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Director: Patty Jenkins
Cast: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci
harlize Theron is impeccably beautiful. So stunning in fact, are her face and figure, that when one sees the previews for Monster and hears the praises for Ms. Theron’s acting being sung down from on high, he may become slightly wary. The fear being that laudation for her performance may simply result from following the Oscar-winning example of Nicole Kidman in The Hours: “Take a beautiful actress, use makeup and prostheses to turn her ugly, have her give her usual performance, and wait for the accolades to roll in.” Happily, Theron’s portrayal of America’s first female serial killer, Aileen Wuornos, is more than an evil plot aimed at establishing credibility through a cheap physical device; it is truly noteworthy.
Any respectable critic would have seen Ms. Theron’s breakout coming, with a string of performances such as Jill Young in the majestic Mighty Joe Young, the haunting Sara Deever opposite Keanu Reeves in Sweet November, and having any involvement whatsoever in the touching Legend of Baggar Vance, it was obvious that she was on the cusp of greatness. In fact, she acted opposite Keanu in both Sweet November and
More important, perhaps, is the fact that this freshly earned respect has little to do with her De Niro-esque tactics of gaining 30 pounds or the dental prostheses that obscure her normally exquisite features. While exceedingly impressive, the makeup work of Toni G. is equaled by the ferocity Theron displays after inhabiting the skin of Aileen Wuornos.
Writer-Director Patty Jenkins opens Monster with an extended voice-over of Aileen explaining the daydreams she used to cope with her childhood, backed by cut scenes of the child and teenaged Wuornos being beaten or selling her only assets. Mundane dreams of wealth, fame, and true love had carried her through an exceptionally rough early life. Nearing the end of her soliloquy, Aileen relates that at some point, those fantasies stopped allowing her to escape. And as the meat of the film begins, the viewer first lays eyes on a weathered, filthy Wuornos clutching a pistol in one hand and Abe Lincoln’s green likeness in the other.
Fearing her last five dollars would be wasted if she were to kill herself immediately, thus making her efforts hooking for that money worthless, Wuornos walks to the nearest bar for a final drink. As fate would have it, she picks a lesbian bar where mousy young stranger Selby Wall (Christina Ricci, following up her turns as love interest to a pre-pubescent boy in The Ice Storm and a mentally-retarded boy in Pumpkin with the bizzaro trifecta-completing love interest to a female serial killer) has been working up the courage to make new acquaintances. So desperate is Selby for attention, that she befriends the gruff drifter Aileen, who opens their conversation with an insult and assurances that she is not a “dyke.”
After a night of heavy drinking and rare companionship, the two women find an attachment to a live person that neither has previously experienced. They spend the next few days in the idyllic stages of newfound friendship and love, overjoyed that the world is finally giving them a purpose in human form. Doomed, however, is their budding relationship, for Selby’s domineering religious father has called for her to return home from Florida so that she may be cured of lesbianism. Aileen decides that the two should rent a hotel room for Selby’s last night, to consummate their formerly platonic love.
In order to scrounge up the cash for this occasion, Aileen peddles her womanly charms as she had been doing since age thirteen. But, upon taking the responsibility of servicing one certain john before meeting Selby, Wuornos meets with the most severe danger of her profession. The john (Lee Tergesen akaBeecher from Oz) attacks and rapes Aileen savagely in the front seat of his car, his actions only a prelude to her eventual murder. As she awakes from a blunt instrument-induced slumber to his taunts, Wuornos wriggles free from her bindings and reaches the pistol originally meant to end her own life. Emptying six shots into his chest, she kills the first of seven men (not all shown in Monster).
The film’s first half is dangerously close to becoming a full-fledged valentine to Wuornos; a misunderstood woman on the fringe of society with demons spawned of a troubled upbringing. Just as life seemed too much, the pure joy of love had brought hope. Aileen’s murder of her attacker is presented as justified by his evil and her will to survive.
As the film wears on, however, Aileen’s victims grow less deserving and her motives less immediate. Before long she kills to satisfy the growing monetary requirements of her remarkably needy girlfriend and to avenge the crimes perpetrated by men in her horrific past. By the end of her spree, Wuornos lives up to the film’s moniker, unable to summon the principles she thought she possessed when selecting victims.
At some point, Monster imperceptibly shifts from the world through Aileen’s eyes to true reality, and from that moment on, the film is exponentially more successful. Selby’s character goes through the most important transformation. Seen at first as a shy, good-hearted girl trapped by circumstance, she grows increasingly whiny, shallow, and capricious. The true love portrayed early seems much more like a twisted co-dependency of two of the loneliest people inhabiting earth.
Had Patty Jenkins not infused the early script with the overwhelming sentiment of pity, Monster could be a great film. Nonetheless, it is certainly a very good film, and the performances of its two leads are spectacular. Take advantage of the Oscar-provoked release expansion and give Monster a look.
By: Kevin Worrall
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