Disappear Here: A discussion on Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero and the movie that followed

Disappear Here: A discussion on Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero and the movie that followed

Less Than ZeroPeople are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles.

This is the 1st line you read when you open up the controversial 1985 book that put Bret Easton Ellis on the map of young, hot, American fiction writers and part of the so-called “Brat Pack” in the midst of a cocaine-filled, brightly colored 80’s wave. People are afraid to merge. Although there is some hidden, yet significant relevance to this opening line, the line is removed from the 1987 film that followed. The movie claims to be based on the novel but, loosely based on would be a more accurate vindication, as many, although subtle, pertinent parts to the heart of the story were either changed or removed entirely. Why Bret wasn’t asked to collaborate on the writing of the screenplay is beyond me. Unless, that is, the powers at be had their own idea in mind on how to make a transgressive, socially obscure novel more acceptable and appealing to a much broader audience. And the big name actors they acquired didn’t hurt either. It’s only business and even now, where we are almost de-sensitized to violence, sex, vulgarity because of the influx we consume on a daily basis from every media outlet and angle,  there are parts of the book that are still tough for some to muster through. Ahead of its time comes to mind as audiences were, simply put, not ready for a true rendition of the novel.

The novel is well written in an easy-to-read, smooth narrative form and moves at an incredibly fast pace, but the magic of this novel (for me) is what’s not written. The simplicity. The minimilism. The layers of depth that are hidden below the subtle conversations and hints towards something much bigger than what’s on the surface. Ellis masterfully pulls off what he intended to, which is to present a group of, beyond rich, young adults that are completely disconnected from life and anything real. Consumed by material exteriors. Bleach blonde and tan. Expensive cars. Flashy clothes. And an endless supply of high-end drugs. The characters are wholly sheltered from the real world by their almost scary amount of freedom brought upon by unlimited money granted by their parents (who are present in the characters’ actions and who fund their lavish lifestyles but are only briefly spoken of a couple of times throughout). The most frightening part of the book is how (I hate to use this term again) real the story feels driven by the lack of emotion protruding from the characters regarding abortion, rape, excessive drug use leading to overdosing, life, and death. A complete. . . and total. . . disconnection. . . from. . . reality.  Oh, how excessive amounts of money and too much freedom can corrupt almost anyone. I wonder if he’s for sale.

Less Than Zero Film PosterThe movie, although filmed in 1987 in an era where the-brighter-the-ugly-the-better, is still fairly entertaining. That is, as long as you can take it for what it is, which is a 1987 blockbuster movie loosely based on a novel written by Bret Easton Ellis. The movie doesn’t focus on the dejection and lack of anything real that the book was really centered around. It goes more into the drug use and emphasizes the harm that can come from allowing one to become addicted. Some of the acting is a little silly, but all in all, watching it is not a waste of time and there is some beauty to the cinematography and soundtrack. And compared to other movies from this era, I would probably rate it above most.

Thanks to the book, whenever I see victims of an accident on the side of the road where a car is engulfed in flames and people, helpless children perhaps, may be trapped inside needing someone’s, anyone’s help, I like to speed up and maybe even run a red light or two. Or, whenever I run over a coyote, I like to pull over, get out of the car, sit by the suffering animal, and watch it convulse, our eyes locked, until its eyes turn white and roll back. Or, when a twelve year old girl’s arms and legs are tied to bedposts, bound to the bed, at a party, drugged and fucked raw by every guy there, I like to leave that place and maybe even tell someone that something isn’t right about that. Or when I see a dead body laying against a wall in an alley, its face swollen and bloated, I like to poke at it with a stick and laugh with my friends and then maybe even put a cigarette in the dead John Doe’s mouth and then mockingly laugh some more. Or, when my girlfriend asks me if I ever loved her, I like to say. . .no.

Disappear here. People are afraid to merge.

Less Than Zero is one of my all-time favorite reads and was the gate-way book to all of Bret Easton Ellis’ future masterpieces. After reading this book, I was inspired to do so much more with my own personal writing and I hope to encompass some of Bret’s style and rash and brutal, yet subtle, honesty in my writing. Stay tuned for more discussions on one of the greatest novelists of our time, Bret Easton Ellis, and his collection of haunting, transgressive works.

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