Monster (DVD, 2009)

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"Cause it's a bittersweet symphony this life."

Feb 1, 2004
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Theron's performance, which deserves all the accolades it has been getting.

Cons:VERY depressing.

The Bottom Line: "I'll take you down the only road I've ever been down"-The Verve


Upon going to see "Monster", there was a certain level of fear on the part of this reviewer. Fear that the movie may attempt to portray real life serial killer Aileen Wuornos as a misunderstood heroine or worse, a comic book caricature. It is to the films credit that it does neither: that it succeeds in helping us understand Wuornos and even sympathizing with her on occasions, while never making her out to be innocent or undeserving of what was ultimately done to her.*

This is mainly on account of the superb performance of Charlize Theron. It's not simply the make-up job that makes her look like a bag lady as we first see her in the film. It's the way Theron literally embodies and actually becomes Wuornos. It is possible to watch this performance and forget that you are watching acting. This is that close to the real thing.

For one who was only vaguely aware of the details in the Wuornos case, this movie will definitely be revealing. How accurate it may be I cannot vouch for. But if this is as close to the truth as possible, it shows that Aileen Wuornos was one complex psycho.

The film opens with scenes from Wuornos's childhood. Her narration tells us "When I grew up I wanted to be a famous actress". Instead of realizing her dreams, she is subject to much abuse as a child and her parents do not support her at all. In fact, we are told late in the film that Wuornos took to prostitution at thirteen.

Our first glimpse of the adult Aileen is in Florida at some point in the early to mid 1980s. We see her going into a bar for a drink and meet up with Selby (Christina Ricci) a lesbian girl looking for an identity of her own, aside from her religious conservative parents. The relationship between her and Lee (as Wuornos comes to be known) is unfriendly at first. But after a while turns into love: albeit love with an edge of tension to it.

The way the film portrays the relationship is interesting. It shows Selby as an innocent young woman who has not had the chance to develop her own view of the world thanks to her restrictive parents (even though she is legally an adult as she reminds them later on). She sees in Wuornos an opportunity to break free from them and goes along with it. At first, she doesn't mind living in squalor in hotel rooms. But after a while she finds herself wanting more and that's where part of the tension between her and Lee comes in. Wuornos is shown to have genuine love for Selby and towards the end of the film when it looks like Selby will betray her; the hurt she expresses is real.

Wuornos first murder is shown to actually be a case of what most courts would rule as self-defense. She picks up a john and he winds up beating her and attempting to rape her. She shoots him dead and steals his car. That murder leaves her with a taste for blood and she proceeds to off several other men throughout the movie. Her final victim turns out to be an innocent man who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The scene of that last murder is the key to what makes this movie so effective. As Wuornos holds a gun on the innocent man, he pleads for his life, telling her that he has a wife and kids and a grandchild on the way. We see the look of indecision on Wuornos's face and then the feeling of fear in her as she screams "It's too late" and shoots the man dead.

In most Hollywood productions, that scene would feature the killer acting with almost surgical precision and most likely prefacing the murder with a wisecrack of some sorts. Here the murder plays as close to real life as possible. Thus we see Wuornos not as a likable monster. But as a woman who made some bad choices and those choices ultimately affected many other people as well. It's to the films credit that it doesn't take to "Lionizing Murderers" as Mark Twain put it. But that it shows that Wuornos was at heart a person like any one else. A person who did many bad things and clearly would have done more. But a person nonetheless.

As I said before, Theron's performance in here is brilliant. You literally forget that this is Charlize Theron on screen: you truly feel as if that is the real Aileen Wuornos. Ricci, while not quite on that level, is also good as the innocent and uncertain Selby. And there is also Bruce Dern as an older Vietnam Vet who sympathizes with Wuornos.

Reflecting on this film now after having seen it, the only real flaw that I can think of is the inappropriate closing song. The filmmakers chose to end the film with Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" over the credits. "Bittersweet Symphony" by The Verve would have been a far better choice, as it would accurately sum up the film quite well.

So my main message here is that Monster should be seen and seen in a theater if possible. It's way ahead of much of the Hollywood claptrap out there now.

*Wuornos was executed in Florida’s electric chair in October of 2002.


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