Unlike The Other Charlotte, I saw “Monster,” the movie about Aileen Wuornos, the Florida prositute/lesbian executed in 2002 for the serial robbery-murders of seven men, without first having had the benefit of reading Wuornos-biographer Sue Russell’s WaPo article delineating how far “Monster” had strayed from the facts of the case. (See “Aileen Wuornos, Krazy, Mixed-Up Kid,” Feb. 9 below). So I came away impressed and moved by Charlize Theron’s Oscar-nominated performance as Wuornos, radiating the out-of control emotions, the hair-trigger-temper, the sheer stupidity of the true sociopath. To prep for the hardbitten, hard-drinking, fight-picking role, in which her modus operandi for attracting johns, and later, victims, was to thumb rides on the South Florida highway, the gorgeous Theron reportedly blotched her complexion and bulked up her runway-model figure by some 30 pounds (what fun that must be–all the Cheezits you can eat!).

While I concluded that Theron’s Wuornos (called Lee in the movie) certainly deserved the gas chamber (or whatever they have in Florida) for what she did, Theron captured a frightening pathos at the core of this murderess, who did what she did in order to impress her lesbian girlfriend, played as a selfish and childish 18-year-old runaway, Selby, by sloe-eyed Christina Ricci in a virtuoso performance of her own. Sexually abused since childhood, disowned by her family, and brutally beaten and anally raped by one of her customers, Theron’s Lee displays the desperate condition of the human heart, which longs to love and to be loved. Among the things (and people) that Lee wastes in this movie, she wastes her love, the first love she has apparently ever experienced, on an unworthy object. The clingy and naive but highly manipulative Selby is herself a prostitute of sorts, or perhaps a pimp, who eggs Lee onto the streets to pay for the couple’s dates and motel rooms and uses her affair with Lee as part of an ongoing psychodrama with her own Christian-fundamentalist father. When the police start leaning on Selby as a possible accomplice to the murders, she quickly turns state’s evidence against Lee.

Still, even without knowing the actual facts of the Wuornos case, I had the distinct feeling that the movie and its director, Patty Jenkins, were trying to manipulate me. “Monster” presents three classes of bad people. They are: men (Lee’s johns, her father and brothers, the lawyer who laughs at her when she tries to go straight and applies for a job as his secretary); cops (one offers the choice of oral sex with him or arrest); and Christians (Selby’s fundie father and a gun-toting, n-word-using cracker couple with whom she is staying when she meets up with Lee). These categories generally overlap. Most of the characters in the film are men, and coarse male faces, hardened with lust, censoriousness, or both, are everywhere you look (the one exception is Bruce Dern, in a tiny but powerful performance as Lee’s one friend, Tom). Lee and Selby, by contrast, tooling the open road in a car that Lee has stolen from one of her victims, are Thelma and Louise with lesbian inclinations and a longer rap sheet. The “monster” of the movie isn’t Lee but–sigh!–us: patriarchal, male violence-ridden society.

Lee’s cinematic rape, which unhinges her for good, is so ghastly that I cheered when she managed to free herself and then pump her assailant full of bullets–even as I was sneering at her stupidity for getting into a car with the grizzly perv in the first place.  But her next two victims (the movie presents us four) are merely johns, no better, and no worse, and the fourth isn’t a customer but a kindly grandfather who offers to let her stay with him and his wife. Law-enforcement types are perennial heavies. The manhunt (or womanhunt) for Lee doesn’t really begin until the investigators discover that the third victim was a fellow cop. And the movie subtly implies that the nasty police have forced Selby to turn against Lee by leaning on her as a potential accomplice.

It was only on reading Russell’s article after the movie that I learned that the real-life Aileen Wuornos’s rape had taken place only in her courtroom testimony at her murder trial. She had previously told police that she had killed that first john because he wouldn’t pay for her services (his body was found fully clothed, with the pants pockets turned out). When confronted with the physical evidence at trial–that the bullet that had killed him had been fired from the back–the real-life Wuornos shot back, “I thought he was so decomposed you couldn’t tell.”

Nonetheless, unlike The Other Charlotte, I heard no sympathetic titters in the audience when, for example, Lee tells off in so many foul-mouthed words the helmet-haired receptionist of the lawyer with whom Lee applies for a job. Most of the film-goers seemed more like me: agape at Lee’s destructiveness and also at the collective dumbness of the two girls, who go out partying after the murders and whose IQ’s added together equal that of a baked potato. “I still think she deserved the death penalty,” one audience-member muttered as he walked out. As Selby’s father would have put it: Amen.