This movie came out in 2003. I bought the DVD and watched it once and never again – until now. Fifteen years later, it’s as rough as I remembered.
Aileen “Lee” Wuornos is a hooker past her prime. She meets Selby at a bar one night and it’s the oddest case of love at first sight. Lee (Charlize Theron) is smitten, and self-centered Selby (Christina Ricci) loves the attention she lavishes upon her.
Anyway, girlfriends are expensive. Pretty soon Aileen has to start working the highways again. One night, a trick goes wrong. Not that they’re ever right, but more wrong than usual. A john drives her int the woods and beats her unconscious before waking her back up with sodomy. Oh god. I can’t believe I just described that scene so flippantly! It’s HORRIFYING and I’m traumatized and I’m coping by being weirdly light hearted about it. Anyway, Aileen is in a bad way, but what he doesn’t know and she does is that she’s armed. She manages to to break away just long enough to shoot (and kill) him.
Is it weird to describe murder as empowering? Aileen is unsuitable for any other kind of work and though she’d like to quit prostitution, she and Selby can’t quite partying, so it’s back to working truck stops, only this time she only uses sex as the bait, and then murders them for cash and cars. This becomes another one of her addictions.
Aileen Wuornos is a real-life serial murderer. A lot has already been said about Charlize Theron’s physical transformation to play her, so I’m going to concentrate instead on what an interesting character she is. I mean, there’s no denying that Aileen herself is a victim. She even convinces herself it’s a justification for her increasing blood lust. What she does is undeniably wrong but society had already left her in the dust. Where, exactly, was Aileen’s place? That’s what earned Charlize her Oscar. She didn’t try to excuse away her crimes, but she did find empathy for her. Theron is intense as hell in this movie. Her eyes shoot laser beams with such focus you’d think her life depended on it – and in fact, for Aileen, it did. A moment’s inattention could have cost her her life. But otherwise she’s not at home in her body. Theron prowls as Aileen, her shoulders curling, discomfort in her very posture. Her performance is one for the ages.
Director Patty Jenkins treats Aileen with compassion, and she might be the first to do so. Monster doesn’t feel exploitative. Aileen might have had the morals beaten out of her, but we haven’t, and Jenkins’ framing of her always keeps this in mind. The first time Aileen kills, it’s in self defense. Subsequently though, she kills for every time a man has done her dirty, and that’s a very long list. When a tiny sliver of redemption offers itself, Aileen is unequipped to take it. But Jenkins refuses to objectify her; she treats her humanely, which is possibly more than Wuernos ever got in life.