CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE METAFICTIONAL KIND
WHY I INSULTED BRET EASTON ELLIS AND WHY IT’S HIS FAULT
I first heard of Bret Easton Ellis my sophomore year in college, when I wrote a story in which a woman’s nipples were hooked up to a car battery and my professor said, “Isn’t this a scene from American Psycho?” Months later, I skipped my Monday classes to walk in the rain, thinking it would inspire me to write the short story that was due before Thursday. Hours later I was shivering so dramatically that I ducked into the Loews theater near Union Square and used my parents’ credit card to buy a ticket to the first non-animated show, one which starred the pumpkin-headed eponymous manchild of Dawson’s Creek and the now-frighteningly-butch-but-still-curvingly-caliente ingenue from 7th Heaven. This was a time in my life when I had a hatred of all things sentimental, which meant I felt a special abhorrence for the now-deceased WB, the network that had given these stars their original icky twinkle, but the poster consisted of a chart of stuffed animals in various sexual positions and I figured there was a decent chance of nudity.
The movie, The Rules of Attraction, was about college students doing pretty much what I aspired to do every weekend (sex, drugs, a character that cryptically says “rock and roll” in response to any inquiry) in a way that was unequivocally repulsive, but, moreover, sad. In the final few minutes of the movie, each main character has an exchange that essentially goes:
WEAK, PATHETIC CHARACTER: I just want to know you.
POWERFUL BUT EQUALLY PATHETIC CHARACTER: No one will ever know anyone.
Aesthetically, the movie was off the reservation—several narrators, the same scene acted out from different perspectives, sequences literally rewound on screen, and a twenty-minute monologue describing one character’s drug-addled European sex odyssey. (I think the phrase “drug-addled European sex odyssey” may actually be spoken, and by several characters.) I couldn’t say I enjoyed the movie that first time I saw it, but its moral chill stuck with me, and prompted me to buy the movie tie-in book and read it on a median bench on Broadway in one afternoon. Then I read Less Than Zero, American Psycho, The Informers, and Glamorama that same week.
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