> Volume 6 > Number 05


Patty Jenkins

Charlize Theron
Christina Ricci
Bruce Dern
Lee Tergesen

Release: 24 Dec. 03



Aileen Wuornos was a mystery when she went to trial in 1992 for killing six men, and remains so even after a TV movie, two documentaries by Nick Broomfield, and now a dramatization that attempts to cover the gamut of her reasons without ever fully understanding a single one. I know that this might sound like a criticism of the film, but when Wuornos offered so little to understand before she was executed in 2002, such an obtuse vision of the filmís protagonist should be expected.

But that acceptance doesnít make Monster a good film. Instead, itís just a lesbian exploitation film built around the immodest gestures of a truly caring portrait of a serial killer. Wuornos, in the eyes of director Patty Jenkins, is a monster, yet one that has cathartic fun as she makes her way through the femme fatale clichť she wants to occupy. Her intense Sapphic love for wallflower Selby (Ricci) is awkward, but itís too dirty to be sexy. So, why is this film little more than Roger Corman with the prestige of a major Oscar campaign?

The story isnít exploitive -- itís gritty, ugly, and wholly disturbing. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is, perhaps, the modern paradigm in which this storyís perfect cinematic counterpart resides. However, Jenkinsí film isnít that different from last yearís less-prestigious but just as outrageous Dahmer. Monster, as it is, offers the character without touching on what ticks inside Wuornos. Itís like saying that Jeffrey Dahmerís killings were uncontrollable effects of a lifetime hiding his homosexuality -- this Wuornos is just a ugly duckling waiting to become a swan, willing to kill so she might pay her way until this transformation happens. The level of conviction Monster has in realizing the reality of Wuornos is minute. I said before that itís tough to draw up conclusions on such an enigma, but even Kaspar Hauser, the epitome of being enigmatic, still had depths found by Werner Herzog in Every Man for Himself and God Against All.

The duckling-swan conclusion does have an allure, though, which explains why some are willing to become engrossed in the filmís petty dramatics. In fact, Monster, despite being a true independent productions (rumor has it that the filmís musical centerpiece -- a wonderfully used ďDonít Stop BelievingĒ -- got Journeyís lead singer to find minor investors to make Monster), is form-fitted for People magazine covers. Showing the transformation of the absolutely gorgeous Charlize Theron into the dumpy and frazzled Wuornos makes for a nice photo layout. It is an astounding example of an actress getting into character, even if her acting abilities are still laking once she put on the pounds and covered her perfect face with makeup. This isnít like Robert De Niro turning into Jake LaMata for Raging Bull, in which the actor gained weight and also peaked as a performer.

And yet Monster will still be celebrated for its actressí makeover in the face of vanity. Even though Christina Ricci, playing what might be her single most annoying role (that is, until the impending release of the dreadful Prozac Nation), delivers a far more realized character. Theron will get the kudos and the awards and the gaggle of wonderful roles. Ricci can only watch, pushed to the side until Hollywood remembers that she has big breasts

©2004, David Perry,, 30 January 2004