Monster: a powerful glimpse into the mind of a killer

Feb. 5, 2004, midnight | By Ellie Blalock | 16 years, 11 months ago

How many movies still send a shiver down your spine when you think of them or made you emerge from the theater deep in thought and emotionally drained? Monster is just that type of film, a work of art whose characters, script and visual message are at once wholly convincing, disturbing and pitiful.

In one of the greatest cinematic portraits of a killer produced in recent years, Monster seeks to shed light on the life and crimes of Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute who in the late 1980s murdered at least six men in and around Daytona Beach, Florida. Patty Jenkins, the movie's director, is not entirely sympathetic towards Wuornos, who has since been executed. Jenkins approaches Wuornos as a desperate, battered human who felt she had no other way out; she is not pure evil but rather was driven to evil by the circumstances she faced.

Charlize Theron, who plays Wuornos, deserves every bit of the Oscar buzz she has received since Monster's release. Theron gained more than 30 pounds and underwent an extreme physical transformation for the film, and she is nearly unrecognizable. Because she is unrecognizable, however, Theron's character is far more believable. Theron does not let up for one second, virtually becoming the naïve, tortured soul that is driven to murder.

At the film's beginning, Wuornos is contemplating suicide. Determined to spend her last five dollars, she walks into a gay bar where she meets Selby Wall (Christina Ricci), an 18-year-old lesbian who was kicked out of her own home for coming out of the closet. A romantic relationship between the two forms almost instantly, as each gives the other the unconditional love and approval they so desperately seek. Ricci also delivers an impressive performance as Wall. She is confused, innocent and hopelessly in love with Wuornos simply because the older woman does not reject her.

Wuornos convinces Wall to leave the family she is staying with and move into a cheap motel room. Wuornos swears to quit "hooking," but when money begins to run low and she discovers the lack of job opportunities for a woman with no education or job experience, Wuornos is forced to return to a life of prostitution because, as she admits to Wall, "I've been hooking since I was 13. Hell, I'm a hooker."

However, something happens that changes everything. One john attacks and rapes Wuornos, nearly killing her. Wuornos drifts in and out of consciousness, but when the man turns away for a second, she grabs her gun in desperation and shoots him to death. This incident, the first murder, upsets Wuornos, but after reading a few newspaper clippings she realizes that the police have no leads, and she will probably not be caught.

Sick of serving men her entire life, Wuornos decides it is easier and more lucrative to simply murder men and steal their money and cars. She and Selby live like this for a while, a new car every week, and eventually she gains enough cash to pay for a small house. However, after Wuornos kills a retired police officer, the authorities reason that a serial killer is to blame, and after some detective work they release sketches of Wall and Wuornos. Wournos, who genuinely cares for Selby, tearfully sends her off on a bus, hoping not to get her in any more trouble. This scene is heart wrenching, since Wuornos is saying goodbye to the only person she ever really loved.

Although Monster is a very powerful and climactic work, it is extremely graphic and disturbing. For sensitive viewers, the film may be too much to handle. However, without such vivid and upsetting images, Monster would not be as memorable or as striking. The movie is a testament to the "show, don't tell" principle, where vivid visual images are always more effective than nondescript words.

Monster does exactly what it intends. It involves the viewer in the terrifying descent into personal hell and offers a visual masterpiece complete with impeccable acting and production. Most importantly, though, it opens the mind to a new view of the serial killer Aileen Wuornos.

Monster is 111 minutes long and is rated R for strong violence, sexual content and pervasive language.

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Ellie Blalock. Ellie is a SENIOR in the CAP program at Blair. She enjoys such activities as traveling, being able to say "water" in six languages and having heart-to-heart chats with eccentric politicians. If you're in need of a laugh, please ask Ellie about her driving … More »

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