Review of Monster (2003), dir. Patty Jenkins
Serial killer Aileen Wuornos was executed in 2002—only a year after her name became world famous thanks to the movie about her life titled Monster. Directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Charlize Theron as Aileen, the movie was an immediate success and unexpectedly inspired sympathy for the character of the lesbian killer. So who was Aileen Wuornos and did she really deserve so much attention?
The movie begins with Aileen’s monologue and images of her childhood. It seems to me that in most American movies high school girls are divided into two groups, with nothing in between: you are either a beautiful cheerleader with whom every boy falls in love or an ugly duckling bullied by the cheerleader and her admirers. Aileen belonged to the second group. She was not the lucky one. Her social and family background was one of the reasons why she became a prostitute. Her only desire was to ‘show them all’. Unfortunately, she chose the wrong way.
The first time Charlize appears in the movie is in the scene with Aileen sitting by the road in the rain and holding a gun. Afterwards she goes to a gay bar where she meets the love of her life, Selby Wall, played by Christina Ricci. Selby is practically a child and is looking for a company. Aileen’s reaction to Selby’s proposal is aggressive. She claims she is straight, but after a few drinks she leaves with Selby and spends the night in her bed. The next day they meet at a roller-skate rink, where they kiss for the first time. Although their passion is overwhelming, they have nowhere to go so Aileen promises she will get some money so they can go to a motel. She is unfortunate because her client that night is an aggressive rapist. She kills him in self-defense and steals his car and money. She confesses to Selby and they run away together. Aileen tries to get a serious job, but it is almost impossible because of her lack of education. She is desperate and discovers it is easier to earn money by killing her clients than by having sex with them for a few dollars. The number of her victims climbs to seven. This cannot go on forever and soon the police track her down. After an argument Selby leaves for home and begins to cooperate with the police. Aileen is arrested at a biker bar and later sentenced to death via lethal injection.
The movie ends and you remain seated for another ten minutes. Speechless. You feel pity. Pity for a person who was not as fortunate as you, who did not get any second chance in her life. She was mentally ill. Yet, was her mental condition not a result of her hard life and difficult conditions? The movie does not say much about her previous experience, about her child, the death of her parents or living in woods. It focuses on the final part of her life – meeting Selby, killing seven men and facing the trial.
Charlize Theron in the role of Aileen is stunning. You have difficulty recognizing her pretty face under the tons of make up, fake freckles and prosthetic teeth. All her beauty and grace disappear; only nervousness and frowning remain. The famous actress gained 30 pounds for her life role, but she proved she is not a dumb blonde of Hollywood. Aileen Wuornos was no artist or celebrity. Maybe there are thousands of women like her but they did not choose to put an end to their misery by killing. This was Aileen’s way of fighting against her fate. It does not justify her behavior or what she did but explains a lot. As she says in the movie, ‘I am a good person.’ When Selby tells her she cannot kill people, Aileen answers, ‘Says who?’ For her it was not wrong to kill these men as she considered them hypocrites. They had their wives, families, businesses and reputation but in her presence they took off their social masks and became primitive sexual maniacs.
The story is very simple but if you look underneath the surface, you can see all those details it is composed of and you will find out that nothing is as simple as it seems. There is no simple explanation for something as complicated as a murder. The director offers her point of view. She does not want to justify Wuornos or make her look like a better person than she really was but she wants us to think, not to condemn her immediately. She wants us to be Aileen Wuornos for two hours and then she leaves it to us to arrive at a conclusion.