February 17, 2004

Monster

Maggie and I just got back from seeing Monster. The buzz on this film has been about how Charlize Theron gained weight and made herself look “ugly” for the part. But really, it’s an incredible performance. I still think 21 Grams struck me more, and overall Mystic River was the better film, but Monster is impressive in that Theron drives the film with her performance. It is a character study.

Aileen Wuornos was a serial killer. She had developed a hatred of men, which perhaps is not all that surprising considering her childhood and the people she came into contact with as a prostitute on the streets. Theron plays her as a naive but determined person with nothing left in her life, until she encounters Selby Wall (Christina Ricci). Otherwise unloved and unlovable, she immediately takes to Selby in whose own naive eyes Wournos is seen as a “beautiful woman who men are willing to pay for sex.” Wall is on hiatus from her controlling, religious father, living away from home with relatives after a near lesbian experience.

Things quickly go wrong when Wuornos convinces Wall to live with her instead — neither have a source of income.

The movie tests our ability to identify with Wuornos, which itself is not all that surprising. What surprised me was how well this film traps the viewer in the lives of Wuornos and Wall, who have trapped themselves in an isolated worsening obsessive fantasy world. It’s not quite the deep fantasy of the pair of antagonists in Heavenly Creatures, but rather a veneer merely thick enough for Wuornos to continue killing both to satisfy her hatred and keep her friend Wall close to her. For Wall’s part, she is in the middle of a bad situation with blinders on.

I can’t watch this film without wondering how much is fact. Selby Wall is a fabricated name for Wuornos’ real-life partner Tyria Moore. I’m not sure why they changed her name and her appearance, but perhaps it was an attempt to spare the real person behind that role. Changes in her character may explain the thinness of her part in the film. One never gets a real feel for Ricci’s portrayal of Wall beyond her wish to escape her father her confusion, and her lack of personality. She even tries on her lover’s mannerisms temporarily when she sneaks off to a bar for the night. But Ricci is not convincing as a real person and almost comes off as a figment of Wuornos’ imagination. Wuornos’ personality is strong enough that you could imagine her projecting this person out into the world — her last hope for a reason to live.

There are scenes in which Wuornos is the only one present except for her victims. So we only have her word to go on.The screenwriter has been kind to her, allowing her to progress from nearly justified self-defense to serial murder. But I think it’s not best to view this as a documentary. It’s a character study.

Wuornos is a character that is not easy to understand. But parts of her personality are impossible not to identify with. And that makes for a very uncomfortable and thought-provoking experience.

Posted by James at February 17, 2004 2:19 AM
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Comments

I haven't seen the movie myself, and don't want to be one of those idiots who has to weigh in on a movie before even seeing it. But I was in Florida through most of the story, and Wuornos made the evening news many times over the years. More than once, even (I believe) at her own sentencing, she said there had been no self-defense, that she had had no reason to kill those men, and that she killed them in cold blood.

Whether or not that was true, and whether or not the screenwriter took too many liberties with the facts, I couldn't say even if I saw the movie. But I do know that nearly anyone could write a more sympathetic screenplay about Aileen than she would have written for herself.

In fact, there was a TV-movie about her some years ago, with Jean Smart. I don't remember much about it, but I do remember that there were people in Florida who were unhappy with Wuornos being portrayed as a human being.

Perhaps this is understandable since she had a hard time seeing herself as a human being. I'm sure it's a lot easier to sign someone's death warrant when you don't think of her as a human being. But that's not being "tough on crime," it's being in denial.

Posted by: at February 17, 2004 10:33 AM

Nice thoughtful review. I look forward to seeing the movie after reading so much about it.

Posted by: Mike at February 17, 2004 10:47 AM

From what I read of Wuornos after her improsonment (after the end of the film) it seemed like she wanted to speed her death along. Almost like committing suicide.

So it looks like assisted suicide is illegal, unless you can get the state to help you out.

Posted by: James at February 17, 2004 7:22 PM

And you have to kill a bunch of other people first before the state will help you out.

Posted by: julie at February 18, 2004 9:38 AM

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