The Rules of Attraction

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"No one ever likes the right person."


The Rules of Attraction is an 1987 novel, a Black Comedy Satire by Bret Easton Ellis about students at an East Coast liberal arts school in the USA. Set during The Eighties, with Ronald Reagan still in power, there's boatloads of sex, drugs and booze (as per every Ellis book ever), as well as rampant disaffection and Angst.

Though it occasionally detours to other people, the story switches mainly between the points of view of three different characters:

  • Paul Denton: A bisexual who seems to favor men over women. He's probably the most intelligent and eloquent of the narrators. Considering how many people compliment him on his looks, he's apparently quite foxy. Paul used to sleep with Lauren...
  • Lauren Hynde: A painter/poet who's pining for Victor, her boyfriend who's off traveling in Europe. Not that that's stopped her from sleeping around a little bit. She finds herself dating Sean...
  • Sean Bateman: Brother of Patrick Bateman, and a dense and usually drugged out/drunk frat-boy type. He deals drugs for a local townie to whom he owes money. Though he's very involved with Lauren, he might be sleeping with Paul...

See where this is going?

The book explores a Love Dodecahedron or two amid a thick mire of substance abuse and seemingly endless parties. The story is told through three distinct voices and though this book fits the Ellis mold, it offers up some great twists and does intriguing things with the narrative device of POV-switching. A must-read for anyone who likes Ellis' work. Given its subject-matter, it isn't nearly as gruesome as Ellis' other works, though it is still dark. As such, most events - including the suicides of background characters - are played for laughs as college students being melodramatic.

There was also a movie adaptation of the book in 2002, which Ellis names as his favourite of the adaptations of his work.

Tropes used in The Rules of Attraction include:

Tropes in both works:

  • A Party - Also Known as an Orgy: Played more or less straight, so much so it's lampshaded with the "Dress to get Screwed" party.
  • Bath Suicide: Sean's admirer.
  • Book Ends: The film begins and ends at the "End of the World" party; both the book and the film begin and end mid-sentence.
  • Boy Meets Boy: Paul and Sean (depending on how you read it). It's actually pretty cute.
  • Boy Meets Girl: Sean and Lauren. Sean is surprisingly sweet about it.
  • Bungled Suicide: Sean tries to off himself because of Lauren; the book does it semi-dramatically, but the movie plays it for laughs with Sean trying three different times and waking up with damp trousers.
  • Catch Phrase: Sean constantly spouts "Deal with it" and "Rock and Roll".
  • Depraved Bisexual: Practically everyone. It's really just easier to say, "depraved."
  • No Ending: The book and movie end the same way they begin: in mid-sentence.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The film cuts numerous minor characters (and merges some), and removes several plot lines.
  • Rape as Drama: Lauren. Disturbingly, it's how she lost her virginity. Both book and film come within a whisker of playing it for comedy.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Sean's admirer (called Mary in the books). Her chapters about her desperation for Sean are practically poetry. Sean, hilariously, seems to think nothing of it in both versions.
  • Switching POV

Tropes found exclusively in the book include:

  • Bilingual Bonus: The book very briefly follows the thoughts of Sean's roommate "The Frog"; since he's French and the book follows the interior monologues of its current protagonist, the chapter is naturally written in French.
  • Five-Finger Discount: Allegedly Sean engages in this for fun if Paul's accounts of their relationship are to be believed.
  • Good Bad Girl: Arguably Lauren is an example. She gets around despite pining for Victor, but seems to be a genuinely good person, if emotionally wrecked and disaffected.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Tragically subverted with one of Lauren's friends, and later Lauren too; both go through with it, and are distraught by it.
  • Gossipy Hens: In a unisex example: everyone. It's like a Greek chorus made up of slutty co-eds. Nearly every chapter has a handful of minor characters gossiping about everyone else.
  • Queer Romance: Possibly Sean and Paul, depending on your interpretation. A section of Paul's chapters details a budding sexual/romantic relationship between the two of them, but Sean's don't mention it at all. Is Paul merely fantasizing or is Sean hiding their relationship?
    • Word of God declares that Sean is in fact gay/bi. That being said, it could be that Sean never mentions Paul simply for the fact that Paul is nothing but free sex, his only true aim is Lauren. Or Ellis could be fucking with us, he's kind of ambiguous with his own sexuality.
  • The Cameo/The Verse: As per usual with an Ellis novel; both Clay and Patrick Bateman get a chapter from their perspective. Inversely, Victor, Lauren and Bertrand "The Frog" make appearances in Glamorama, and Sean appears in American Psycho.

Tropes found exclusively in the movie include:

  • Compressed Adaptation
  • Get Back in the Closet: Despite Word of God and Paul's account (as well as a comment from Lauren), the whole Paul and Sean relationship is severely downplayed in the movie by comparison, and Paul and Mitchell's relationship is completely cut.
  • Playing Against Type: Everyone in the movie except Ian Somerhalder, simply because he didn't have a type yet. Best example is Fred Savage, who turns up for one scene as an almost-naked clarinet-playing heroin addict.
  • "What Now?" Ending: The film ending has everyone single, broken and miserable in a completely open ending; Paul is rejected by Sean and bashed by a closeted gay; Laura finds Victor has forgotten her and loses her virginity in a rape; and Sean loses Laura and leaves the college in a voice over:

Sean: I started driving faster as I left the college behind. I didn't know where I was going. Someplace unoccupied I hoped. At first I thought there were things about her that I would never forget, but in the end, all I could think about (beat) was--

  • Throw It In: The George Michael dancing scene (involving Paul and Dick) was done in the hotel the pair were staying in; apparently, after doing it for fun, it was decided it was too good to leave out of the movie.
  • Would Hit a Girl: When Lara acts as a catalyst for ruining everything between Sean and Laura, she proceeds to try and rub it in, only to get a fist to the face. It's as satisfying as it sounds.