If you thought the trailers for American Psycho were intense, then you should see the film. The trailer for the upcoming adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 book was one of the first viral videos when it was released in September 2017. The clip shows a graphic scene of a masked assailant stabbing a man 62 times as he walks down the street. The video has amassed more than 300 million views on YouTube.
But the film is much more than just a violent spectacle. American Psycho is a story about a man who feels isolated and insecure in the world. “It’s a very interesting case study in how the ’90s were experienced by someone who was there in the ’80s and stayed in New York through the whole decade,” film critic Roger Ebert said in 2017. “It’s a very dark piece, but it also explores the funny side of living in a strange time.”
The film adaptation of American Psycho is directed by and stars Christian Bale as the titular character, a charismatic and successful serial killer who roams the city in the ’80s.
Unlike the source material, the movie follows a more traditional route, with a start and an end. There’s no superfluous scenes; everything is tightly packed with suspense. This makes the movie much more digestible and watchable, especially since the story is more or less linear. There aren’t any flashbacks or flash-forwards, and the few scenes that do stray from the book are done with such economy that they don’t feel like detours but rather like speed bumps on the way to the finish line. (1)
The film also sticks closer to Ellis’ original text than the novel it’s based on. In the film adaptation, the character of Christian Bale’s is much more streamlined and less complex than that of the book’s Patrick Bateman. In an interview with Vogue, Ellis said that he was surprised by how little his book was adapted for the screen, adding that he hopes this will lead to more writers and directors taking his work more seriously.
The change is probably for the best. Even in the book, Patrick Bateman is a prickly character who sees himself as a superior being and a self-proclaimed genius. His complexity makes him an interesting character to adapt, but also one that viewers might be put off by. (2)
The more streamlined story allows for a greater focus on character building, which is where the movie excels. It’s not often that you get a movie where the main character isn’t a complete jerk, yet you understand why he’s a jerk. In the book, Patrick Bateman is an insufferable character who does and says incredibly obnoxious things, yet the reader still feels sorry for him because he’s clearly mentally ill. That mental illness is what makes the book interesting and worth reading, but it doesn’t exactly make for good television. (3)
But perhaps the biggest difference between the book and the movie is how they handle the murder scenes. In the novel, Ellis uses gruesome and grisly graphic violence to horrifying effect. “He enjoyed the rush of a good killing, the way it made his blood pump faster and his heart pound harder,” Ellis writes in the novel’s first chapter. (4)
The violence in American Psycho is much more restrained, even though it’s still murder. In the film, the characters aren’t shown in graphic detail as they’re stabbed or shot. Instead, we get quick flashes of blood as someone is cut or wounded. It doesn’t hurt as much as you’d think, since the movie uses a modified form of the “half-crawl, half-run” method of knife fighting that John Wick advocates in his self-defense tutorials. It also prevents the violence from being overly gruesome and prevents the audience from being deterred from seeing the film because of its content. (5)
What’s Next For Christian Bale?
Since Batman became a hit movie franchise, Christian Bale has been busy working non-stop.
In 2014, he starred in the biopic film, Ford v Ferrari, about Kenyon Ford, an automotive visionary credited with creating the modern hybrid car. The following year, he released the action thriller, The Dark Knight Rises, in which he plays retired Batman Bruce Wayne. (6)
In 2016, he starred in the historical epic, Hacksaw Ridge, about a conscientious objector in World War II who helps lead his community to resist the Nazi forces. (7)
The years between 1995 and 1997 were eventful ones for Bale. He starred in the blockbusters, The Fugitive, Fearless, and Psycho. He also won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in The Fruitvale Station. (8)
In 2018, he starred in the western The Promise, which was mostly filmed in Ireland. He then traveled to Australia to film the psychological thriller, 10 Cloverfield Lane. (9)
He’s currently starring in a new sci-fi western, The Biggest Little Farm, with Rosamund Pike and Octavia Spencer. (10)
Overall, A Cut Above
If all of the above wasn’t enough, Bale also appears in the 2018 film adaptation of Stephen King’s It, which was nominated for Best Picture at the 2019 Oscars. (11)
So what do you think? Is this just another case of Hollywood ruining a good thing or is it time to give Christian Bale a call?