Written and directed by Patty Jenkins
Produced by Mark Damon, Donald Kushner, Clark Peterson,
Charlize Theron and Brad Wyman
Starring Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce
Dern, Lee Tergesen and Annie Corley
(out of four)
Few films even try to reach the emotional turmoil
that “Monster” captures. With its transformative
performance by Charlize Theron, Patty Jenkins’ film
looks at the life of a notorious serial killer with
a sense of tragedy and compassion.
Theron plays Aileen Wuornos, who’s often credited
as America’s first female serial killer. But
rather than exploit this as a novelty, Jenkins attempts
an in-depth of Wuornos’ psyche.
This is a woman who has been mistreated all her life.
Her only career is prostitution, and she says over
an opening montage that she liked the attention the
men gave her because it felt like love. Over the
years, however, she has been scarred with mistreatment
like rape and abuse on top of the emotional damage
that prostitution incurs. When she finally has a
chance at happiness, she has no idea how to react,
and instead destroys herself and those around her.
Depressed and suicidal one night, Aileen unknowingly
walks into a lesbian bar and meets Selby (Christina
Ricci). She’s drawn to Aileen’s strong,
violent personality and Aileen, after a homophobic
rampage, realizes that Selby, the only person who’s
ever shown an interest in her, is actually quite
Selby comes from a conservative family in a small
town, and is currently staying with another family
of Christian fundamentalists because her father freaked
out after a lesbian-kissing incident at church.
This clash between these two backgrounds creates
an interesting dynamic, with both women recalling
their fear and skepticism of the other’s way
of life. Aileen’s actions are like running
on a treadmill toward a film of a normal life, and
Selby has been living a life of conflict for some
time due to her sexuality.
After their first date of sorts, kissing at an ice
skating rink, they plan another date before Selby
leaves town to go back home. To get the money, Aileen
prostitutes herself and ends up with an abusive rapist
whom she kills in self-defense in one of the film’s
strongest scenes. After the first killing, she begins
killing more while drawing from that memory.
Without gimmicky flashbacks, Jenkins creates similarities
between the scenes that demonstrate Aileen’s
association with the previous event, making it clear
that none of the men she’s killing later on
are as bad as the first man. Aileen’s degree
of mercy grows smaller and smaller as the film progresses.
Perhaps I was just too amazed over the parallels
between golf and life to notice, but up to this point,
Theron hadn’t made any real impressions, with
films like “The Legend of Bagger Vance” that
didn’t demonstrate a particularly bright talent.
But in “Monster,” she’s brave not
only in her willingness to abandon her model background
and look unrecognizable, but in the concentration
she brings to going inside Wuornos’s mind.
Even if the film weren’t as well-made as it
is, the performance demands to be watched as it deftly
communicates the emotions of a mind gone mad.
Ricci also deserves some attention for playing Wuornos’ confused
lover, especially beside Theron’s work. Just
as Aileen is confused about her new relationship
and how to lead a normal, happy life, Selby also
doesn’t want to let go of her first feelings
of true happiness and to an extent has to choose
how much she knows and doesn’t know. As the
story reaches its sad end, Ricci has several key
Just as Theron came out of nowhere, Jenkins reveals
herself to be an amazing director, capturing images
like a hand floating in a car’s side-view mirror
that bring poetry to this personal tragedy. Her screenplay
deeply seeks to understand a mind that didn’t
know how to respond to a chance at happiness.