Movie Review
Monster poster
By Stephen Lucas     Published February 22, 2004
US Release: December 26, 2003

Directed by: Patty Jenkins
Starring: Charlize Theron , Christina Ricci

Running Time: 110 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $34,468,224
Monster inspired opinions from me, which is a quality I always admire in films of all types, and I can?t say that I wasn?t invested in it the entire way through.
Are prostitutes not people? Are killers not victims? Are lovers not loving? These questions may entail either confusion or a passionate response, depending on whom you ask. The very ugliness of American society (a good fraction of it, at least) is what makes up ?Monster,? a film about a prostitute, murder, homosexuality, and redemption.

The said questions make up the glue that bleeds between each scene of the film and are what keep the viewer watching ? reaction to them depends on each person?s personal opinions and conscience. What I took from watching the film is both sympathy and scornfulness, and it?s my belief that ?Monster? is intended to get such feedback. This may be one of the more thought-provoking serial killer character studies in recent memory; this is the kind of film that demands opinions, emotion, and controversy.

My outtake may differ from another, but I give this film credit for having intrigued me to such a degree. Though not a flawless film, ?Monster? is the type of picture that makes going to the theater worthwhile, giving audiences something solid to watch, and then something to talk about with other people. I?m tired of films so focused on its themes that it hinders people to think for themselves; ?Monster? takes a rather neutral standpoint, which leaves audiences to conclude what they would like.

The film is based on the true story of Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron), a prostitute whose misery materializes into money, giving herself up without any connection or feeling whatsoever. People look down upon her given her profession and it never seems like anyone is willing to ever give her a chance. With little hygiene and a sort of sad ignorance, Aileen lives her low life without much hope for the future, having dismissed false hopes of things turning upward.

One night after her truck breaks down on the side of the road, she stumbles into a bar (unaware that it?s a gay bar) for a beer. Sitting by herself is Selby (Christina Ricci), a lost girl whom is unsure of her life. She sees Aileen as someone to love, it seems, and buys her a pitcher of beer to sit down and talk at the bar. Selby is a lesbian (still kind of hiding it) and Aileen is at first apprehensive, but Aileen soon realizes that Selby isn?t all that bad; having never seen love in her life, she?s vulnerable to Selby?s kindness.

Some might instantly label their proceeding relationship as being that of two lesbians, but as Theron has said in her promotion of this film (and I agree), Aileen really may not have seen it as being a homosexual. This is a woman who has never been loved and was on the brink of killing herself before someone like Selby walked into her life. Their passion for one another is matched with the appropriate lovemaking, but it never seems like an overtly sexual relationship.

What gives the film its secondary story is how Aileen is a serial killer, murdering the Johns, which is what she calls some of her customers. This violent pattern of hers ignites following a night when she is brutally raped by somebody who seems to just want to get off. With her face bloody and body viciously violated, Aileen finds a gun in the car and shoots the rapist repeatedly. This act, in blatant self-defense, is what gets her thinking, thus leading to future murders of other men, including a man she believes to be a pedophile. However, in this series are murders that may also lead the audience to turn against Aileen, as they are not as justified as the first. Thus, the film creates a torn portrait of our protagonist; at times, I was willing to sympathize with a killer, then at other times, I felt strongly abandoned by her as well.

As ?Monster? progressed, I had a refreshing interest in the story and its main character, near-flawlessly portrayed by Charlize Theron, whose previous resume has never been graced with something of this caliber. Having starred in clunkers like ?Reindeer Games? with Ben Affleck, Theron seems to have finally found a role to put her mark on. The actress underwent lengthy makeup transformation for the film and put on an extra twenty pounds to look the part (all of it is shown off rather unflatteringly). Having been a model in her life, I?d dare to say it?s brave for her to look so appalling, and onscreen for that matter.

Some ? namely, Roger Ebert ? have called her performance in ?Monster? one of the best female performances in the history of cinema. In my opinion, that?s an overstatement, but there?s enough there to say it?s one of the best of the last decade, or at least a viable candidate. It seems like actresses are constantly being rewarded for performances in which they are made physically unappealing (Nicole Kidman in ?The Hours,? for example), and although Theron is no exception to that, the emotional transformation onscreen is what gives her particular performance its luster. There?s no doubt in my mind that Theron will be awarded by the Academy (and rightfully so) and her work in this film will probably inspire actresses of all ages.

?Monster? as a film may not stand the test of time as well as Theron?s performance, but that?s no reason to discredit it. Although the direction and writing are not as strong as the film?s central story and the lead performance, I didn?t find their faults to be major hindrances. The film is not told in an innovative way, but it gets the job done and its points across; sometimes, that?s all you need to have for a good film. ?Monster? inspired opinions from me, which is a quality I always admire in films of all types, and I can?t say that I wasn?t invested in it the entire way through.

People may have different emotional attachments (or detachments) to the film, but that?s the way some things may always be. Prostitution is looked down upon in society and so is homosexuality in many ways, and ?Monster? tackles both issues, which may cause it to lose points with some viewers. However, there is little reason to say ?Monster? is something not worthy of seeing; it?s an interesting film and will at the very least inspire conversation afterwards, for better or for worse. Though I personally felt connected to the picture the entire time, this isn?t an easy film to enjoy. Aileen?s story is a sad one, and thus ?Monster? is what we call a downer. Despite that, it earned my thumbs up.
Stephen's Grade: B
Stephen's Overall Grading: 23 graded movies
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'Monster' Articles
  • Lee's review B-
    January 2, 2004    What sort of holds the film together through the ugliness of the story and the rather bland style of {director} Jenkins? presentation is {Charlize} Theron. -- Lee Tistaert