With some films it is difficult to get into the story; it may describe circumstances so heinous that revolution is a natural initial reaction. At times this is off set by the American audience’s fascination with the serial killer. In a film like Silence of the Lambs a great piece of cinema was born by such juxtaposition. Now, with Patty Jenkin’s Monster once again a serial murder provides the vehicle for one of the best films made. In the late 1980’s Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron) confessed to the murder of six men, a seventh was also believed to have died by her hand. The newspapers of the time touted Wournos as the ‘first female serial killer’, a dubious footnote in equality for women. The script does not make excuses for this disturbing behavior, although the opening monologue details sexual abuse and a girl prostituting herself at thirteen years of age, rather it feels more like a dispassionate chronicle of a ruined life. At one point Wuornos is raped by a sadistic customer, robs him and begins her new career. You can almost see that something snapped inside this woman, the last vestige of civilization breaks with an almost audible pop. The film takes a ‘mater of fact’ look at the events that lead to the execution of Wuornos on October 9, 2002. Surely this is a description of a misspent life but without the trappings of liberal explanation or excuses.
There is one of the most dysfunctional love stories ever presented at the heart of this film Wuornos encounters a young waif life 18 year old, Selby (Christina Ricci). Although Wuornos never had a previous lesbian encounter the pair becomes lovers. This relationship is not in any sense a healthy one; each person is desperate for any source of acceptance, any miniscule token of affection. Selby was shipped off to Florida to some relatives in order to cure her lesbian tendencies. It is not so much her sexual orientation was towards women as much as she has encountered such extreme pain at the hands of men. Together Selby and Wuornos try to form a relationship but the existing damage is so great that the pieces just don’t fit. Each character tries desperately to rationalize irrational behavior, to make sense of the senseless. They are surrounded by circumstances that started beyond their control but instead of trying to rise above them they sink deeper into the mire of despair resulting in violence. Like a traffic accident that you just can turn away from the audience becomes enthralled by this film. The quality of the production will keep you watching even during the most graphic scenes.
There are some films that provide the perfect breakout role for an actor. This is such a film for Charlize Theron. Her previous work consisted of mostly love interests for better known leading men. Here, she comes into her own as an actor to reckon with. The Academy awards always seen to take special notice when a beautiful actress undergoes a transformation into an unattractive character, here the gorgeous Ms Theron is unrecognizable in her role as Wuornos. She is heavy, greasy and outright unpleasant to look at. While many will focus on the physical her acting here is spectacular. It is not so much that she portrays Wuornos, she becomes her. Her jumpy movements, the cast of her eyes all show a woman completely dedicated to presenting the life of this killer. You can visually note the internal conflict in Wuornos, the torment that drove her to such acts. I have heard from many others that they where disappointed in the performance of Christiana Ricci in this film. I couldn’t disagree more. Sure there was a vague drifting to her portrayal of Selby but in this context the decision was a perfect one. Here is a young woman that was adrift in life. Her own family kicked her out, she was abused and angry almost beyond comprehension. Ricci and Theron work so well together that you almost have a documentary feel to what you are viewing. This film is an acting tour de force. Theron and Ricci do not overly analyze their characters they just live the roles.
This is the freshman opus for writer/director Patty Jenkins. Instead of taking the ‘Lifetime’ cable movie road she opts for little in the way of exposition. We don’t care way we only are concerned with the events. Unlike ‘In Cold Blood’ where the film was full of excuses for the murders, here we witness a woman that can only cope by turning toward murder. Even the love story sub plot is not handled in the typical Hollywood fashion. When Wuornos meets Selby she is at the verge of taking her own life. Jenkins shows us that the relationship in Wuornos’ eyes is one of desperation far more than true love or affection. There is a dispassionate overall feel to the film; the audience can watch it removed from the violence, uncaring about any forced rationalization. Jenkins knows that she had an ideal cast and gave them the room to give the performance of their lives. I certainly look forward to the next film by this creative woman.
There are two main variations of the DVD, one that stands alone and the other that is packaged with Nick Broomfield's second documentary on Wournos, ‘Aileen: Life And Death Of A Serial Killer’. The film is a must have for anyone that enjoys great cinema but if you want to compare the events in the film with what actually occurred get the two pack. The technical specifications of the disc are flawless. The anamorphic video displays every grisly detail of the events. There is a gritty nature of the transfer that was intended by the director and remains true to the original presentation. The Dolby 5.1 audio may seem flat in the rear portions of the sound field but overall it gets the job done. The disc containing the film also has an interview with Patty Jenkins. It doesn’t take the typical route of ‘we are so great’ but instead details the difficulty in bringing such dark subject matter to the screen. This film garnered an Oscar for Ms Theron, a well deserved award. While not for all tastes this film succeeds on every measure.