Saturday, October 1, 2011

Monster (Patty Jenkins)

Charlize Theron in an Oscar-winning performance as serial killer Aileen Wuornos.

What make serial killers seem to be subjects of mystery and perplex are the constant speculations and certain inconsistencies as to how painful and deeply scarred their pasts really were to justify and serve as valid arguments as to why they have done their atrocious deeds. What made Ted Bundy rape and kill? What triggered John Wayne Gacy to don that creepy clown costume, take on that 'Pogo' persona and do the same? This particularly distances Aileen Wuornos (at least on how the film has portrayed her and her motivational catalyst to kill) from such human abominations.

There's never an abnormal impulse within her to murder save for her desperation and for survival. Here's a real-life killer and high-way prostitute whose casualties are not the result of psychological distortions but of a mind rendered numb not mainly by a traumatic past (her being raped by a family friend and countless other instances) but by its concentrated manifestation into the present. At some point, I even see the cinematic Aileen Wuornos as some sort of an unknowing vigilante that only kills those who deserve it and, in the bitter end, if only it's circumstantially necessary.

"Monster", of course not considered as a straight-laced biopic, is part-stigmatic romance and part-road film but overall an engrossing drama of a woman's internal conflict hopelessly and helplessly taken to the extremes. This merge of meager sub-genres is, without a doubt, heightened at every pace by Charlize Theron's legendary performance as Aileen Wuornos, although I really think that it fully transcends the simple concept of the term 'performance'.

There were leading portrayals in many biopics that whatever make-up you put unto the actor's/actress' face, no matter how much characteristic emulations bordering impersonation they may take on, they simply cannot work for the sole reason that you can easily see what's under those biographical skins and how they were more an exercise of a star's outer acting range rather than a deeply felt performance piece.

For Charlize, there's a sense of bitter, almost teary-eyed urgency in her Aileen Wuornos, and an obscure side that she's more than eager to tell. Along with her disturbing but incredibly human portrayal of Aileen Wuornos, it's understandable to put a younger and more naive fictionalized lover on her side in the form of Selby Wall (Christina Ricci in a powerfully understated role) to really add some more weight to Aileen's motivations for money and a clear-cut reason for her to thrive on living. There were these poignantly sad scenes where Aileen Wuornos, determined to lead a normal life and quit a lifetime of hooking, awkwardly set on to apply for jobs she's less than under-qualified to pursue.

From these we see her potential for a legitimate social existence, and also from these, backed by her narration that tells of the flowery words about success that she has heard from a known band's drummer when she was 13 years old, we see and hear her simultaneous concession to the fact that life is not always about chasing dreams and all that 'rich' and 'famous' bullshit but is in fact, quite simply, just bullshit, and 'prostitution' is at its very tip.

A film beautifully photographed by Steven Bernstein and written and directed by Patty Jenkins with sheer but not overly biased empathy, "Monster" destroys the claim that apathy and nihilism are the only thing that runs through someone like Aileen's mind; sometimes, in her case, it's an act to lash out against an unforgiving social state that just sadly and uncontrollably went too far, which leads us to the film's very title, "Monster".

Is it pertaining to Aileen herself, to the outer forces that have abnormally molded her to what she has become, or a combination of both? I very much prefer it to pertain to the Ferris wheel that she has repeatedly mentioned throughout the film. An emotional retreat and a rare innocent slate of her existence. Let's let her have that.

P.S. A perfect companion piece to Kimberly Peirce's equally great "Boys Don't Cry".


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