It is difficult to decide which film is harder to watchwriter/director Patty Jenkins’ study of a woman serial killer, or Mel Gibson’s account of the last twelve hours in the life of Jesus the Christ. Both are harrowing to sit through, filled with blood and violence, stark evidence of the depths to which humanity can sink. The Passion at least gives us a picture of what humanity can (or is intended) be, of the heights of love to which a human being perfectly attuned to the will of God can reach. There is love in the heart of Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron), but she has been so abused over the years that it is twisted and scarcely recognizable as anything akin to that of the scourged Victim on the cross. Most people will see Monster to witness one of the great screen performances of our time, the barely recognizable Charlize Theron, justly rewarded with her first Oscar. Ms. Theron is more than acting in this role, she inhabits it, she loses herself in the way that Meryl Streep does.
The film tells the story of Aileen Wuornos’s descent into the madness of a killing spree that generated a huge amount of press coverage during her Florida trial and execution. Oddly enough, her killing could be said to have been generated by the hope that she could leave behind her life of truck stop prostitution. The film begins with her praying to God that she is down to her last $5 and that she needs guidance or she will end her life. Then she walks into a bar, which she does not realize is a gay/lesbian meeting place. She meets teenage Selby (Christina Ricci), who has been sent by her family to live with relatives while she undergoes a “cure” for her lesbianism. Despite her lack of experience with this form of sex, Aileen is so drawn by Selby’s deep need that the two engage in passionate sex, which gives way to a domestic situation in cheap motel rooms, Aileen becoming the provider while the girl stays home and watches TV soap operas and the like. Aileen kills a client for his car, and one killing leads to another, especially as most of her clients are practically raping her. She shows that there is still a spark of decency left in her when one client shows an interest in helping her, not in engaging in sex with her, so she lets him go. Tragically, her last client also wants to help her, but she has gone too far by then and cannot let him live, the media having spread the word about her.
Director Patty Jenkins makes no judgment on Aileen, simply letting her story unfold before our horrified eyes, though she suggest that Aileen is herself the product of childhood sexual and physical abuse. Although our attention is focused on Ms. Theron’s outstanding performance, she is supported by an excellent cast. Christina Ricci exhibits the right amount of teen naiveté and such deep longing for a family relationship that she is willing to overlook where and how Aileen obtained the car keys that she periodically brings home. Bruce Dern is also very good as Thomas, the damaged-goods bar patron who cares for Aileen for reasons other than what he can gain from her body. This is an excellent film for a group probing the depths to which humans can descend and the results of early childhood abusein other words, that monsters are made, not born.