After a busy day at the store that left me feeling like I’d been run over by a semi followed by a necessary grocery shopping stop to pick up some essentials, I didn’t want to do much when I got home. My darling boyfriend cooked up some dinner for me (begrudgingly, to be sure, but hey, he offered) and I sat down to completely veg out in front of the TV. He had turned it to the movie Monster, and rather than muster up the energy to change the channel, that’s what I watched. Well, ok, I did kind of want to see it a little, seeing as I’d heard mostly good things about it.
After watching it though, I have to say I don’t understand why this movie was so critically acclaimed. As just a movie by itself, it’s a manipulative film with one dimensional characters and no real entertainment value, unless you just like watching movies that make you feel like you’re superior compared to the pitiable characters. As a portrayal of a real life story, it’s pure crap.
SPOILER ALERT - but geez, if you haven’t seen it yet, do you care? No, of course not, so keep reading.
Even if I knew nothing more about the story of Aileen Wuornos I would immediately recognize this movie for exactly what it is: an attempt to explain why a woman would become a serial killer (as though it is a territory only meant for men), and in turn inspire sympathy for her. Wuornos is portrayed as a basically good person at heart who is a victim of a cold and cruel world and is left with no other choice than to murder really creepy men.
This is but one example of the pure manipulative nature of the film (though there are plenty more): At one point Wuornos decides to “go straight”, to find a job more respectable than turning tricks on the highway. In presenting her plan to her girlfriend, she babbles on about wanting to be a veterinarian, or even President of the United States, though she has no education or skills that don’t involve sexual favors. Though what we should be thinking at this point is “Hey, um, she’s got no grasp on reality at all!”, what the scene leaves you with is a sense that she’s just sort of psyching herself out… getting ready to really give it an honest go. So she goes job hunting. After a few rejections (in a montage that is calculated to appeal to your own experiences in rejection) she is shown in a lawyer’s office, where she’s applied for a position as a legal secretary with no education, no experience, no typing skills, and hell, no resume. Again, what this sort of situation would normally lead to is a clear picture of the disconnection between her fantasy land and the real world. Instead, we’re presented with an uber-prick of a lawyer who dehumanizes and ridicules her, and suddenly, we’re supposed to feel bad for her. Because he was a jerk about it, we’re supposed to see this job hunting experience as a completely demoralizing process that forced her back into hooking.
Again and again events similar to this unfold in the movie, and ultimately we’re led to believe that Aileen Wuornos was just a poor victim of circumstance who was forced to kill all of these men to survive. I’m usually able to suspend disbelief long enough to watch a movie, but this was really unbelievable even as a fictional tale.
As a movie that’s based on a true story… well, they’re stretching the idea of “based on a true story” pretty thin here. Aileen Wuornos did have a hard life - that much I’ll grant - but she was, by a great majority of accounts, not a good person. Her very real turpitude may have been nurtured by her lot in life as an abandoned and possibly molested child, but as an adult she was said to be a schemer and a manipulator (one thing the movie does actually have in common with the true life story, I suppose) and seemed to know full well what she was doing.
The movie shows the first couple murders as nearly justifiable homicide: a man who beat and raped her who she killed in self defense1 and another pervert who asked her to call him Daddy while he fucked her, seemingly because he was a child molester which gave her enough reason to shoot him several times. She’s shown later letting a few men off the hook, because they’re basically good guys who happened to pick up a hooker, and finally we’re shown her pure anguish over killing a man she didn’t want to because she was under pressure to get a car. This all basically comes off as fiction when you know that not only has it been said that Aileen Wuornos craved fame by whatever means necessary, but that she actually admitted to killing these men in cold blood in the latter days of her life.
As well, her girlfriend is portrayed as some poor, dumb, confused hick of a girl who knew nothing of Wuornos’ activities until nearly the end, when in reality she knew all along and stayed with Wuornos anyway. Tyria Moore (inexplicably renamed Selby in the movie) testified that Wuornos came home after killing her first victim and plainly stated that she had killed a man that day. Moore was never charged in the murders, as Wuornos took full responsibility (and I’m sure Moore’s cooperation with the investigation helped her avoid accomplice charges), but it would be a challenge to look upon her as a fully innocent bystander.
The true story of Aileen Wuornos (and Tyria Moore) is fascinating as a study of depravity to be sure, but not for the reasons the movie would lead you to believe.
And on a shallower note, why did Charlize Theron win an Oscar for this role? She gained a few pounds and donned a few prostheses that made her ugly. Ok, so, the special effects were good. Honestly though, there was never a moment where I really felt like she completely shed the bubbly blond underneath, and aside from using some bad grammar to convey that she was a redneck, in my opinion she wasn’t overly convincing as a poor ugly woman led to a life of crime.
I gain a few pounds and make myself look ugly (albeit unintentionally and without the aid of a prosthesis) on a regular basis, but no one gives me awards for that. Maybe I’m just bitter because I can’t clean up as well as she did after she was done with the role.
1 Though it was revealed later that her first victim had been in trouble for abusing a woman as a juvenile, her account of the circumstances surrounding his murder was a story that changed over time. It is likely that he was at least a violent “John”, though it is doubtful he was as brutal as shown in the movie. The ultra-violent portrayal is based upon her testimony, which contradicted both her earlier and later accounts, according to what I’ve read & seen about the case. Of course, we’ll never know the truth either way, as both parties are now deceased.