I’m almost finished with the audio book of this novel and though I’d seen the movie a long time ago, I couldn’t remember it very well. Let’s just say I like the movie much more now, after (almost) reading the book. The movie really does an impressive job of capturing the spirit of the novel. That’s great for fans of the book, though not so great those who haven’t. The problem is that the novel’s satire is subtle. Everything is presented with such seriousness that the satire isn’t obvious and that same tone comes across in the film. You really aren’t sure if you should laugh or be horrified. For instance, one of my very favorite things that happens in the novel is the way the main psycho killer constantly reveals his homicidal tendencies to his friends who are so clueless they don’t even notice. Like he’ll order a “decapitated coffee” or tell a bimbo he’s in “murders and executions” and no one notices. In the book this sort of humor comes across brilliantly. It’s there in the film, but I don’t think I even noticed it the first time I saw the movie. It’s too quick and we aren’t sure what it means. If you’ve read the book you’re prepared for it and it’s wonderful.
Christian Bale’s performance was a real positive I remembered from the first time I’d seen this and seeing it again, I am even more impressed. He really is fantastic. It’s worth seeing this film just for his acting. One funny aside: his character’s name is Bateman, just one letter removed from Batman. I found that eerie.
Even the first time I saw the film it seemed tame to me; I couldn’t figure out why there were people outraged. Well, after reading most of the book, I understand, because the book is far more daring and outrageous. Ultimately that’s my biggest disappointment of the film: it’s too timid, as though they don’t want us to not like Christian Bale. In the book his character is really repulsive and out there, eating his victims’ brains, leaving body parts all over his apartment, immobilizing a girl’s hands with a nail gun so he could rape her, and all sorts of really messed up stuff. In comparison, except for one scene where he chases a girl with a chainsaw, there’s really little evidence he’s that crazy. I don’t think they needed to go quite as far as the book, but at least show one scene of him doing something really morbid so we know this is a serious psycho.
Another issue I should point out is the whole 80’s setting. I was critical of that in my first viewing of the movie. After reading (most of) the book, I now see that’s a key aspect of the book. The setting is almost a character as the novel is, effectively, a satire of the 80s. That was not clear in the film, even in my re-watching. It feels weirdly dated and odd, as though the setting was an afterthought. The setting is there in clothing and few other details, but it doesn’t penetrate the atmosphere of the movie. When you do notice it, it just feels misplaced.
Overall, this is a fascinating film. It’s definitely better if you’ve read the book, though, which is unusual for a film adaptation. The book isn’t perfect (I’ll comment on that when I finish it) and the film improves on the book in a few ways but falls short in others. Ultimately it’s not quite great, but it does have some great aspects and a few classic scenes. Definitely worth seeing if you like Christian Bale and/or have read the book.