(Originally posted on 1/10/04)
I love serial killers. Wait, let me rephrase that. I love watching, reading, and learning about serial killers. Thus, I approached Monster, Patty Jenkins' dramatic film about Aileen Wuornos -- a Florida prostitute executed in 2002 for killing her male clients -- with reasonably high hopes. Unfortunately, with the exception of Charlize Theron's masterful performance as Wuornos, the film is a misguided mess, and fails to match Nick Broomfield's two fascinating documentaries about this murderer (the latest of which will arrive in theaters in a few weeks). Wuornos, sexually and physically abused by her family at a young age, became a prostitute at 13 and, years later, killed an abusive john in self-defense. Excited by the satisfaction of exacting revenge against the male population she loathed, Wuornos killed six more men in 1989-1990. Jenkins' film begins on the night Wuornos met her lesbian lover Selby (Christina Ricci, sporting one seriously boyish haircut), and traces their affair through the killings, her capture, and eventual conviction. Yet by buying too wholeheartedly into Wuornos' status as a victim, Jenkins' film quickly reveals itself to be nothing more than a lesbian serial killer romance in which the titular monster is really just an innocent product of her horrid upbringing. To be sure, Wuornos' terrible youth contributed to her eventual killing spree, but by largely keeping her murders off-screen so that more time might be spent showing her sensitive, desperate attempts at human bonding with Selby, the film unwisely attempts to garner sympathy for Wuornos. Disguised under a layer of fat and crooked prosthetic teeth, Theron gives a tour-de-force performance that's more than just skin-deep. Theron so fully embodies Wuornos from the inside out -- she nails not only Wuornos' defiant, masculine gait and speech, but, more importantly, her unpredictable emotional volatility -- that we're quickly unable to see the actress behind the character. Unfortunately, her mesmerizing portrayal is wasted on a film with severely mixed-up priorities. In the film's final scene, Wuornos screams to the jury about her victimhood and then exits behind a door into brilliant white light, her stroll depicted in slow-motion and set to the sound of wailing electric guitars. The image of a poor, empathetic woman driven to kill by a female-hating society is meant to break our hearts. Instead, the only thing I felt was pity for the filmmakers who chose to largely ignore Wuornos' monstrousness so that they might make her a palatable tragic figure.