Saturday, September 1, 2012

Monster

By Sati. Saturday, September 1, 2012 , , , , , , , , ,
A dark tale based on the true story of Aileen Wuornos, one of America's first female serial killers. Wuornos had a difficult and cruel childhood plagued by abuse and drug use in Michigan. She became a prostitute by the age of thirteen and eventually moved to Florida where she began earning a living as a highway prostitute--servicing the desires of semi-truck drivers. The tale focuses on the nine month period between 1989 and 1990, during which Wuornos had a relationship with a woman named Selby. During that time she also began murdering her clientele in order to get money. This turned the tables on a rather common phenomena of female highway prostitutes being the victims of serial killers--instead Wuornos, herself, carried out the deeds of a cold-blooded killer.

Monster is a movie that is most remember for Charlize Theron's work as Aileen, rewarded with almost every possible acting trophy including Oscar. But at its core Monster is the heartbreaking story of broken dreams and failed expectations, a tough tale of survival where a person can't afford a luxury of caring about what is right and what is wrong. In its opening we hear Aileen's narrative who talks about her dreams - cliche dreams so many of people share - becoming famous, falling in love, getting rescued. Aileen's dreams came true for a while - she found someone she loved but it was too late for her to be rescued.
We meet Aileen as she is contemplating killing herself on the side of the highway. Before doing so she decides to spend the last money she has for drinks and in the bar she meets young, confused and naive lesbian called Selby. Selby is attracted to mysterious stranger and soon they meet again. After Aileen gets raped by one of her clients and kills him the two go for a road trip, finally feeling free. Aileen finally has a companion and Selby can stop pretending and just being herself. But her dream life won't last long, as they keep running out of money which forces Aileen to kill more and more of her clients.

The problem is that what is between those two women is not really love or even a relationship - they are just two people who needed someone else and jumped at the first chance of leaving their failed lives behind. Selby is incredibly spoiled and Aileen starts killing her clients not only because after years of abuse she feels those men deserve it but also for money to be able to indulge Selby's every whim. At the same time she is not even a lesbian so she can't fully reciprocate Selby's affections which only brings them more bitterness. The two start pushing each other away, Selby being disappointed in Aileen's inability to engage in physical love and Aileen deep down sensing Selby doesn't really love her.
Monster shows that once society crosses someone and puts a scarlet letter on them it's almost impossible to go back. While it's tendentious side of the story, sure, it still makes us wonder - of course the state tries to help out but the reality is that even if someone is willing to change, the system is not good or safe enough to carry through. At one point of the story Aileen decides to find a job and live as law abiding citizen. The problem is she has no education, presence, manners or experience. She sticks with being prostitute because that is the only thing she knows. And while it's obvious she simply gave up too fast, another obvious thing is that there is absolutely no encouragement or help from those who should help her in the first place.

While the film does a good job at showing that not all of Aileen's clients were pigs and some of them were just sad, lonely guys, it also offers as a look at how far person's desperation can lead them. First time Aileen killed in self defense, then she killed because once she did it, perhaps she finally felt liberated. Raped, abused, humiliated for years for the first time it was her who held some one's life in her grasp. The most heartbreaking scenes are those were Aileen knows that the people she is about to kill don't deserve to die but she still chooses to kill them, because she needs to. She needs to, in order to keep her dream with Selby alive.
Aileen eventually got captured. The police got to Selby and recorded their phone conversation hoping they will get confession out of Aileen. During that phone call it is clear Aileen knows exactly what is going on but she still gives them confession, in order to protect Selby. Then during the trial Selby coldblooded points to Aileen as a person who did all those things - there is no affection, gratitude or even nostalgia in her eyes. She is simply a spoiled, rotten brat who played around, got in trouble and now is prepared to do everything to go back to her comfortable life. While Aileen was damaged and hurt and suffered for years Selby is someone without character or without any reason and justification for her cruelty. In some ways I found her character to be so much worse than Aileen.

Aileen killed for love, Selby lied for comfortable life. While one can blame some of this on her young age she knew what Aileen was doing and didn't stop her. She stuck with her because Aileen had the money. In many ways Aileen was cheated, fooling herself that Selby genuinely cares for her. There were many times during this movie that it was evident she knows the truth, but she kept pretending everything was perfect, because even if it was a lie it was so much better than everything else she has came to know in her life. After the trial the women never spoke again.

Aileen Wuornos, a notoriously uncooperative person, gave director Patty Jenkins access to hundreds of letters she had written and received in order to gain insight into Aileen's life. Jenkins chose Theron for the performance after seeing her in The Devil's Advocate claiming that an actress who would allow a close up of her runny nose would be open for a performance as brave as this one. That was terrific decision as Theron delivered one of the most astonishing performances ever - her physical transformation into Aileen is incredible. Theron who is without a doubt one of the most beautiful woman in the world wore prosthetics, a lot of make up all over her body and gained weight. She also adopted the different way of speaking, walking and gesticulating, all to embody Aileen even more. Truthfully, when you watch Monster you can't believe it's Theron underneath all of this. But her performance is not just what you see at the first glance - she completely captures Aileen's bitterness, desperation and the genuine care she has for Selby.

