Predator of Love
Patty Jenkins, USA, 2003
Posted: January 20,
First-time director Patty Jenkins certainly doesn't play it safe with
her debut feature. Telling the tale of Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute
executed in Florida in October 2002 for murdering six men between 1989-90,
Jenkins is forced to delicately balance presenting Wuornos as both damaged
victim and cold-blooded killer. Monster is not about the victims
(primarily men who picked Wuornos up for sex), whose families, obviously,
will have little interest in a work that attempts to make sense of the
circumstances that sent Wuornos over the edge. Thanks largely to Charlize
Theron's phenomenal work in the lead role, however, Monster is
absolutely compelling cinema.
Rather than take a raw, cinema verite attitude toward the
material, Jenkins instead frames a love story involving Wuornos and a
young innocent, polar opposite Selby Wall (Christina Ricci). After meeting
in a gay bar, Wuornos (who vehemently declares she's not gay upon
arriving) and Selby quickly grow attached. Selby has been sent to live
with her aunt in hopes of straightening out her life (not to mention her
sexual orientation), while Wuornos is barely scraping by as a highway
prostitute. The only thing these two share in common is a desperate need
to be loved. How true this is to what actually occurred is conjecture, but
Theron and Ricci do a good job of making their characters' emotions and
anxious hopes for a bright future feel genuine.
And, despite the overly structured narrative (complete with
inner-thought voiceovers by Theron), Monster works because everyone
but these two lovestruck women knows things are not going to work out.
It's disquieting to watch the two repeatedly convince one another that
they're going to escape down to South Florida, run their own business and
live in a beach house. The fantasy remains forever out of reach, as Selby
grows increasingly dependent on Wuornos and Wuornos feeds her desire to be
needed by killing and robbing one john after another (not to mention a
completely innocent Good Samaritan) in a desperate effort to keep Selby
Again, there can be no sympathy for Wuornos. Despite her abusive
childhood and miserable life, the actions that brought about her
subsequent capital punishment are indefensible. Jenkins, who spent time
with the real Wuornos before her execution, clearly has a deep compassion
for her subject. As such, her objectivity is considerably more skewed than
if she'd entered the project cold, without prior contact with Wuornos.
Jenkins' closeness to the material may explain the "crazy in love" angle
that seemingly propels Wuornos along her twisted highway to hell. Wuornos'
story is indeed horrific, for all parties concerned, but it would have
been nice to get a more detached view of the events surrounding her
headline-making years than the version presented here.
But no matter the sympathetic slant, Charlize Theron simply shines; the
actress brings a self-loathing and fascinatingly vain insight into the
character that is truly amazing to behold. Wuornos' face painfully
reflects the tough life she's lived, but there are moments when she gazes
into a mirror and takes genuine pride in herself, as if reconnecting with
a little girl who was once hopeful and eager to embrace life before
everything went so terribly wrong. Ricci has considerably less to work
with as the immature, clingy Selby, but she manages to be more than a mere
wallflower, offering a believable mix of childlike innocent and sensual
thrill seeker. Monster doesn't rise to Raging Bull heights
in its dark character study, but it most certainly is a frighteningly
in-your-face examination of the cycle of violence that doomed one
individual and her half-dozen victims.
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