American Psycho

by KE Monahan Huntley

October celebrates horror. It is only fitting then, that this is the month in which Stephen King's novella, Apt Pupil, will finally be released as a feature film, directed by Bryan Singer. A more dubious undertaking is Lions Gate Films' attempt to translate another tale of terror to the screen, American Psycho -- the 1991 controversial Bret Easton Ellis novel. American Psycho's main character, Manhattan yuppie Patrick Bateman, is a psycho. So is Apt Pupil's clean-cut boy next door, Todd Bowden. Both epitomize unholy evil with no chance of redemption -- a hard sell at the box office. From a Dramatica standpoint, the pertinent difference between the two accounts of aberrant behavior is that Patrick Bateman's mc throughline is the only point of view, while Todd Bowden takes center stage of a Dramatica grand argument story.

Patrick Bateman initially calls to mind Newland Archer, Edith Wharton's main character in The Age of Innocence. He is inordinately concerned about his "prep perfect" image, much like Archer: ". . . what was or was not "the thing" played a part as important in Newland Archer's New York as the inscrutable totem terrors that had ruled the destinies of his forefathers thousands of years ago" (Wharton 4). However, as American Psycho's anti-hero descends into hellish all out depravity, it becomes apparent that Bateman has far more in common with Todd Bowden, Apt Pupil's ostensible All-American high school teen.

Patrick Bateman is one of many in the "Army of Wall Street." The excessive psychopathic activities he engages in are rendered invisible by his GQ fashion plate exterior, and matched only by the excess of the 1980's, particularly enjoyed by the disaffected young financiers who are also heirs to ungodly family fortunes. He has no influence character, an advocate to an alternative path -- even society does not fill the bill, as it too is self-centered and tired. A relationship story, the relationship between the main and influence characters, does not exist -- and whatever objective story may be alluded to is seen as a Cristal and cocaine kaleidoscope through Patrick Bateman's Wayfarer sunglasses. Without providing any perspective but his own, the novel is nothing but an end of millennium monologue -- an extremely witty tribute to cannibalistic consumerism and serial killer techniques.

Apt Pupil examines socially reprehensible subject matter (os domain-mind) from Dramatica's four throughlines. Todd Bowden has discovered his "GREAT INTEREST" in Nazi war crimes and criminals. Because of this, he is able to recognize Kurt Dussander (influence character), a former death camp commandant living in Todd's sunny SoCal suburb who, until now (ic critical flaw-instinct), has cleverly been able to hide his past (ss-concern) identity. Todd blackmails (mc approach-do-er) the old man into sharing his memories (os goal) of the horrors he and others had inflicted upon the Jews. As time goes on, their "sick symbiosis" (Beahm 205) develops--Dussander is able to put Todd in his power (ic domain-psychology). He threatens exposing the boy for not reporting to the authorities his knowledge (mc problem) of the infamous war criminal's whereabouts. Todd finds himself caught in an untenable position, knowing no one will understand why he hadn't come forward at once. The situation (rs domain-universe) between the two intensifies as others recognize and remember (os concern-memory) Dussander, and Todd's own criminal activities (mc domain-physics) -- resulting from his association with Dussander -- are closely scrutinized.

There are no repercussions for the monstrous main characters (outcome-success). Patrick Bateman does not have any angst (judgment-good) at American Psycho's end: "This is how people, you know, me, behave" (Easton Ellis 399). Todd Bowden suffers no remorse, either (judgment-good):

"Everything was fine. Everything was together. The blankness left his face and a kind of wild beauty filled it. . . . 'I'm king of the world!' he shouted mightily at the high blue sky, and raised the rifle two-handed over his head for a moment" (King 286).

Patrick Bateman and Todd Bowden's socially unacceptable actions and attitudes explored in emotionally charged and often morally repugnant material makes Apt Pupil and American Psycho risky business as far as commercially successful screen adaptations. As a film, Apt Pupil, however, may draw a larger audience as it is taken from a story that considers its content from Dramatica's four perspectives, affording an argument complete with thought provoking problems and solutions. American Psycho, if presented on film as it appears in the novel, will offer only one point of view -- a Halloween tale guaranteed to generate more nightmares than revenues.

About the Author

KE Monahan Huntley is an editor and publisher based in Southern California. As one of the original contributors to Dramatica, she helped edit and analyze many of the examples. In addition, her numerous articles provided an insightful "conversational" approach to the theory. Today she can be found at Write Between the Lines or follow her on Twitter @kemhuntley.

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