“I had all the characteristics of a human being—flesh, blood, skin, hair—but my depersonalization was so intense, had gone so deep, that my normal ability to feel compassion had been eradicated, the victim of a slow, purposeful erasure. I was simply imitating reality, a rough resemblance of a human being, with only a dim corner of my mind functioning.”
Directed by Mary Harron and based on Bret Easton Ellis‘ 1991 book of the same name, American Psycho follows 26-year-old Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), a young, handsome and wealthy investment banking executive from New York, who has a beautiful fiancée, Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon), a secretary who’s in love with him, Jean (Chloë Sevigny), and everything a man of his age could only dream of. Yet Bateman remains indistinguishable from his Wall Street colleague – Timothy Bryce (Justin Theroux), Craig McDermott (Josh Lucas), David Van Patten (Bill Sage), Luis Carruthers (Matt Ross), and Paul Allen (Jared Leto). That is, apart from one thing: Bateman is a psychotic serial killer, delving deeper into his violent, hedonistic fantasies as his everyday routine becomes more and more mundane. Fueled by materialism and envy, Bateman’s murderous impulses are sharpened as he steps up his homicidal activities to a frenzied pitch. But how much can he get away with?
The following post is a review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book. You can read my review of the book on its own here.
For a film that is centred around murder and sexual violence, American Psycho is surprisingly engaging to watch. A large part of that is down to Bret Easton Ellis‘ brilliant book that the film is based on, but it’s all strongly to do with Christian Bale‘s phenomenal performance as Patrick Bateman in this adaptation.
Although the character of Bateman should be immensely dislikeable, Ellis crafted his characteristics so well that we find ourselves almost condoning his behaviour, urging him to pursue his alter ego as a psychopathic murderer at times, with Bale taking on the role to become one of his most stand-out performances to date.
Full of shock and intrigue, although not half as gory as the book, the adaptation has a classic feel to it, using similar lines of dialogue to the book and with superb acting throughout.
A social satire that is relevant even today, Bateman’s narration and lengthy monologues, focusing on the irrelevance of his everyday life, are read aloud by Bale perfectly. Contrasted against his brutal actions, as well, it’s almost impossible not to want to crazily laugh along with him; it’s so deliriously twisted that you can’t help but be so drawn in by it.
Best of all, the twist at the end of the film can be interpreted in so many different ways that you will think differently about this film every time you watch it – sometimes seeing Bateman as so bored with his mundane life that he simply made everything up in his head, sometimes seeing it as Bateman being such a gutless character that nobody believed he could do such a thing, and other times seeing it as people just not caring enough, blurring everybody together because of how they all dress the same and work the same job, that it makes no difference if one of them accidentally goes missing.
As an adaptation, Harron makes excellent use of Ellis’ book. Whilst the film is much more watered down (many of the scenes we wouldn’t want to see on-screen, anyway) compared to the vivid details of the book’s sex scenes and descriptions of mutilation, the film captures the tone of the book perfectly.
The book does come across as more intellectual with the obsessive use of detail and descriptive narrations being even lengthier, sometimes spanning whole chapters just to describe a band’s discography, but Harron always references the same qualities that she has left out from the book, which is a brilliant nod to Ellis’ fans.
Differences From The Book:
Firstly, the film has a very different structure to the book but, because the book is so repetitive in its sequencing, the chapters are so interchangeable that it really doesn’t make a difference as to what order they happen in. I will, therefore, try to avoid commenting on how certain scenes happen at different times in the book since these changes happen so often.
With that in mind, here’s a list of the changes in chronological order:
- The book begins with Patrick and his colleagues in a taxi, heading over to Evelyn’s house for a party. This is where Patrick meets Evelyn’s artist friends. This scene is not in the film, which instead starts in a restaurant, allowing the film to start and end in the same way. In the film, Patrick then meets Evelyn’s friends much later on in a different restaurant, although conversations are very similar.
- In the book, Patrick’s morning ritual is detailed much more in-depth than it is in the film, but it still remains a key scene.
- The book spends less time in the office, and more time in restaurants and clubs. This emphasises how Patrick doesn’t actually need to work because of how rich he is, whereas he’s in the office quite often in the film, although he isn’t seen doing much work.
- On this note, Patrick and his colleagues show off their business cards in a restaurant in the book, whilst they do this in the office in the film.
- In the book, Patrick often mentions a talk show that he watches every single morning, quickly referencing the show’s daily subject in the middle of his narrations. This show isn’t mentioned in the film.
- In the book, Patrick talks about what people are wearing more often, almost constantly. He is also often asked for advice on what to wear, name-dropping big brand names in a very over-the-top manner. This is only heard briefly in the film.
- In the book, the boys also often talk about AIDs and share sex stories, often belittling women. This also doesn’t happen as much in the film.
- In the book, Patrick goes to the gym and details all of his workouts. In the film, we see Patrick doing his workouts at home.
- Patrick often says that he is going to return some videotapes in the film. In the book, we actually read about him in the shop, renting the same DVD over and over again as well as buying porn.
- In the book, Patrick has a nosebleed a couple of times because of the amount of cocaine he snorts. He also has a panic attack randomly. He doesn’t do any of this in the film.
- In the book, Patrick refers/hints to a number of murders he has committed before we witness this first hand. In the film, we don’t know about Patrick’s “hobby” until we see him kill a homeless man and his dog.
