American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000)



All in all, it’s pretty difficult to watch American Psycho as anything other than an adaptation of the novel. Beyond some good performances – naturally, Bale’s above all else – the film doesn’t add anything to the narrative whatsoever. It does, however, subtract an awful lot. The book worked primarily as a document of obsession – particularly, obsessive attention to detail. Nobody walks into a room without Patrick Bateman describing in full and minute detail what each character is wearing, where they bought it, and how much they paid. At the drop of a hat, he can provide a virtual PhD thesis on why one should only ever drink mineral water out of glass bottles. With this same level of inhuman meticulousness does Bateman describe unthinkable levels of rape, torture, murder, cannibalism and necrophilia at levels rivalling and quite possibly besting Bataille and Sade. Degrees of repugnant atrocity that defy understanding and thus flatten the relief of phenomenological perception, and are merely delegated to emotionless description.

And in the film? A couple of out-of frame and/or dimly lit stabbings and a couple of shootings, breaking the monotony of Bateman out and out telling us how crazy he is, and that he does terrible things. In essence, this is the problem – although the film is narrated by Bateman, and there is hardly a single scene without him, American Psycho betrays film’s status as a visual medium, by consistently telling us what it should be showing us, and maintaining too great a distance from the protagonist’s mental state. Having an unreliable narrator, as American Psycho assuredly does only works when the spectator has first undergone a required process of alignment with the protagonist’s subjective position, first.

American Psycho thus remains, to my mind, an unfilmable novel, its film adaptation doing nothing to sway this opinion: in order to work, the film would need to show levels of violence stretching beyond that of August Underground’s Mordum or Melancholie Der Engel and yet, in doing so, it would have no budget required for the plethora of conspicuous consumption that dominates the characters’ lifestyles. It’s not simply a question of violence, of course: the amount of time that would need to be devoted to the dogmatic description of food, drink, men’s fashion, social etiquette etc would render a legitimate adaptation more 24 Hour Psycho than American Psycho. Goodness knows, I’m the first person usually to argue with anyone who believes the success of an adaptation should be measured by its fidelity to the source text, but the heart and soul of this story is devotion to minutiae which, in the film, are passed off as diversions and vagueries. Beyond there being no blood in American Psycho, there’s considerably little meat – it’s a largely glossy, rather funny, and certainly very well-executed advert for the book, complete with fine acting and a wonderful John Cale score. It’s an enjoyable watch, but far too bland to offer anything incisive in the way of social satire or, at least, a good horror.

At the end of the day, American Psycho‘s essential if enjoyable failure – much like The Neon Demon‘s – reveals what may at first seem like paradox, but later seems like common sense: if you want to investigate shallowness, you have to have your film go deep.



My 1st Draft to The Independent

So, I wrote an opinion piece for The Independent on the subject of Benedict Cumberbatch’s transphobic character seen in the trailer for Zoolander 2, and it was edited in such a way as to make me look considerably more liberal and much less decisively anti comparisons to “blackface” – I requested changes to these edits, and to the headline, but so far no joy. Here is my original piece.


Even as a transgender student of film, being asked to comment on ten seconds of a film trailer, no matter how offensive members of one’s community are finding it, is a bemusing task. As far as I can recall, the only reason I watched the stupid thing in the first place was on account of the complaints about Benedict Cumberbatch’s character, “All,” a transgender supermodel, who is asked, in particularly juvenile fashion, about the state of their genitalia.

Housekeeping: Cumberbatch’s performance is not the “modern equivalent of blackface.” To have a “modern equivalent” of anything requires the original comparative to be no longer extant and, aptly enough, the fashion industry bears witness on a regular basis to blackface being alive and well in the 21st century. A person of colour’s experience of racial oppression is not an academic reference point for white people’s experience of oppression. Last Friday, I read out the names of the 271 trans people reported to have been murdered in the past year, and the overwhelming majority were of colour. Experience of transphobia is often highly intersectional with experience of racism and I struggle to put my name to any campaign that conflates the two, as this boycott call has done. For want of a better term, the character All is “transface,” and that should be enough. I have no more disdain for what I’ve seen of Cumberbatch’s “transface” than I have for Leto’s or Redmayne’s. The latter performances were done to give cis actors Oscars, the former is done to give cis audiences yuks. I’m in favour of neither, and do bristle at any and all objectification of trans lives and bodies for cisgender purposes. It is undoubtedly an inherently transphobic tradition to render us solely figures of either comedy or tragedy for cisgender depiction and cisgender paycheques.

Honestly, from what little of All can be seen, as far as “comedy trannies” the depiction is an interesting one. There have been no apparent efforts to make All overtly masculine: no stubble, no bulges, no stumbling in heels. By making All seemingly non-binary (“All is all”), the filmmakers have given themselves, one might suggest, cynical wriggle-room to present a transgender character whose identity is simultaneously obscure and open to interpretation enough to be gendered or misgendered however the spectator sees fit. No doubt the response from those involved in Zoolander 2’s production will be that Stiller’s titular protagonist, and Wilson’s Hansel are renowned for their stupidity, thus their intrusive, crass line of questioning is indicative not of the team’s transphobia, but the opposite: they’re showing up Zoolander. I’m not unused to being treated like an idiot, so I can only be so offended by having that old chestnut thrown my way, once again. One cannot help but feel if the team were so invested in making any sort of point about transphobia (even one so banal as “don’t do it, kids”), they would have felt confident in hiring a transgender actor or model for the role – Andreja Pejić, perhaps– and writing Cumberbatch another part.
The biggest disappointment I felt was seeing Justin Theroux’s writer’s credit. It’s a shame to think that, whilst Louis was busy making a frankly pretty watchable documentary about transgender children, his cousin was busy writing outdated, unfunny “[insert trans character and reference their anatomy here]” jokes for cisgender posh boy actors to bore us playing in an unnecessary sequel for which few were clamouring. To be sure, the character of All is pretty grim but, more than anything else, it is a strong indicator of how the rest of the film is likely to go. I remember the Sin City sequel, nine long years after the distinctly okay original, and seeing it as a signifier of nothing other than the further deterioration of Frank Miller’s status as a writer and human being. Here comes Zoolander 2, a cool fourteen years after the first, trailer replete with Justin Bieber cameos, recycled transphobic material, and constant references to the jokes of the original (always a worrying indicator they have no confidence in the jokes of the sequel), my response to the call of a boycott is: wait, you were going to see it before?