A little girl's childhood, filled with dreams of stardom and a life of being rich, famous and recognized are jerked out in the blink of an eye by the continued rape of an 8 year old girl by her father's 'good family friend.' She grows through the years, becoming every teenage male's 'good time,' and in the process morphs into an adult who spreads her favours to a growing faction of men willing to pay for her services. Along the way, she finds love, as she is willing to accept it, in the arms of another woman. This teaming, though, will prove fatal for them and most of the men who cross their path.
These short sentences sum up the premise of the film, Monster, but there is a more complete story to be told, that sadly, is not entirely evident in the time allotted, or portrayed by the director, Patty Jenkins. Much has been made of fact that the subject of this film, America's first female serial killer, Aileen Wuornos, was dealt a point in her favour, as the audience was asked to believe that all of her killings on the highways and bi-ways of Florida were due in part to a brutal rape that occurred one night when she picked up a 'john' who had more than sex on his mind, and who, in a maddening fit of rage and revenge, was killed by her. From that point on, we are told that every subsequent murder was established because of the trauma she suffered from this man, who also wore the collective mantle of every male in her life who had used and abused her.
Wuornos (Charlize Theron) and Selby (Christina Ricci) are an oddly paired combination. The former is grizzled, defensive, bad to the bone and battle scarred. Selby is a young, dim-witted lesbian, who, to goad her father, has been sent to friends in Florida to 'cure' her of this 'affliction.' During their time together, Aileen and Selby attempt to throw off the restraint of their harnesses, to live a carefree life, which all too soon comes crashing down when the money that Aileen has made from prostituting herself, runs out. Selby has been naive enough to think that her lover will set her free by giving her a life she has always wanted -- a house, being supported and given love for who she is and not what she is.
To fulfill Selby's grandiose and unrealistic dreams, Aileen attempts to turn over a new leaf, by putting her old life behind her and emerging, mature and revitalized, in careers that are above her abilities or skills. The conjecture of this episode in her life would have us believe that there was nothing else that she could have done, and is what eventually led her back to the only thing she knew -- hooking.
In her desire to be loved and accepted at best, and to have money to placate Selby and her dreams at worst, she pulls off a series of murders that are as cold, rigid and calculated as surely as night follows day. Her last victim, who has the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, is unjustly killed all because Aileen could not leave behind a witness to defeat her.
Charlize Theron as Aileen projects a powerful and compelling performance that surmounts the pitfalls and highs that her character is compelled to endure. There is an edginess and needing to belong to the human race that come across, not as acting, but as truly understanding the character that she is pedaling. There is a raw heat; the 'bring it on' attitude, that merges with an attempt at tenderness and thinking that dreams really will and do come true -- but for other people.
Her makeup (Toni G) is astounding and if you did not know it was Ms. Theron before seeing this film, you would be forgiven this error. She's uncanny and eerie, especially when seen against actual photos of Wuornos. She has enveloped this character and allowed us live in her skin, to see life's underbelly, to know the score, to celebrate a moment's happiness, and to see it all come crashing down and into an unseemly place called Hell, from which there will be no escape.
Christina Ricci as Selby is an entirely different case in point. I had not the least bit of sympathy for her character and the predicament she willingly accepted. She whined and felt sorry for herself all too often, and it eventually came to grate on the few nerves I had left. It could be argued that her character was in part responsible for Aileen's actions, but this is speculation, for Wuornos had a great deal of baggage to tote entering the relationship. Ricci is a distant second to Theron and is simply there to provide the springboard that is necessary to make scenes happen.
Bruce Dern as Thomas, the owner of a storage unit that Aileen uses, has a short duration in this film, which is sad. He always manages to convey a dollop of spice to the proceedings and in Monster, he does not disappoint. His scene with Theron, when they commiserate about 'having to do what you have to do, because you had no choice,' is exquisite.
Direction and screenplay by Patty Jenkins are apt and get the message across. The amount of research that Theron and she did to bring this tragedy to the screen is quite evident, but although proclamations by Jenkins that she wanted to show the whole person and not just a representation, fall a little flat. She attempts to go for sympathy for Aileen, and while this is not to say that sympathy and help were to ever be denied her because of her profession, the spectre of 'what if' hangs a little too closely in the end result. We are the captains of our own ships. That Wuornos chose a destructive path was her pathway to eventual demise by execution for her actions.
The recommendation for Monster is made for the charged performance of Theron. Don't think of it as a pretty woman putting on a little makeup, some false teeth and a southern accent. See it for an acting tour de force; the creme in the coffee, the stuff that real acting is all about.
Monster is the little film that could and did. . .
American director and graduate of the American Film Institute who made her feature debut in 2003 with the Oscar-winning Monster, based on the true story of serial killer Aileen Wuornos. She went on to work in television for the next decade until, after a lot of pre-production, she was picked to helm the Wonder Woman movie of 2017. This proved to be one of the biggest hits of its year, and Jenkins was kept on to create the sequel.