The Book is Better: The Bret Easton Ellis Universe Reboot Development Doc., 2014

Words by Ryan Sim

Published on April 28, 2014


Thoughts and memories of film adaptations and the novels that inspired them.

Less than Zero
 (dir. Roger Avary, co-written Avary/Ellis) is the first installment of a series in desperate need of a consolidated and canonical update. Isn’t it time we have a retelling of this epic story of urban ennui that is as much a service for audiences as it is for the original novels themselves? Andrew Garfield stars as the despondent Clay, returning to his mother’s house in LA for the holidays. Brie Larson stars as Blair, and Dave Franco as Julian, two entirely different yet equally inexorable forces anchoring Clay to LA and its inherent darkness. Rather than the bland depiction of LA we saw in the original, poorly misguided film, this time around the city is vivid and monstrous, with side characters whose faces seem to blend into one another; the many tentacles of this mechanical monster that is Los Angeles. Ellis’s book was written in 1982, but we’ve moved this starting story forward to the early nineties, which allows for a lot of fun with costuming (blue jeans and flannel!), and we can put some Nirvana on the soundtrack. This is the flavour of nostalgia popular today, and we can rectify the timeline with Lunar Park.

Roger Avary revisits The Rules of Attraction (dir. Roger Avary, co-written Avary/Easton Ellis), updating and refining. If we’re doomed to repeat our sins, we may as well make the most of it, right? In this true tour de force of post-adolescent sexuality and frustration, Aubrey Plaza stars as Lauren, Clark Duke as a suitably more awkward Paul, and a much darker Michael Cera as the sociopathic Sean Bateman. The film is certainly a reflection of Avary’s original, just as that film was a reflection of the novel. It doesn’t strictly follow the original narrative but it is spiritually aligned with both previous incarnations. The true message here is that the trials of the college student are timeless – us children of the nineties related all too well to the pitfalls and faux pas of this mid-80s novel. Why not transpose it to the era of Will Smith and Veruca Salt (both featured prominently on the soundtrack)?

Ryan Gosling is sure to go down in history as the definitive American Psycho (dir. Nicolas Winding Refn, co-written Avary/Easton Ellis/Winding Refn). An obvious choice for the cold, robotic Patrick Bateman, Gosling stars alongside Jonah Hill as Paul Allen, and Tom Hardy as the impassive Detective Kimball. Winding Refn’s poetic style brings the prose of the source material to life on screen, with lingering scenes; long, single shots of Bateman – his hands, his face, as he sits, pre or post work out, in his Manhattan apartment. The violence is highly graphic, but stylised in a way that maintains the ambiguity around whether these events did in fact happen. This stylistic choice is to be clearly referenced and flipped in Lunar Park.

With Glamorama (dir. Michael Winterbottom, co-written Avary/Ellis), the universe in which we’ve been indulging starts to unravel. Victor (played by the present generation’s greatest post-modern celebrity, James Franco) was, until now, only a bit-player in this first level of fiction. He comes into his own while at the same time the artificiality of his world is revealed. The real-life film crew – Winterbottom and co. – are shown at various stages throughout the film. Steve Coogan is perfect as the weird, false-prophet cinematographer, Felix. There’s a self-consciousness throughout about filming “The Great American Novel” – maybe add some dialogue about ‘what would Bret think?’ (Bret to appear in the film? TBC on consultation). A production involving incredible levels of cooperation between nations, the audience truly begins to feel integral in the making of this film: the dawn of a new era of cinema! This only makes it more visceral, more terrifying, when things begin to get dark for Victor – the pain, the confusion, and his loss of self will be ours too!

Ewan McGregor stars as Bret himself in Lunar Park  (dir. Guillermo del Toro, co-written Avary/del Toro/Easton Ellis). We step out of the writer’s fiction and into his world, where life is far stranger. All the original adaptations of Ellis’s novels exist in this universe (acquiring rights may be challenging, but you’ve gotta crack a few proverbial eggs to create a meta-fictional multiverse). Margot Robbie is the obvious choice for Ellis’s wife. An earnest performance from McGregor only exaggerates the film’s dark humour. Bret is haunted by the memory of his dead father, somehow mixed up with his own drug-addled youth and his horrific fictional creations – haunted, not just in the figurative sense. Del Toro’s unique cinematic sight is fully exploited, with the creation of visual effects that are simultaneously mesmerising and frightening. The Furby-esque toy (marketing op) that seems to have a mind of its own. Lunar Park  is also an opportunity to lead intoImperial Bedrooms, clarifying the real-life Julian never died, and this incarnation of Bret is in fact a college friend of the real-life Clay.

Imperial Bedrooms (dir. Roger Avary, co-written Avary/Ellis). We rejoin Clay twenty to thirty years after Less Than Zero  was published, twenty-something years after the film was made (both of which exist for the characters in this re-imagining). Clay is played by the transformative Christian Bale, starring opposite Robert Downey Jr., reprising his role as Julian. The point here is LA is cyclical, LA is weird, and LA can blur personalities into one another. We recognise Bale as Patrick Bateman – but no, in this timeline he has shed that legacy in favour of another Ellis character. Cognitive dissonance. Amy Adams is the older, not-so-much wiser Blair – still Clay’s anchor to the deconstructive city. We get flashes of so much: the Oscar-worthy chemistry of American Hustle  marred by our recollections of the original American Psycho.

We open on LA – a series of tracking shots of the city at sunset, a mysterious blue jeep, and close ups of Clay going through his routine while Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ We No Who U R plays.