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Monster’ presents haunting true story

Mary Squillace | Wednesday, March 17, 2004

While it has nothing to do with creatures lurking under the bed or in the closet at night, there is a good chance that Monster will make you want to sleep with the lights on. This film recounts the true story of Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron), America’s first female serial killer in a way that is utterly haunting.Aileen, a prostitute by trade, was executed in 2002 after a Florida jury charged her with the murders of six men. However, returning to the actual locations of the murders, writer and director Patty Jenkins presents aspects of Aileen’s life preceding the crimes.The film opens as Aileen despairingly stumbles into a local bar, fully prepared to spend her remaining five dollars on one last drink. However, Aileen’s plans to end her life are cut short when she meets Selby Wall (Christina Ricci), a shy, young lesbian who has been sent away by her disapproving parents. Aileen and Selby quickly fall in love, and Selby soon brings meaning and light to Aileen’s existence. Yet, this love story descends into the dark tone that pervades the rest of the film as one of Aileen’s clients brutally rapes her. In response, she kills him in self-defense. Ultimately this event triggers Aileen’s rapid deterioration.On one level, this film is successful because it provides the audience with a story that transcends the typical “based on a true story,” ankle-deep depictions. Instead, Jenkins masterfully fleshes-out Aileen’s character by focusing on her motivation rather than the crimes themselves. Additionally, Jenkins poignantly documents the romance between Aileen and Selby without intentionally trying to break taboos or making their relationship seem overly sexual. Unlike most movies that use homosexuality as a subplot, Jenkins focuses on the mutual love rather than the sexual attraction between the two women.Rather than creating a black-and-white tale of good versus evil, Jenkins wields a palette of grays. Aileen’s character truly makes the movie because she evokes an entire spectrum of emotions from the audience. Surprisingly, the audience can sympathize with her early in the film because her desperation is so tangible, and her plight is partly justified. However, by the end of this film, Jenkins does an equally good job of drawing pure disgust from the viewers as Aileen enters the final phases of her spiritual demise.By this time, post-award ceremonies, it’s no secret that Theron contributes largely to the role in her breakthrough performance. While it is jarring to see the beautiful Theron transformed into a physically unkempt woman, the life Theron breathes into this character is far more unsettling. She slides into the role flawlessly, donning a new set of mannerisms, and bringing a range of emotional intensities. Without missing a beat, she fluctuates from mania to agony to paranoia and back again. The film is worth seeing just to witness Theron flex her newfound acting muscle. She is truly stunning in the most disconcerting way possible.Ricci’s performance, however, is less impressive. Although her character is supposed to be meek and naïve, Ricci’s portrayal occasionally ventures over the top. While the film presents an interesting spin on a strangely compelling character, the film as a whole is profoundly disturbing on a number of levels. For one, it brings attention to the cruelty and violence from which we’re continually sheltered. Simultaneously, it raises important questions about our society and how it contributes to the sometimes heinous reactions of individuals. Overall the film borders somewhere between depressing and frightening. However, between Theron’s performance and Jenkins’ insightful representation, this film becomes worthy of the $8 ticket price and a handful of Monster-induced nightmares.