August 2, 2011

Queer Review: Monster (2003)

Director: Patty Jenkins
Writer: Patty Jenkins
Cast: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern, Lee Tergesen

Based on a true story, Monster tells the tale of Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron) a prostitute turned serial killer who became infamous after murdering 7 her clients.

The film opens with Aileen Wournous contemplating suicide, but decides not to until she spends her last 5 dollars. That is how she meets Selby (Christina Ricci), a lonely lesbian desperate for companionship, at a dyke bar. Their romance is doomed though, when one of Aileen's Johns attempts to rape her and she murders him in self defence. This starts Aileen on a killing spree with each victim becoming progressively more innocent, until her final kill seals her fate.

The Queering
Overall, Monster plays out like a grittier and more unsettling version of Thelma and Louise. However, the first thing anybody talks about Monster is Charlize Theron's Oscar winning performance as Aileen Wournos. To become the serial killer, Theron uglified herself to the point where she becomes unrecognisable. Christina Ricci, who has a lengthy resume playing offbeat characters, is nearly as good, but exists in Theron's shadow thanks to the de-beautification.

It is difficult to imagine many people that could descend much lower then the day they nearly kill themselves. It is therefore interesting to note the depths that Wournos managed to fall to after buying a gun with the intention to commit suicide. Aileen begins the movie at the bottom of a dark pit and ends it at an even lower level. In between is a hard riding roller-coaster of rising fortune and rapidly descending despair, not all that unlike the amusement park ride that Aileen Wournos threw up on that is referenced by the title.

I should point out that Monster has something of a political agenda. There is definitely an anti-death penalty vibe, although Director Patty Jenkins never turns this into a political polemic on the evils of capital punishment. However, while there is no attempt to absolve Wournos of her crimes, the question of how much blame society had in the situations that led Wournos to becoming a serial killer is left unanswered. The struggles Wournos faces while attempting to reform and find a non-prostitute related job, show just how much of a myth the notion that anyone who works hard enough can become successful actually is.

There are also several disturbing scenes featuring graphic violence and sexual assault. While these are never gratuitous, they may offend the sensibilities of some individuals. Just saying.

In spite of the disturbing themes and elements, I think that this is an important film for anybody to watch. There are no monsters to be afraid of here, only humans.

The Rating


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