Thursday, October 13, 2005

Adapting A Novel

I just finished reading American Psycho(Bret Easton Ellis), and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's definitely not for the faint of heart. The reader is basically put into the head of a madman, and gets bombarded with the constant musings of Patrick Bateman, in all their obsessive and gore soaked glory.

Anyway, I always have loved American Psycho, the movie. I consider it a dark comedy, and to that effect, it succeeds. Most who don't like it seem to think of it as either a) Psychological thriller or b) a Horror film. But I believe taken as a dark comedy, it delivers constant laughs. Of course, if you're not into dark comedy, this will have little effect on whether you like it or not-you'll hate it.

So having said all that, it was with great eagerness that I dove into the novel 4 days ago. In the early going, it was a tough read. It was very difficult to get the perspective down because there are thoughts, dialogue, sentences from characters that go on with no reply, run on sentences...ect. However, once you get accustomed to it, by chapter 2 or 3, it makes for a more comfortable ride. And what a ride. This is a brutally violent book. I mean just plain nasty, and Ellis spares no details, no matter how small(In fact, that goes for the entire book). Each incision is noted graphically, and I have to warn that the book is one hundred times as brutal as the movie. Maybe one thousand times. And it's also pretty damn funny. Which brings me (finally) to the adaptation job of Mary Harron and GuinevereTurner. The sheer amount of information they had to sift through is just mountainous. What they did is combine multiple characters into one, put some of Batemans narratives/monologues over some of the main action, killing two birds with one stone. There is a steady stream of narrative from Bateman, and it's too much for a film, but they picked and pieced together their own narrative from Batemans seemingly most important thoughts. Since they couldn't show the dozens of murders, they had him rather ingeniously go into detail for each killing mentioned in the book in his confession to his lawyer. In the book, his confession is much shorter, but in the movie, he goes on and on about a mans body rotting in a "bath tub of acid in Hell's Kitchen", and many other's. Of course, in the book, we read that he actually did all of those things while he's doing them, but in a film, trying to condense 400 pages into 100 pages, some things just won't fit. So he slyly mentions each one(most) from the book while he's on the phone. I thought that was a nice touch.

And the amazing job Harron and Guinevere did extracting the relevant information to tell the same story, but in a hyper condensed form is simply stunning. I can't even fathom how I would have done it. Where would I start? Go one chapter at a time and outline the info I want to use? It seems to me I would still come up with far too much.

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is, American Psycho is a great study for those who are thinking on adapting a novel into screenplay format. It's a fine example, or a how-to, to say the least.


Moses said...

I agree with you on the dark humor aspect of American Psycho. I really enjoyed the film. Haven't read the book, but thanks for the tip, might look into it now... Didn't Ellis write Less Than Zero also (the book not the screenplay) or am I making shit up again?

Matt Reynolds said...

I enjoyed the Rules of Attraction which is his first novel I think. Haven't seen the adaptation. Go to and scroll down a bit for an enjoyable Ellis interview where he talks about how Bale met him in a bar in character to convince him he was right for the role.

JD said...

Moses-Less Than Zero is Ellis. He wrote it while he was still in college, or something amazing like that.

Matt-I haven't read Rules Of Attraction, but I did see the film. I haven't decided if I like it or not, but I will definitely be reading the book soon.

I believe Less Than Zero was his first. ROA second.

I'll check the link, sounds interesting. I loved Bale in the film, and then I read the book, and he hit it right on. It's quite amazing.

writergurl said...

Guin Turner is a whack job. Great writer but a total nut job. At least, that's the impression I (and many other people got when she appeared in HBO's "taxicab Confessions", trashed out of her mind, high on who-knows-what... and hitting on that U G L Y female cabbie. Who kept insisting she (the cabbie) was straight.