Quarantine Recommendations is a series recommending pieces of media that are now free to watch/read/or play during the COVID-19 pandemic, with detailed explanations as to why.
Roger Ebert once said that “the movies were a machine used to generate empathy.” This maxim has never been more abundantly true than in Patty Jenkins’ “Monster.”
Jenkins has accomplished something remarkable here – she takes famed serial killer Aileen Wuornos, and brings you into their perspective, and beyond even that you begin to love her. Jenkins is interested in the human elements of this story – the relationship between Aileen Wuornos and Selby Wail (Christina Ricci) is deeply heartfelt and the strongest element of the film. Jenkins asks tough questions – forcing the viewer to see Wuornos as not a demon, but a person, a person who loves, and a person who struggles – and “Monster” is a great film as a result.
Sex worker Aileen (Charlize Theron, in the role that won her an Oscar) works in Florida – and after being brutally sexually assaulted by one of her johns, she murders said john and attempts to exit her life of prostitution. Due to a lack of experience and a criminal record – she winds up unable to find different work and ends up returning to sex work. She begins to murder johns and take their money, which inevitably negatively impacts the people in her life.
In real life, Wuornos is best known for a spree that killed seven men between 1989 and 1990. She was put on death row at her trial – but wasn’t formally executed until 2002.
In an interview with The Guardian in early 2004, Jenkins talked about her initial plans for “Monster” – she wanted something that looked more like an exploitation film, and that didn’t change until she established a correspondence with Wuornos. In that same interview for The Guardian, Jenkins elaborated on why she chose to turn the movie into something else, “to my complete surprise, I ended up getting sucked into her story. And I ended up walking away from all of those deals saying, ‘I can’t do it this way.’ It was strangely easy only because Aileen was alive; we were writing each other letters, so it was no longer something I could take a gamble with.”
Barring maybe “Mad Max: Fury Road”, this is Charlize Theron’s best performance. Her Wuornos is dirty and grimy – she has a face with some mileage on it. Christina Ricci isn’t in a lot of movies anymore (laypeople may recognize her as Wednesday Adams in the 1990’s “Addams Family” adaptation) – but this is arguably her strongest performance. Also excellent is Bruce Dern (a frequent collaborator with Quentin Tarantino – and a screen legend in his own right) as Wuornos’ friend Thomas.
This is Jenkins’ first movie but the filmmaking demonstrates ability far beyond the ability of most debut filmmakers. The actual portrayal of Wuornos is exaggerated – but Jenkins utilizes this interpretation of Wuornos’ life to examine the sociological and psychological factors that can drive a person to the point where they become a killer – and perhaps more prominently, the fact that even the most monstrous people are capable of loving deeply.
Monster is available for streaming on Crackle – free of charge.