Christina Ricci is very good as Selby, creating a portrait of spoiled, confused girl who can't find her place in in the world. The film mostly relies on those two performance but the supporting cast delivers good work, although comparing to Theron's work they all blend in the background. Jenkins directed the story very well, though it's obvious many times we see romanticized  version of events, but life story told in two hour long movie often plays this way. Aileen encounters many horrors from other people and the film focuses on her misery so much that many of her actions seem justified, while in reality she was a person that murdered for money which was a fact, no matter how much suffering she endured in her life, it was still what she did.
The film premiered year after Wuornos was executed. She was convicted and sentenced to death for seven of the murders and was executed by the State of Florida by lethal injection on October 9, 2002. She went back and forth on the first killing circumstances - claiming she wasn't raped after all. But when she thought the cameras that followed her she said it did happen. After years of suffering and then more pain and humiliation she endured in the prison she probably just wanted to end it. Wuornos was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder while other psychiatrists often deemed her sane. Still it was ambiguous if she was mentally stable and the fact that such person was still executed raises some serious questions.

Monster (2003, 109 min)
Plot: Based on the life of Aileen Wuornos, a Daytona Beach prostitute who became a serial killer. The film focuses on the nine month period between 1989 and 1990, during which Wuornos had a relationship with a woman named Selby. Wuornos kept killing her clients in order to provide money for her and Selby, while being on the run from the police.
Director: Patty Jenkins
Writer: Patty Jenkins
Stars: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci and Bruce Dern


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16 comments:

  1. I've heard so much about Monster, but have never actually seen it. Your review was wonderful, one of your best I'd say, and definitely made me wanna check it out!

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    1. You should check it out, Theron is amazing and the story is very interesting, it's not a perfect film but it's very well made.

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  2. Fantastic and insightful review. I've seen most of this film, but I don't think I actually saw the end. I definitely need to go back and watch the whole thing.

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    1. Thank you! The end is one of the best moments, you should finish this one :)

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  3. Very in-depth review. Makes me really want to see the film. Theron looks like she gives an excellent performance here.

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  4. Good review Sati. This flick has that iconic and powerful performance from Theron that really makes her standout above all of those other pretty faces we see out there, but there isn't much else to this either. It's good, don't get me wrong, but other than her performance, we don't get much else to really grab a hold of us.

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    1. Thanks! I realy liked the movie, it was interesting that it almost made Aileen look like someone you can feel for. But yeah Theron's work is above everything else in the movie.

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  5. This sounds like a heartbreaking film and a tour de force performance for Theron. Did they win an award for Best Makeup too? I don't know how anyone could make someone like Theron look ugly, but somehow they pulled it off!

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    1. I don't think so, it's a bit ridiculous seeing how something like The Iron Lady won for make up...

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  6. It was a tough movie for me to watch, but I agree the performance was very powerful, Charlize really became that character. Can kind of understand why she would want a relationship/friendship with a woman with all those horrible men in her life(even though not all are pigs as you mention).

    To me, Aileen is kind of an anti-hero, similar to Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, or driver from Drive, despite being a killer.

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    1. Absolutely, I can totally see where both of these women were coming from, that's why the story was so great for me, because what they did made sense in their situation.

      That's a bold statement, I don't think she completely belongs with those too - Travis had deep issues and Driver, well, the killings we saw were for the protection of others. Aileen primarily killed for money.

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  7. Charlize Theron is such a phenomenal actress, and I don't think she always gets the credit she deserves. This is the film where she really proved to me that she has what it takes to be such a gifted performer. Loved her here, but other films like North Country or Young Adult are just as stunning and effective.

    Nice write up -- glad you appreciated it too.

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    1. Oh I adore her in NC and YA as well, she delivered incredible work there. She is always good, though, even in weaker movies.

      Thank you!

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  8. After seeing the documentary about her a couple of months ago I finally got around to seeing Monster, which I thought was really well made. Like you say Theron gives an amazing performance and allows the viewer to get an idea what this woman went through. She did things we might never be able to understand, but this movie did try to make her a bit more than just a serial killer. A woman who had a tough life and was looking for love, just like any other person.

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  9. Very good review. In real life Selby probably participated in at least one of the killings, so she definitely got off scott free. If you haven't seen it, I definitely recommend the doc Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer. The documentarian was the only man who got to interview her while she was in jail. He did a follow-up film after she was put to death, but I have not seen it.

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  10. I've still never got round to re-watching this after walking out of the cinema an emotional wreck. Best performance in a film ever in my opinion. Great to read your thoughts on the film.

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