From Book to Screen: Bret Easton Ellis

Emil Ekelund

Emil is a movie-loving Swede, more prone to sarcasm and dry humor than to the berzerking of his Viking ancestors. While he enjoys most types of movies, a lot of his favorites tend to be various kinds of comedies. An unashamed fanboy of both Jason Statham and Shannyn Sossamon, he will watch any movie to feature either of those actors, no matter how bad they seem (if they were to appear in the same film together, his head might very well collapse). He does the vast majority of his movie-watching at home but occasionally ventures out to the cinema, at least whenever a new Christopher Nolan film arrives. When not occupied with film, Emil enjoys other forms of fine culture such as books, video games and pro wrestling. He also likes tea and beards. He runs a film blog called A Swede Talks Movies, tweets at @Esh_Kebab and is known as Eshegnev on Flickchart.

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14 Responses

  1. First of all, Emil: Kudos for thinking to make note of the screenwriters for each adaptation! That’s a nice touch.

    I’ve seen and read American Psycho but none of the others. I’m reminded of Jon Ronson’s recent work of non-fiction, The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry. In it, Ronson informs us that his research has revealed that psychopathy is a tremendous advantage in the corporate world, where human lives are reduced to statistics and dollar signs. It is entirely fitting, then, that Patrick Bateman would be in that world.

    It’s less clear in the film, but Bateman’s very insecure over how he measures up to his colleagues. The business card scene does a nice job showing us how competitive his world is. I think we’ve all had someone make us feel small for the very thing we thought had been a feather in our proverbial cap. I’m not saying that justifies anything that Patrick Bateman does or anything like that, but it is one of those rare instances where I think the rest of us can kind of identify with his insecurities and resentments.
    One thing I’ve wondered is just how much disparity there is between Patrick and his colleagues. In the novel, especially, there’s a pervasive sense that he’s putting on airs to attempt to fit into their jet-setting ways. I wonder, though, if it’s not a matter of his mental health imbalance telling him that he’s inadequate, rather than him actually being any kind of lower-rate One Percenter. It’s also fascinating to revisit Bateman’s world in light of the last few years and what we’ve seen done to the global economy by the very group he represents.I look forward to the forthcoming second adaptation of American Psycho chiefly because I feel there’s still quite a lot of material left on the page that could make for a fascinating film. I have a sneaking suspicion that what we’ll find is that there’s room for a second adaptation that bears little resemblance to the Harron adaptation, yet is quite faithful to Ellis’s source material. It’s not often that one work can yield two disparate adaptations, and it’s a sign of the depth and complexity of his novel that this is quite likely.

  2. Emil Ekelund says:

    Mentioning the screenwriters seemed relevant, as the screenplay is the middleground between the books and the finished films. Plus, since Ellis himself helped write one of the scripts, there was further need to point it out.

    Good point about Patrick’s insecurity. That’s one aspect of him that the movie doesn’t really focus on as much. It’s been a few years since I read the novel, so maybe this was adressed and I’ve just forgotten it, but the whole murder thing might just be Patrick’s subconscious way of standing out from his peers. He realizes that despite all his efforts to be perfect, he’s just like everyone else. So the killings is his way of doing something nobody else would. He becomes perfect AND one-of-a-kind.

    I get the feeling that Patrick doesn’t quite measure up to his colleagues professionally. It’s hard to tell since we’re never in the shoes of any of them, and they’re just as materialistic and unable to tell each other apart as Patrick, but he is certainly shown to never be doing any work or having any real grasp of what he even does for a living. True, there doesn’t seem to be any real confusion about the aftermath of Paul Allen’s death – you would think an important businessman dying would create some mass panic about who’s to take over his accounts and stuff – which could imply that Allen isn’t very capable either. But then again, we don’t know if he really died or not. Could go either way, I suppose.

