portrayal. Any actress could mimic these physical redefinitions and still make it appear as though they’re giving a performance with a capital P.
What makes Theron’s depiction in Monster so great is that she so completely disappears into the role. As it goes with so many other challenging cinematic parts, from Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone to Gena Rowlands’ Mabel Longhetti, we can admire the skillsets of the actors involved but nonetheless are distinctly aware that we’re simply watching unusually excellent displays of their artistry. With Theron, though, we don’t see that sort of theatricality. We don’t even see Theron. To paraphrase Roger Ebert in his glowing review of Monster, what she provides isn't merely an embodiment. What she gives us here is one of the greatest performances in cinematic history.
Of course, no film containing a characterization as uncommonly good as this one could live up to its meteoric center. Monster was writer-director Patty Jenkins’ first movie, and in many ways does it show. While transcendent in the sequences spotlighting a heated exchange or a total emotional breakdown, the feature falters when it tries to abbreviate its generally extensive timeline, showcase its musical cues, and develop a dirty, gritty atmosphere that’s more bloody Lifetime than convincingly naturalistic.
But so much about Monster is effective that even its many close encounters with biopic triteness do not disturb its immediacy. Because in addition to showcasing this cannonball of a performance, it also manages to note-perfectly sympathize with a subject who isn’t so obviously sympathetic in the first place.
For Monster’s 109 minutes, we watch the central Wuornos go from desperate hooker to serial killer to, finally, death row inmate, using her simultaneous, dysfunctional romance with the dim-witted teen Selby Wall (a carefully vapid Christina Ricci) as the foundation to keep the film from being suffocated by Wuornos’ unsteady worldview.
As this develops, we realize that the film’s title is but an ironic method to encourage us to reevaluate any preconceived notions we might have had about Wuornos going into viewing. While any true crime article might have previously convinced us to look at Wuornos with purely uncompassionate eyes (understandably: she killed seven men in less than a year), the feature inspires us to see her as a tragic figure instead.
All her life, Wuornos wanted to be someone. Or, at the very least, disappear into the background of domesticity of some kind. But she never got that chance. She both suffered from antisocial and borderline personality disorders, endured sexual abuse throughout her childhood, and barely made it through high school. Not a moment in her life granted her an opportunity for a life change. There are even a couple scenes in the movie where she tries to go straight and get a job. Potential employers don’t even try to stifle their taunting laughs. It’s heartbreaking.
From the moment we finish Monster, we see Wuornos not as a ruthless beast but as a woman who, after being dependably disregarded, disrespected, and laughed at almost every day of her life, finally broke following one particular heinous encounter with a john. Her becoming a serial murderer had less to do with bloodlust and more with her inability to find an outlet in which she could let out her frustrations. In no way does Monster excuse Wuornos of her crimes, but we're so emotionally wrecked by the downward spiral of her life that we do find it a little strange that she was ultimately executed for her crimes. This was not a woman in control; this was a woman so used to being victimized that her series of homicidal actions was her way of proclaiming that she couldn’t take being belittled any longer. There’s no way she understood the magnitude of her crimes.
Theron, along with Jenkins’ precise screenplay, help bring us to that uncertain common ground between sympathy and condemnation. Wuornos took lives, but her own life was so awful that we appreciate the fact that Monster takes the time to reconsider its central figure. She was a monster just as much as she wasn’t. And it's the crossing of that fine line (and Theron, obviously), that makes the movie so worthwhile. A-
Pruitt Taylor Vince
1 Hr., 49 Mins.
Monster December 6, 2017
n Monster (2003), a film based upon the life of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, leading actress Charlize Theron does not just give a confounding performance – she also undergoes a most authentic transformation. We could look first at the way the actress, movie star beautiful and a youthful 27 at the time of her casting, physically transformed for the role. She gained 30 pounds, shaved her eyebrows, and wore false teeth to believably play the older, worn down Wuornos. But in the long run do we remember that such surface details are not necessarily the characteristics that matter the most in the confines of a transformative