Monster gave Charlize Theron an early opportunity to showcase her huge talent, and pick up the 2004 Best Actress Oscar along the way, and this Special Edition release (for a film that’s somehow nearly 20 years old), comes at a good time to revisit the cult classic. It’s also curious to watch it in a vastly different cultural era, when we’re collectively more aware of mental health, how a life develops and even reasons why somebody might commit such horrific crimes, and this is not being sympathetic, this is by applying logic and context.
Patty Jenkins write and directs, with Theron playing American serial killer Aileen Wuornos, as they tell her ‘Based On’ true events story. Wuornos is a sex worker, and after moving to Florida and unexpectedly finding love, she wants to try and straighten out her life, even though she’s never learned how to do that. Her new love is Selby Wall (a magnificent performance from Christina Ricci) who tries to help her, and is the opposite of Aileen; sweet, innocent and introverted in comparison but doesn’t really know how troubled her girlfriend is, despite understanding her job. Whilst they try to maintain a relationship, as Aileen keeps working, it’s not long before things take an even darker turn for the worse, and it’s Aileen’s killing spree.
What kickstarts it all? Whilst on a job like no other, with a vile guy, she’s knocked out, tied up and brutally raped and assaulted by him but manages to escape during the attack, and in retaliation kills him. But, because there’s no real ‘link’ between her and the murder, she gets away with it and it’s the beginning of a whole new level. If Monster were released now, despite the fevered fans of true crime, you do wonder if her entire history would be viewed differently, even if the crimes remain ethically questionable, because it’s an extremely complicated story. Theron and Jenkins decided to tell her story ‘as it is,’ due to a wealth of real-life information and letters from Wuornos, including Patty speaking to her when she was on death row. In the film, we’re offering opening flashbacks of Aileen’s upbringing, a traumatic childhood and an obsession with a television life that promises young Americans so many things that can never be achieved and learn of her belief that sleeping with people might give her the ‘big break’ she needed to become that star.
In the opposite corner, Christina Ricci’s Selby lives a sheltered life, with religious undercurrents, but wants something else from her life. After that initial meeting with Aileen in a bar, their relationship grows but it’s undoubtedly a risky one, and Selby doesn’t really appreciate what she’s getting into, at that point. While Aileen does try to make her life ‘right,’ she can’t and after that first killing, she still needs money and can’t get another job. So after getting away with the first murder, and an understandable internal rage and awareness of the evil of men, she can’t stop herself killing other victims – even if they haven’t even paid for sex, and in one case were never going to. When we hit these points, she’s clearly lost the stability levels of right and wrong and is way past the breaking point.
Monster highlights the real grime of life, and not actually that unusual, and how messed up some people can become, as well as what they’ll do for their belief of ‘love.’ While it’s clear Selby and Aileen can’t resist each other, that unbalanced emotion of innocence and desperation might well bring passion, but it’s always looking ahead at am eventual collapse, and the murders that follow those early events are the proof of this elevated state.
In the extras, Writer/Director Patty Jenkins talks about how quickly this film went from being completed to picking up awards across the board, in truth, it’s surprising it was made at that point in the film industry because of how brutal, real and intelligently made it was. There’s no mistakes for the accolades though, even if the subject matter at the centre is seriously tough going. It’s also wonderfully shot by Steven Bernstein, and feels authentic, as well as Theron being unrecognisable (in a proper sense), and you’re pulled into the story as if it were a documentary.
If this is your first visit to Monster, I’d be interested to hear how people perceive it in today’s climate, with a huge change in awareness within the victim/culprit blame culture that we’ve collectively grown more savvy to, and everything that goes with that. Again, this isn’t saying what she did was right, but with context and situation, you can certainly get a perception into why things happen. Astonishingly real filmmaking, with outstanding performances.
Much like Arrow Video, Second Sight Films are putting a lot into this Special Editions, proven here with an entire range of extras to explore. Patty Jenkins being interviewed in ‘Making a Murdered’ is a deeply interesting 45-minute feature. We learn about how much information she had to make it as real as it could to Aileen’s character, informed from all levels of society.
We learn of all the work Theron and Jenkins put in to making sure her character as faithful as possible, from hair flicks to gestures, and beyond. It’s also insightful to hear about Aileen’s self-image obsession, and even after everything that happened to her, how genuinely shocked people were that she survived as long as she did, which is actually quite depressing, in a human sense. As briefly mentioned above as well, Jenkins also shares the story over how they wanted to just film what we know, and what we can see – every side – and then the audience can judge the story as they wish. It’s interesting, I still think male serial killers are inexplicably glorified, but why would a female serial killer be viewed so differently? You can answer that.
In other special features, you get an archived audio commentary with writer/director Patty Jenkins, actor/producer Charlize Theron and producer Clark Peterson, a new interview with producer Brad Wyman – who reveals how Patty talked him into making the film, and also another new interview with DoP Steven Bernstein who probably talks about his own film history for a bit too long, before eventually delving into making Monster, and the cameras/lighting rigs they made and developed just for the film.
You also get featurettes Monster: The Vision and Journey; Based on a True Story: The Making of Monster; some deleted and extended scenes with director commentary; Monster: Evolution of the Score (and the music involved, as well as that track by Journey and Steve Perry’s involvement, plus the original trailer, and English subtitles for the hearing impaired.