    I am curious to see what the new adaptation will be like, though I remain somewhat skeptical for now. There are certainly interesting directions to take things, though. I would like some kind of focus on the repetitiveness found in the novel – the endless analyzing and description of outfits, the increasingly bizarre talk shows on Patrick’s TV, etc.. Really hammer it home not just what an empty life Patrick leads, but also what a boring one it is to him.

    Ellis went on a Twitter-binge a while ago where he tossed around ideas for a sequel novel that would be set in the present. He imagined Patrick being a hedge funder in L.A.. He would hate Obama, love the Kardashians. The Help would be his favorite movie, and he’d be a fan of The Celebrity Apprentice. And he’d have a lot to say about social networking sites, which he’d hate on principle yet use to keep track of his peers and find murder victims.  Ellis seemed to be really considering writing it, though whether anything happens remains to be seen. I’d certainly read it.

  3. pturner1010 says:

    Well I haven’t seen Less Than Zero or The Informers and I’ve read none of the books except American Psycho.  I’m glad they toned down the violence in the film as at one point I nearly threw the book away, it was so bloody disgusting.  Might have to read Rules of Attraction as I really liked the film version though a lot of that is down to the style.  Great post!

    • Emil Ekelund says:

       If you enjoyed the movie version of The Rules of Attraction, the book is well worth checking out just to see what has been changed and how. It’s rather interesting.

  4. Alex Withrow says:

    Wow. Ellis is my favorite author, so this article is a
    Godsend for me. First off, very very well done, Emil, there is not one single thing I do not love about this post. Secondly, we’re pretty much in agreement with your thoughts on Ellis’ books and the movies that were spawned from them.

    Aside from Downey Jr., I don’t like Less than Zero at all,
    but I do love the book.

    American Psycho, love the book and movie equally. I’ll be
    interested to see if the new American Psycho movie (which Ellis recently gave his seal of approval on) comes to fruition.

    I know Rules of Attraction is your favorite Ellis
    adaptation, and understandably so. I’m a huge fan of the book, and I adore the movie (especially Victor’s Euro extravaganza).

    The Informers is my favorite Ellis book, so when I saw the
    movie at Sundance, I was ecstatic. But, like you, I think the flick is a disaster, as does Ellis. A horrible, horrible film treatment.

    Bring on Glamorama!

    • Emil Ekelund says:

      Wow, thanks for the kind words! Looks like we’re on the same page for the most part here.

      Words can’t express how much I’m looking forward to Avary’s Glamorama. I thought the novel was brilliant, and knowing what Avary has done with Ellis material in the past, there’s no reason why the film shouldn’t be able to become something special.

  5. Sati says:

    Great article! I love American Psycho the most but I did enjoy Rules of Attraction – the film definetly has ambiance and the unique feel to it. The Informers is a disaster, apart from the actors, the script isn’t very good and the director had no idea how to show the story.

    • Emil Ekelund says:

       Thank you kindly! Most people seem to prefer American Psycho, and it is a fine film indeed. The same certainly can’t be said about The Informers. Just because something works in book-form doesn’t mean it works on the screen, as that one clearly shows. Ellis would probably be better off staying away from screenwriting, at least when it’s based on his own stuff.

  6. 3guys1movie says:

    Nice article, I like your summation of the problem with Less than Zero,  not feeling the connection that Clay and Jullian had, it was hard to relate.  Although it did keep me away from crack.  I also really liked the look inside that Hollywood when I was 15.

    I have not seen that rules of attraction but it sounds like something I would enjoy, going to try and give that a watch.

    Ellis went to school with Donna Tartt  whose first novel A Secret History was amazing.  But the film has been in script limbo   forever. 

    one of my favorite novels

    • Emil Ekelund says:

       The Rules of Attraction is one of those films that took me by surprise. I borrowed the DVD from a friend, having never heard of it before but expecting something American Pie-ish. What I got was far away and far above my expectations. That was back before I had even heard of Ellis. It still remains a really entertaining movie. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

      A Secret History sounds intriguing. I might have to check that one out at some point. Thank you for the tip!