The Rules of Attraction

Roger Avary, 2002

Attempts to bring the world of Bret Easton Ellis to the screen have seen mixed results. Adaptations such as Less than Zero lacked the humour of it’s source as well as feeling the need to heavily imbue it with a ‘message’ (and a contrived and simple message at that- drugs are bad). Most recently The Informers also lacked the teeth of it’s novel, omitting the various surreal sequences that punctuate Ellis text and toning down the violence that plays so heavily in his work. American Psycho was one of the only successes, delivering the more graphic elements of the novel whilst remembering that Ellis writes satire, and that it is all meant to be comic in its own dark way.American Psycho is a lengthy book with no real plot structure however, so the film acts as ‘greatest hits’ of the book, combining and condensing scenes down whilst trying to make narrative sense of it all. The most accurate adaptation of Ellis work, and allegedly his personal favourite, is one of the most underrated films of the past decade The Rules of Attraction.

The film follows three different students at the prestigious Camden College, an arts school for the over privileged, Paul Denton, Lauren Hynde and Sean Bateman (as in the younger brother of Patrick Bateman) played by Shannyn Sossamon, Ian Somerhalder and James Van Der Beek respectively, as they attend various parties and have various confused relationships with one another and a whole array of other students. All three are superb in their individual roles, it can only be due to the film being poorly received on it’s initial release that it failed to propel any of them to greater heights, it surely should have at least marked Van Der Beek’s transition from TV to film star.
The best feature in the film is the experimental approach director Roger Avary takes with his camerawork. There is for example, the opening sequence where the three main characters are introduced. The camera follows one to the conclusion of their introductory scene, before playing the footage in reverse, continuing to do so until it has past the point where the scene began whereupon it will revert back to playing forwards but begin following a different character. Difficult to construct but impressive to watch. This continues throughout the film, with two characters being followed in split screen until they meet, with both halves of the screen converging into one shot. Best known for sharing the writing credit for Pulp Fiction it is a shame that this, only his second film as director, would be the last Avary would choose to helm, opting to revert back to his previous role as screenwriter.
The most impressive combination of Avary’s directing with the acting ability of his cast comes in the introduction of Victor Ward, played by Kip Pardue, a frenetically paced account of a summer he spent travelling around Europe condensed into four minutes. For this Avary and Pardue embarked on a two week trip throughout the continent, with Pardue remaining in character for the duration, sightseeing, taking drugs, and sleeping with numerous women. Enough footage was shot for this brief sequence that Avary constructed an entirely separate movie from it, titled Glitterati. Avary claims however that due to the unethical nature of the film, with all the people and events in it being real, in it will never be released.

During the section of the sequence where Victor is in Italy he mentions the sound of a bomb going off, an allusion to Ellis masterpiece Glamorama in which Victor is the main character, a naïve model who becomes involved in a terrorist plot throughout Europe. Avary holds the rights to this book and has stated he intends to direct it. As the years pass the likelihood of this happening seem more and more remote, hopefully the delay is due to Avary struggling to adapt such abstract material, and to find funding for what we will be such an ambitious feature, as opposed to simply a diminished interest. Based on The Rules of Attraction if he does take on the film, it will be one to look forward too.

words by pete bond.