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Wayback Wednesday: Monster (2003)

Good for her?

Patty Jenkins is amazing. I’m sure most people (myself included) these days know her for directing the awe-inspiring Wonder Woman (2017) and its sequel, Wonder Woman 1984 (2020), but before those movies changed her career, did you know that she had only previously directed ONE feature film? That came out 14 YEARS prior? Wow! Talk about a career hiatus! Monster (2003) may be Jenkins’ directorial debut but she crafts a movie that is so gripping and so flawlessly executed that it has all the markings of someone with a handful of well-received movies already under their belt. Monster is quite a different vibe than Wonder Woman but trust me when I say that it’s just as much a powerhouse of a movie.

Credit: / Newmarket Films

Based on real events, Monster follows Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute from Florida who after experiencing a lifetime of hardships and tribulations, finally finds some seldom of peace with a woman she truly loves. When a job goes horribly wrong, Aileen ends up developing a taste for murder, a choice that sends her spiralling down a path much darker than she could have imagined.

Unlike a movie like Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019) – check out my review, here – Monster succeeds at making a more realistic and compelling look at the private life of one of America’s most notorious serial killers. Most importantly and surprisingly though, the storytelling actually gets me to sympathize with Aileen and understand what led her down such a twisted path. How a lifetime of abuse and rejection can culminate in a snap decision that sends one over the edge. Despite obviously knowing the fate of the real life Aileen Wuornos, I spent the entirety of the movie wanting so badly for things to work out for her. Especially when you see that the catalyst for her killing spree was her protecting herself from someone who attempted to rape and kill her. Of course it’s always hard to separate fact from fiction with a biopic like this, but the movie excellently explores the human side of this complicated figure, allowing for so much beauty and heartbreak to be felt in a movie you’d expect to be much more malicious or even straight-up evil. I’m not going to lie…There were moments where I was cheering for Aileen. I was like, “go girl, do what you need to do!” Is that right? I don’t know, considering these are based on real murders. But that’s the power of Monster! Jenkins does a fantastic job of creating a slow build and establishing Aileen’s motives. I must confess however that maybe it’s because I’m damaged or maybe because it’s all I initially knew about Wuornos, but I needed this movie to hurry up and get to the murdering. 

This movie is well-acted and a good, gripping tale of the tumultuous relationship and trying times of Aileen and Selby, her lover. But I was a little surprised to discover that Aileen’s murders often feel like they’re put on the back burner. Less than 40 minutes left in the runtime and she’s only killed two people. Now, maybe I’m depraved but in a movie about an infamous serial killer, I wanted to see more time devoted to her crimes. I’m sorry, but that’s what I most know about Wuornos! As insightful and moving as Monster is, I did want to see more of the murdering and maybe even more of the psychology about who she chose to murder. Why the second murder? Cause the man wanted to be called “Daddy?” And she thought he was a pedophile? Is she becoming unhinged or did I miss something?  Morally, murders three and four became even less grey and it evolved to the point where she was killing people seemingly without reason. A little more overall explanation and reasoning would have been beneficial.

It cannot be stated enough how phenomenal the acting in this movie is. Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci star as Aileen and Selby respectively, delivering powerhouse performances that elevate an already great movie. I believe in their blossoming romance probably because they’re both such astounding actresses and have an electric chemistry. God, Ricci is just so beautiful, so talented and never misses when it comes to choosing roles. She is in so many damn good movies. And beloved ones! Addams Family Values (1993), Casper (1995), Mermaids (1990)…by the way, check out my review for those last two movies, here and here. Ricci usually plays these spirited, dynamic characters so it’s interesting to see her play someone like Selby who is so demure and meek when we’re introduced to her.

But wow oh wow, Theron is the headline of this movie for obvious reasons. Like, she won an Oscar for this fiery, layered, utterly transformative role. Once again proving that nothing wins awards more than a beautiful woman who isn’t afraid to be dolled down. Theron is SOOOOO unrecognizable!  Both physically and with her performance, she truly disappears into the role. Multiple times I had shivers during her scenes. The actress really jumped out. To watch Theron in what is easily her most amazing role is reason enough to watch Monster

Monster can at times be difficult to watch but if you’re able to endure, it’s a rewarding movie-watching experience. It’s anything but monstrous. Sorry, I know that was a bad pun. Give me a break! It’s been a while since I’ve done this!

Have you seen Monster?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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