Patty Jenkins’ 2003 film Monster is a crime drama about the “supposed” first female serial killer, Aileen Wuornos played by Charlize Theron. In reading up on the making of this film, I was curious to learn how it all came about. After attending school at AFI’s director’s program Jenkin’s first feature film is Monster and wins a slew of domestic and international awards including the Independent Spirit Award for best feature. And, yes Charlize Theron basically won all the awards for best actress that year too. But, what I love about Jenkins is her belief that film can do things that digital cannot. When commenting about the Kodak’s new Super 8 camera she said, “There are plenty of looks, feelings and qualities that only film can do, and you simply cannot capture digitally.” Amen, sister! AMEN!
And of course, being a Super 8 geek myself, I could not agree more. I mean watching a CGI flooded film such as Avatar or any superhero movie like the Avengers is nice every once in a while, but in the end it just leaves me feeling empty and cold inside. But, watching a classic like Cleopatra, or Wolfman from 1942 gives me an entirely warm and fuzzy feeling inside because it was shot on film. I can’t fully explain this phenomenon. Perhaps, it’s the nostalgia of yester-year and the fact earlier films were made with handmade effects versus a computer enhanced image. It was an art form which I feel and fear is slowly fading away. But, dammit those were the good old days. I mean don’t even get me started on the classic monster movies of the 1930s. I have an entire collection of horror movies from 1920s-1960s and they’re all flawed, works of cinematic art. ANYWAYS, moving right along…
What I absolutely love about the opening of Monster is Jenkins gives us that 8mm projected look of Aileen as a little girl along side some narration hugged by the blackness of the screen. There’s an isolating effect that coincides with Aileen’s present life. And as she continues her narration, the image expands and we see how Aileen’s childhood turns into adulthood until the entire image goes full screen leading us to the present day of Aileen. Fantastic stuff and such a strong resonating opening. It’s clever and I can’t stop talking about it. We see Aileen sitting under an overpass as it’s raining and she’s holding a pistol in one hand with $5 in her pocket contemplating her own suicide. It’s a dark, tormenting hook for the first act of the story. My God have you seen the look in that woman's eyes. Terrifying and electric.
However, I think the troubling aspect of this film, is Aileen’s character is painted in a downcast sympathetic light. Yes, she is a monster because she kills men who pay her for sex and or beat her to a bloody pulp. Given her history of being abused at a young age and becoming a product of her upbringing is the nucleus of this entire monstrosity of a life. A person’s life is in ruins therefore she must inflict and pay the sentiment forward on who better? Men. They’re the cause of her pain and are the wrongdoing threat in her little delusional world. I’m sure the victim’s families were probably in an uproar given such a film would glorify a serial killer’s pathetic, desperate sense of lifestyle. All around it’s a heinous chain of events, but she does get the death penalty so maybe there’s a sense of justice? I don’t know.
Aileen’s unfortunate past of abuse filters her own delusions which is the catalyst to her on going killing spree and yes maybe she can easily play the victim card here, but it presents this conflict in detesting her character. I feel sorry and bad for her, but it’s hardly a reason to go killing people. At one point Aileen says to Bruce Dern’s character, “You know, I feel like I never had a fucking choice.” In a way it’s as if Jenkins, wants us to feel sorry for this monster and that rattles the cage in terms of morality and my own perception of humanity. I see both sides of this devil of a coin and I am conflicted on what I’m suppose to feel here. Do I feel sorry for Aileen? Do I feel sorry for the victims of the deceased? It’s murky water and not as black and white as it seems.
Despite, lacking a type of cinematic style, I think Jenkins focused primarily on the performances and the piecing strong images together with deeply gratifying soundtrack. Music definitely enhances the moving picture especially in the scene where Aileen is in the car with a John and the music crescendos just as she’s about to put a gun to his head and unleash her angst of pain and fear. It’s terrifyingly heartbreaking. Given that it’s Jenkins first feature, and there probably wasn’t a big budget for phenomenal, expensive, time consuming shots, I feel as if the performances of intense talent and raw energy electrified the silver screen. The extraordinary performances from Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci made this film. Period.
With that said I’m curious to see how Jenkins crosses over from crime drama to the superhero terrain with her upcoming second feature film, Wonder Woman which is due out in 2017. You go girl! I believe in you!