Movie Review of Monster (2003)

by JoHarrington

Charlize Theron won an Oscar for her portrayal of American serial killer Aileen Wuornos in this movie. I can totally see why! Awesome performance in a gripping true story.

When I first spotted the picture, I thought that I was looking at Aileen Wuornos. When I realized that it was actually Charlize Theron playing the serial killer, I had to see this film.

One film critic called it, 'one of the greatest performances in the history of the cinema'. Another said that it wasn't so much a performance as an embodiment. I would have to agree.

'Monster' is based (quite closely) upon the real story of prostitute turned killer Aileen Wuornos. It's very good.

Check Out Monster on DVD

Monster: The Story of Serial Killer Aileen Wuornos

The movie is labelled as 'based on a true story' rather than an actual bio-pic. Some liberties were taken, particularly with Aileen's home life.

Image: Charlize Theron as Aileen WuornosAileen Wuornos (referred to as Lee throughout the movie) did not have a happy childhood.

In the film version, she was repeatedly raped by a friend of her father's from the age of eight. Her father then not only disbelieved her, but beat her for it too. Pregnant at thirteen, her baby was put up for adoption. It's implied that she had no choice in that.

A youngest child, she nevertheless was asked to support her brothers and sisters, once they were all abandoned by their father. She did this, from thirteen years old, by working as a prostitute. Her siblings disowned her when such information became common knowledge.

Her hard life on the streets, supported by prostitution, was close to ending in suicide, when a chance meeting brought Selby Wall into her life.

A lesbian under severe pressure from her devoutly Christian family to conform, Selby was the first person who really loved Aileen.  So much so that Aileen was prepared to go to extreme lengths to provide for her lady.  Like get a job.

Unfortunately, the job market is neither nice nor welcoming to street girls trying to go straight.  Desperate straits brought desperate measures; and choices from which she could not retreat.

Monster is a hard-hitting and powerful story, which doesn't stint on the harsh realities of cussing, sex and violence.  The latter is not gratuitous, but it does tell it as it was in Aileen Wuornos's life. At least in the close version of it that is depicted here.

Trailer for Monster (2003)

Selby Wall was Inspired by Tyria Moore

I always thought that Christina Ricci was a very striking actress. No matter what she's in, you tend to notice her.

Not in Monster.  Standing next to Charlize Theron, Ricci didn't stand a chance. She was reduced practically to the position of bit actress or, in some parts, mere scenery.

It didn't help that most of Selby Wall's job was to be the recipient of Aileen Wuornos's rants.  In the few scenes where she was able to step from under the shadow of the serial killer, then Selby (as portrayed by Ricci) shone in the role.

The 'based on the true story' part probably stems from this characterization.  Selby never actually existed.  But Tyria Moore did, and she had a very similar relationship with Aileen Wuornos. 

Only Tyria gave evidence against her lover in return for prosecutorial immunity. To state that the movie is precisely how it happened would have been to slander Ms Moore.

Monster Movie Poster

Watch Monster on Amazon Instant Video and Blu-Ray

Monster Raises Some Hard Questions

Aileen Wuornos was not a born serial killer, but when circumstances led her there, she felt justified.

The movie demonstrates with heart-breaking accuracy just how many times Aileen Wuornos could have been diverted off her eventual path. 

Time and time again, both Aileen and Selby are subjected to perfectly socially acceptable intolerance by fine, upstanding members of the community.  People felt smug and somehow noble by their willingness to ignore the somebody in need of a break.

Donna, Selby's ultra-Christian auntie, was adamant that Aileen should be chucked onto the street, despite being homeless and in need.  Because she was the wrong sort of person.  A job center official was not willing to even listen to a prostitute trying to gain legal employment.  A prospective employer was downright insulting in his rejection.

These tiny slights added to the major abuses are what Aileen used to justify her eventual murderous strategy. 

By the time that we get there, you might not condone her course of action, but you can certainly sympathize with her motives.  I found myself crying for her in certain scenes near the end. That, in my opinion, is one of the great aspects of this story.  It humanizes a serial killer; and makes us ask if there wasn't just as much petty evil in the run up to it all playing out.

Charlize Theron's Oscar for Best Actress for Monster

Monster DOES Pass the Bechdel Test

In nearly every scene, it passes it hands down. How often can I say that?!

The Bechdel Test looks at the way that women are represented on the silver screen.  It's a low bar standard, which a ridiculous number of movies fail.  But not this one.

Monster does have more than one named female character.  They do have conversations with each other.  Those conversations encompass more than merely talking about male characters.

Ok, so most of the female characters are judgmental, mentally unhinged, snobbish, uncaring and/or just out for themselves.  But it passes the Bechdel Test! Hurrah!

Three questions are asked of each movie. They are so simple that it would be harder to fail than pass. They examine the role of females in that film. Nearly half fail.

Books about the Real Life Aileen Wuornos

This film is only based on her life. Discover more about the grim reality in these histories of Florida's most notorious female serial killer.
Updated: 03/19/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 01/06/2013

Shamblesman - It's been a few weeks since I've seen it, and it's stuck with me too. I agree with your comments here.

JoHarrington on 11/29/2012

There was definitely a physical transformation, but that seemed to be part of the acting too. it was quite eerie to note.

It seems to me that a lot of people let Aileen down, before she snapped and became a serial killer. She wasn't given many chances and was left to cope alone with some quite horrific scenarios, especially in her childhood. It just shows the thin line between taking crap and dealing it.

Thanks for the heads up on the Swedish 'Lethal Intent'. Unfortunately, I have no Swedish, so I'd be unlikely to go there.

Jay on 11/29/2012

My first thought when I saw this film was "I'm impressed how they made a beautiful woman like Charlize so darn ugly!". Her performance was spot on too!
I've seen some documentaries of Aileen before she was killed and a part of me can't help but to sympathize with her.

And a side note: I don't recommend the Swedish version of the book "Lethal Intent" (Alias Monster, 2002). It is horribly translated with over 100 errors of various types (spelling names, typos, grammatical issues etc.). I took notes! -.-

JoHarrington on 11/25/2012

I recall it hitting the news at the time, but all across the Atlantic. It must have been very strange to be in the same place.

dustytoes on 11/25/2012

I lived in Florida during the time of the real Eileen Wuornos and have seen this movie which was excellent. Charlize Theron was spot on.

JoHarrington on 11/25/2012

I still can't get over that performance. She really did turn into Aileen Wuornos. It was quite spooky.

Mira on 11/25/2012

Charlize Theron was phenomenal in this one. Definitely one movie and performance to remember.

JoHarrington on 11/25/2012

I was getting so used to saying, 'this one just scrapes through' or 'this one fails', that I got quite excited finding a bona fide pass!

I agree that Charlize's acting blew Christina's out of the water. Which is a shame, because normally she's quite good.

I didn't know that about the audition. That makes it even better!

kate on 11/25/2012

excellent - one passes the Bechdel Test! I th9ught the only thing which let this film down was the appalling acting of Christina Ricci - it was painful. I do like the story of when Charlize Theron asked to be interviewed for the part they laughed at her. According to the story she turned up at the interview with no make up, looking really rough and blew their socks off with her acting.

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