- In the book, Tom Cruise lives in Patrick’s block of apartments and they share a lift together one day, when Patrick mistakes the name of Cruise’s film Cocktail for Bartenders. Patrick also spots Sylvester Stallone in a restaurant and goes to a U2 concert. These celebrities/events are not mentioned in the film.
- In the book, Patrick doesn’t take Courtney to Arcadia, which she mistakes for Dorsia, although he does go out with her and a couple of other friends later on. In the book, it is a random girl called Patricia that he lies to about going to Dorsia, tempting her not to go to a concert and to go out with him instead, by lying to her about what restaurant they are going to. Annoyed, she barely talks to him throughout their dinner.
- In the book, Patrick bumps into his ex-girlfriend, Beth, whilst out for dinner. They later go out for lunch and Patrick ends up killing her because she’s planning to get married to another guy. In the film, Patrick only mentions Beth in his phone call to his lawyer at the end. He tells his lawyer that he killed her with a nail gun whereas, in the book, he kills her with mace, stabs her, and then bites her fingers off. The next morning, he stares at his reflection in her pool of blood and plays with her dismembered arm.
- In the book, the character is called Paul Owen but, in the film, he is called Paul Allen.
- In the book, there are three chapters dedicated to musicians, which is purely Patrick narrating to himself at great length. In the film, he only briefly talks about these artists to people he is about to kill – Huey Lewis and the News to Paul, and Whitney Houston to Christie and Elizabeth.
- In the book, Detective Donald Kimball is a young detective, around the same age as Patrick but, in the film, Willem Dafoe appears older. Patrick also only has one meeting with the detective in the book, whilst the detective visits him in his office twice and they go out for lunch in the film.
- In the book, Patrick has a meal with his brother, and later with his mother. None of his family are even mentioned in the film.
- In the book, Luis follows Patrick into a clothes shop. In the book, Patrick follows him into the men’s toilets. Patrick also bumps into him one other time in the book, but it is only the once in the film.
- In the book, Patrick takes a model home and has sex with her, but tells her to leave before he hurts her because he’s afraid that he might lose control. In the film, we don’t see them together in his apartment, but it is hinted at that he has killed her.
- In the book, Patrick takes Jean out for dinner at Dorsia, attempting to get in by using fake names, but he is caught out and they are asked to leave. In the film, they do not leave Patrick’s apartment on their date, where he has the above conversation with Jean, instead. He also thinks about killing her and receives a voicemail from Evelyn, but this doesn’t happen in the book since they are not in his apartment.
- In the film, during this apartment scene, Jean asks Patrick whether he wants to make somebody happy. This conversation happens later in the book, when Patrick asks Jean out on another date after his confession to his lawyer, when Jean also confesses her love for him.
- In the book, Patrick often comments that Jean is in love with him. He doesn’t in the film. He also finds himself daydreaming about a normal life with her.
- In the book, Patrick spends the summer with Evelyn away from the city. He gets so fed up with her that he thinks about ways to kill her, drowns her dog, eats a jellyfish, and eventually has to leave. They do not spend this time together in the film.
- In the book, both of the sex scenes and the murder scenes are much more detailed and vulgar. Surprisingly, what we see in the film is very watered down. For example, in the book, we read about Patrick biting off various body parts, dismembering his victims, playing with their body parts, using mace and acid and inflicting pain in any way possible.
- In the film, Christie runs out of the apartment and Patrick kills her by dropping a chainsaw on her. In the book, she does not make it outside. Instead, he tortures them both all night and kills them in the morning.
- In the book, Patrick doesn’t break up with Evelyn until later on and, just before, he makes her eat a urinal cake covered in chocolate.
- In the book, Patrick goes to the zoo and kills a little boy with a slice to the neck. He then pretends to be a doctor and comments that he much prefers to kill adults. This doesn’t happen in the film.
- Patrick doesn’t feed a stray cat to the cash machine in the book. He does, however, have various other hallucinations that are not seen in the film.
- There are more sex scenes with other girls in the book. To torture one of them, he forces a rat inside of her and watches it rummage around. This was obviously too gruesome for the film, but it can be seen in the drawings that Jean finds.
- In the book, Patrick details how he eats certain parts of his victims, too, cooking their meat like sausages and making meatloaf, and eating their brains. He only mentions this in his voicemail to his lawyer, in the film.
- This book of doodles that Jean finds is not in the book. She does not find out about this side to him.
- In the book, after Patrick’s confessions, there are many more scenes around Patrick going to restaurants and having sex, seeing him carry on living a normal life, whereas he remains quite panicked about his actions in the film.
- In the book, Patrick is mugged by a taxi driver who says that he recognises Patrick from a wanted poster for killing one of this fellow drivers. This is not in the film.
- The book ends with Patrick reading the sign “This is not an exit.” This sign can be seen in the background of the film, but it is not highlighted.
Although there are quite a few differences from the film to the book, Harron keeps the dialogue very similar and references any scenes that she has left out to ensure that fans of the book will be satisfied.
Whilst not as gory or as intense as the book, the film adaptation is still a shocking watch that leaves a big impact, capturing the tone perfectly and adding a brilliant cast that makes it even more enjoyable to experience.
Watching the film before reading the book means that you can picture Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, which makes the read even more engaging, too, but they’re both certainly worth your time and attention and, despite their controversies, which each remain classics for years to come.
You can buy American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis here or listen to the audiobook version for free with a 30-Day free Audible trial on Amazon.