Between 1989 and 1990, a Daytona Beach prostitute named Aileen Wuornos killed 7 men in cold blood. While Wuornos isn’t America’s first female serial killer, she is the first one that got this amount of attention thanks to the media and her reputation as psychotic. It goes without saying that there have been a few documentaries, books, and other works dedicated to Wuornos, but none have had the impact that Patty Jenkins’ 2003 film Monster had. Instead of focusing on the crimes themselves, Jenkins decided to focus on Aileen as a human and what drove her to do such horrible things. If that doesn’t sound interesting enough to grab your attention, Charlize Theron’s transformation into Wuornos surely is.
Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron) is a prostitute working the streets in Florida who has just about completely given up on her life, that is until she meets a woman named Selby Wall (Christina Ricci). Selby is a lesbian and has strong feeling for the straight Wuornos, who at first turns her down, but soon finds out just how nice it is to be loved and the two start an unlikely relationship. Money soon becomes tight after Aileen decides to quit being a prostitute, so she hits the streets once again but instead of sleeping with anyone she begins to murder them and steal their money and their cars. Aileen feels this is all justifiable since she believes that all of these men are going to rape her, but her story begins falling apart and soon she won’t be able to keep this cold blooded secret from Selby or law enforcement.
I’m gonna start with the weakest part of this movie so I can dedicate the rest of this review to what is so overwhelmingly positive. The narrative flow of Monster is very weak and makes it kinda hard to follow at times. Aileen Wuornos killed people between 1989 and 1990, but there is no indication as to how much time has passed between scenes. It could be an entire year of 3 weeks for all I know. If you’re making a movie about a very specific amount of time, it’s important that the audience feels that this amount of time has passed. By the end of the movie, I didn’t really feel like I’ve been with the characters for over a year. This is actually a pretty major complaint since it actually affected how the movie flowed and made the overall narrative feel pretty choppy.
But really, what is the main reason anyone is really interested in seeing Monster for? It’s obviously to see what is one of the best onscreen performances you will ever see. I don’t even know if Charlize Theron was actually in this movie. There was no evidence onscreen that she was ever there. Theron completely succeeds at transforming herself into Aileen Wuornos. Not only is the make up applied perfect, but also the fact that she gained a decent amount of weight and mimicked Wuornos’ facial expressions and ticks in a creepily authentic way. It’s an almost incomparable performance that, to me, should make Theron one of the most respected actors working in Hollywood. While I really can’t say enough about Theron’s performance, I also have to give a lot of credit to Christina Ricci for giving a performance on the exact opposite end of the spectrum. She’s a timid, almost pathetic, character that is played out wonderfully.
Something else this film succeeds in is putting an interesting twist on the cinematic views of a serial killer. Many films make their serial killer subjects, whether they be real or not, into something inhuman. What Patty Jenkins does with Monster is show Aileen Wuornos as a tragic human being. Make no mistake, though. Jenkins in no way condones or tries to defend what Wuornos did, but she does sprinkle a theme concerning circumstance and environment into the film. This kind of puts this movie into an interesting sort of category where it doesn’t focus on the horrors of the murders, but the horrors of this woman’s life and actions.
Narratively, Monster may not be the strongest movie out there, but this film is ultimately a character study. Charlize Theron gets so deep into her role as Aileen Wuornos, it’s truly unsettling, but it’s also a relief that Patty Jenkins showed a different kind of side to what we normally see in films about serial killers. Everyone will agree that what Wuornos did was despicable and wrong, but what was done to her was also despicable and wrong and, especially in a time when there are more and more mass killings, maybe this is a good topic to talk about.