Is there anybody out there who’s not entitled to claim victim status? Based on seeing Monster, the acclaimed movie for which the exquisite Charlize Theron bulked up 30 pounds and acquired an overbite to play Aileen Wuornos, a vicious serial killer, I’d say the answer is pretty much a resounding nope.
A hitchhiking prostitute, who confessed to killing seven men, Wuornos admitted during her trial that she had robbed her victims and then killed to eliminate witnesses. When forensic evidence contradicted Wuornos’ claim that she had killed one of her victims in self-defense, she said, “I thought he was so decomposed you couldn’t tell.”
In this sympathetic portrayal by writer-director Patty Jenkins, Wuornos is the victim. She’s a crazy, mixed up kid who’s had a rough time, and turns to prostitution. In the movie, Wuornos commits her first murder after being beaten and sodomized by a man she picked up on the highway. In reality, Wuornos’ apparent first victim was found fully clothed, with his pockets empty.
In the movie, Wuornos kills out of rage. In reality, Wuornos’ lover, the hefty, tooth-missing Tyria Moore (quite different from the cute Christina Ricci, her lover in the film), described Wuornos’ coming home and casually announcing, “I killed a man today.”
Sue Russell, Wuornos’ biographer, challenged the movie’s tenuous grasp on reality in Sunday’s Washington Post. Russell’s excellent piece bears quoting in some detail:
“But by retooling [Wuornos] into a victim who began killing to fend off a rapist, Monster conveniently transforms her into something we can stomach far more easily than we can a woman who’s a ruthless robber and murderer. It perpetrates the comforting yet erroneous belief that women only kill when provoked by abuse. But women kill for other reasons, too, as Aileen’s real life amply demonstrated.”
Just a few more of Russell’s thoughts: “When we change the story of this wounded but vicious woman to make her a more heroic victim than a cold-blooded killer, we miss an opportunity. Far more valuable than another cookie-cutter Hollywood defense of a downtrodden, abused woman would be a film that confronted the truth of Aileen’s life and rage directly, both for the window that truth offers into the psychology and pathology of female murders, and for what it says about women’s capacity for violence, as well as for American society and the culture of fame and celebrity it nourishes.”
There was even an Erin Brokovich moment’when Aileen, for a moment contemplating a real job, finds her skills insufficient, she throws a tantrum, insulting “Leslie,” the secretary in the office. There was a disturbing ripple of sympathetic laughter in the movie house. Ho ho ho, people who have boring jobs are so not with it.
Because Aileen is such a nice, misunderstood monster, the movie somehow isn’t scary. It’s quite boring, in fact, unless you really dig women making out with women. The scary thing is that its transforming a monster into a victim. Expect a lot of palaver about Charlize Theron’s “courage” in making this movie at the Academy Awards.