This Is Not an Exit: The Fictional World of Bret Easton Ellis
<1>This Is Not an Exit: The Fictional World of Bret Easton Ellis (1998)
<4>Novelist Bret Easton Ellis burst on the scene at the age of 19 when his first novel the nihilistic <I>Less
Than Zero<R> was published in 1985. Just as the "brat pack" seemingly was taking over the movies, Ellis
and Jay McInerney (<I>Bright Lights, Big City<R>) were the dubbed the voices of their generation. Even
before graduating from Bennington, Ellis had completed a second book and had become an ubiquitous
figure among the literati. His courting favor hit a snag with the manuscript for his third novel, the controversial
<I>American Psycho<R> which centered on a Wall Street trader who happens to enjoy committing murder.
The book was meant partly as a satire of the Yuppie lifestyle of the 1980s but the gruesome acts of violence
described in grotesque detail caused an uproar, particularly when excerpts were printed before the novel's
official publication. Ellis' publisher, Simon & Schuster, had paid him a six-figure advance but eventually
declined to publish the book, particularly after outcries from feminist groups. For a short time, Bret Easton
Ellis was perhaps the most hated author in the USA and the damage to his credibility and career are
arguably still being felt.<p>
Tied to the release of the film version of <I>American Psycho<R> (as well as the paperback printing of his
fourth novel <I>Glamorama<R>), a made-for-British television documentary about Ellis and his fiction is
hitting theaters. Originally aired in 1998 on <I>The South Bank Show<R> (which can be seen on the cable
channel Bravo), <I>This Is Not an Exit: The Fictional World of Bret Easton Ellis<R> offers glimpses of the
man behind the controversy interspersed with dramatizations of his fiction. (The title is taken from the last line
of <I>American Psycho.<R>) The author was reportedly displeased with some of the results, complaining to
the British press that he felt "pressured" to cooperate and that the filmmakers (whom he categorized as
"fans") "think they have brought the best out of Bret Easton Ellis and they are well-intentioned" but also
played "colossal tricks" on him. Ellis also reportedly disliked the recreations of scenes from his novels (which
feature actors like Rachel Weisz in <I>The Rules of Attraction<R> and Deschen Thurman -- Uma's brother --
as Patrick Bateman from <I>American Psycho<R>).<p>
In their defense, director Gerald Fox does manage to elicit some intriguing revelations from the
self-absorbed writer. Visiting his old high school, Ellis recounts memories of being a child of privilege in Los
Angeles. There are some vintage home movies of the young writer-to-be and his father, whom Ellis
categorizes as a misogynist and states that Patrick Bateman is in part an hommage to his deceased parent.
Ellis' mother grants a rare interview (although curiously neither of his sisters are included). Intercut with these
interviews are commentary from critics like Will Self, fellow writer McInerney and editor Morgan Entrekin who
makes the prediction that in 50 years if someone wants to know about the world of the 1980s, he or she will
not be reading Tom Wolfe's <I>Bonfire of the Vanities<R> but Ellis' <I>American Psycho<R>.<p>
The decision to include the dramatizations of the fiction offer intriguing results, especially when contrasted
with the extant films. The sequences from <I>Less Than Zero<R> focus more on the character of Clay (who is
clearly an authorial stand-in) and is embodied by Jason Bushman who lacks the magnetism that James
Spader brought to the Hollywood take on the material. On the other hand, Deschen Thurman brings the right
touch of the absurd and the unexpected to his interpretation of Patrick Bateman and his version is equally as
justified as Christian Bale's in the feature. The extraordinarily beautiful Rachel Weisz is fine as the heroine of
<I>The Rules of Attraction<R> but Paul Blackthorne playing a character who is featured in both <I>Rules<R>
and <I>Glamorama<R> lacks the requisite charisma. These dramatic scenes are meant to supplement or
comment on what is hinted at by Ellis and the other interviewees and for the most part achieve their mission.
Still, the documentary feels lacking in some ways. Important events in Ellis' life (such as a seven-year
relationship -- his sexuality is never addressed directly either -- and a substance abuse problem) are
mentioned in passing with little context or regard for their importance.<p>
One of the recurring themes in <I>American Psycho<R> centers on identity -- none of the supporting
characters truly knows the "real" Patrick Bateman. <I>This Is Not an Exit<R> raises some fascinating albeit
unanswered questions yet after viewing the film one must conclude the same about its author. The audience
gets to see "Bret Easton Ellis" but rarely gets behind his mask of  "writer."
<5>Murphy, Ted
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.