FEATURE: Fifty Shades of Master Bateman

News broke last week that, after he put himself forward to write the upcoming adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey, Brett Easton Ellis has failed to make the shortlist of screenwriters for the film. Ellis, ever as outspoken and as controversial as his works, announced his interest numerous times via Twitter, casting his ideal actors and even going so far as denouncing openly homosexual Matt Bomer as 'too gay' for the role of Christian Grey. Now, he's definitely off the film with four other writers announced as those in the frontrunning, one of whom wrote Cars 2... And, controversy aside, I can't be alone in thinking that Universal has missed a trick here.

When it was first announced, via his own Twitter page, that he wished to write the film, I was a little surprised. After all, this is a world-renowned and exceptionally popular author wanting to adapt what is arguably, one of the worst-written books ever to hit the bestseller lists. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a great idea. For all its terrible prose, ridiculous catchphrases and questionable sexual politics, Fifty Shades of Grey has the potential to be a dark exploration of issues surrounding Christian's more extreme sexuality and the psychology behind it. The book itself and its two sequels don't really delve into these issues beyond repeatedly reminding us that erstwhile heroine, Anastasia Steele, is the only person capable of making him feel love. Before Ana, Christian is simply an incredibly rich, really really ridiculously good-looking executive with a penchant for violence to specific pieces of music back in his pristine and state-of-the-art apartment. Sound familiar?

To anyone who has read American Psycho, and if you haven't you should rectify this immediately, Christian Grey has a lot of similarities with its central character, the murderous Patrick Bateman (something which Ellis himself has noted). Basically, Christian is a slightly crapper version of Bateman with all the hallmarks that make everyone's favourite American psychopath so interesting; Christian's just a bit less... stabby. For those not in the know, Bateman is a classic symbol of 80s excess; he has to have the latest gadget, be wearing the latest fashions and God help you if you have a better business card than him. Because alongside the extensive critiques of fashion or music albums, he also has quite the talent for sadistic violence, ranging from impulsive killing to torture, rape and mutilation. Granted, Christian never goes this far (or maybe he does, he has a Red Room of Pain after all), but the need for violence in both characters' lives is very much there. Ellis, having created Bateman, naturally has a way in to Christian's psychology and could create a fantastic, three-dimensional character that James fails to fully create.

One of the key themes that could have been explored in an Ellis adaptation is that of the main characters' masculinity and the way their anxieties become manifested in very similar ways. Violence is a key theme of both books and is used by both men to assert control over the environment and the people around them, intrinsically linked to the assertion of their manliness. Patrick Bateman is a man seemingly with everything and prides himself as such, often commenting directly to the reader on the history of his favourite pair of trainers or other such commodities in his possession. Likewise, Christian Grey has got commodities coming out of his ears and relaxes by taking out his boat, driving his sports car or flying his helicopter. Stereotypically masculine, and ever so slightly phallic, possessions are used by Christian to demonstrate not only his wealth, but also the control he has over his environment. These commodities are the aspects over which both men can control, but people are very different and, despite Ana's lack of animation, she's still a remarkably unpredictable factor in Christian's life. The violence committed against humans either consensually or with a rusty coathanger, therefore, becomes an attempt to seize the control both men believe to have lost.

For all the publicity surrounding Fifty Shades and the BDSM aspect of the sex scenes, there isn't a whole lot of the stuff in the novel; it's mostly talking about it with the unsigned contract, light bondage and a bit of spanking (A spanking! A spanking!). The focus is placed upon Christian's need for this kind of lifestyle because he has never really had 'vanilla' sex before. It's all been about him being in control, in power and maintaining that power over the female submissives he has in his possession. When he meets Ana, she (mostly) refuses to be controlled and begins to challenge his dominance. He doesn't like it and retaliates in other, incredibly sexist, ways by buying out the company she works for or dictating what contraception she should be using. Sexually, he maintains his control only through virtue of Ana being about as sexually experienced as a piece of cotton wool. When he does get violent, in the case of the spanking scene at the end of the first book, she runs away from him because she sees just how much he needs that violent control. Inflicting violence on another person is, psychologically, what he needs to get himself off. The same can be said of Bateman though his satisfaction is found not sexually, but in socially gaining over his peers. His entire world is built on him being the best, having the best things and sleeping with the best women. When that's taken away from him, he's lost and the violent aspect of his personality appears to take back the control he believes to have lost from those he feels are superior to him. He kills Paul Owen because Paul is the more successful and popular executive and his torturing and subsequent murder of Christie the prostitute is all about demonstrating his sexual and physical prowess.

Patrick Bateman is built upon these masculine-centered insecurities and when everything is taken away from him, he becomes increasingly more violent in order to assert himself. Much is made in Fifty Shades of Christian's self-confidence issues; he doesn't understand why Ana loves him for example (I don't either, but that's another point entirely) and struggles with this concept. I've had a conversation where an acquaintance tried to assert that Christian Grey doesn't have any issues with his masculinity and instead, the BDSM aspect was all about his 'desire to be loved'. Firstly, vomit. Secondly, he introduces his penis to Ana as the 'most cherished' part of his anatomy so if that isn't symbolic of 'issues with masculinity', I should probably hand back my English Literature degree and give up now. Christian needs to be in control, whether it's freeing his constant erection from his fashionable grey sweatpants, dominating his lover in the bedroom with variety of sex toys or 'protecting' Ana by beating the crap out any guy who comes near her. 

What this comparison, I hope, demonstrates is that Ellis is actually quite perfect for writing the role of Christian Grey - he understands this character, he's written him, albeit in his extremity, before. Whether or not Ellis could adequately create the character of Ana Steele is another matter and would be a far trickier job seeing as she's suffers from a distinct lack of dimension. But if Hollywood were brave enough to see a Brett Easton Ellis adaptation of E.L. James' bonkbuster, I think we'd be looking at a very interesting, extremely dark take on a relationship that has a huge amount of potential to be interesting. And then I would say David Fincher or David Cronenburg to direct please because what this book needs is totally ripping apart and putting back together again with two people who know how to create a darkly compelling story.

- Becky

P.S. I'm sorry I've gone into a little depth here, I know Fifty Shades of Grey is not an actual piece of literature and is really quite appalling. Sorry. Really sorry.

Becky's review of Fifty Shades of Grey can be found here.

You can follow Becky on Twitter here @beckygracelea

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