simply because he realizes she would be the perfect woman for him. In the film, it seems as though he would kill her at the ready, or even that he desires to kill her – in this book, this is not so, although I admit that for the film this is an intriguing plot device and begs the question: Could Bateman ever have a genuine relationship with any woman? Or any human?

In Conclusion:

I like the movie. I like the book. But if I'm to be completely honest, I would say that despite its shortcomings I prefer the film. The book is good, the writing is top-notch. The descriptions are visceral and disgusting. But the book feels taxing – tedious – even boring in its constant monotony and repetition. It really drones at times. I prefer the film merely because it is quicker, perhaps because it is condensed, and perhaps because it does cover the essential bases even though it cannot tarry into extended detail. This is not to say that the book is not worthwhile -- the film is simply a better and more efficient use of your time.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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