Monster (Patty Jenkins, 2003)


Monster, directed by Patty Jenkins (2003).

Score: Excellent.

Monster follows the late criminal activity of notorious serial killer Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron). It starts with her meeting her would-be lover, Selby Wall (Christina Ricci), when she is a homeless prostitute, and follows her trying to quit prostitution and how she finally starts killing her johns to steal their money.

Being a film adaptation of real-life events, there isn’t much to say about whether the plot or the characterisation are realistic: it happened in real life. In this case the merit is in giving us a glimpse of the life, tragedy and villainy of Aileen Wuornos only via dialogue and internal monologue. That kind of writing is not easy to do, and Jenkins does a great work at it. The story unfolds smoothly, showing us first Aileen’s situation of extreme social exclusion, her euphoria at meeting Selby, her desire to provide for her and her downward spiral to murder.

Aileen and Selby are two aspects of the failed American Dream for women. The first lines of the movie have her speak about how she fell for the lie that in order to be a star, you only need to be beautiful and sexy enough: “When I was little I thought for sure that one day, I could be a big, big star. Or maybe just beautiful… beautiful and rich, like the women on TV.” This, coupled with sexual abuse as a child, shows how much sense it makes that she ended up being a prostitute. After trying to leave that life behind and failing miserably, falling a victim of mental disease, she closes with: ‘“Love conquers all.” “Every cloud has a silver lining.” “Faith can move mountains.” “Love will always find a way.” “Everything happens for a reason.” “Where there is life, there is hope.” Oh, well… They gotta tell you somethin’’. Shelby is rejected by her own family for her sexual identity, made feel guilty and inappropriate, which partly leads her to Aileen.

While Aileen’s story is quite tragic, her murders are not justified. We might feel sorry for her, but she’s not validated: Aileen’s not guilty for having been abused and marginalised, but she’s guilty of her murders. Same thing goes for Selby. The last backstab for Aileen must have been that her lover sold her to law enforcement while Selby was an accomplice and instigator.

While the technical aspects are not brilliant, Charlize Theron’s portrayal is jaw-dropping. The physical transformation is the least impressive. It’s the way she moves, the way she looks around herself, the grimaces she makes. You’re actually seeing a tortured, marginalised woman on screen. Like Roger Ebert put it: it “isn’t a performance but an embodiment”.

I was genuinely surprised by the movie. If you haven’t seen it, give it a try, it’s worth watching.

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