This is possibly as difficult a movie to watch for any “good-natured” person as, say, The Passion of the Christ is to watch for any non-Christian… do you carry your own agenda to it? Reject the movie because it tempts you to sympathise with a criminal (in The Passion‘s case, reject it because either you don’t believe in it or you feel you shouldn’t get involved with a faith you don’t follow?) Or do you watch it as a work or art, take it in and extract its basic message as it applies to other aspects of life?
I’m one who tries to take every movie as a movie. If it speaks to me it’ll speak to me. Monster, though, really is a tough one. I think when I last watched it, my first viewing, I actually came out saying I sympathised with Aileen Wuornos. I can’t entirely say I didn’t mean that, because there is a part of her that I definitely do feel sorry for… but I did overlook a lot of the movie that hit me on this viewing. The way the killings degenerate towards the end, when finally (and apologies if this is a spoiler) she kills a completely innocent man, who hasn’t even done anything immoral or unethical let alone illegal, he’s even offered her help, and she knows she shouldn’t kill him, apologises, and kills him as if she really has to… she left little room for sympathy.
I feel like this movie’s greatest success is that it really does let us inside the head of Wuornos… but this might be its greatest failure too. This is the definition of character study, and considering the character, it really does stir a lot of discomfort. It paints a bleak picture of the world that tells us that love is the answer etc, (“They gotta tell ya somethin’”, Wuornos says in her last voiceover) but presents us with a heroine, or anti-heroine, who claims to be seeking love yet who shows practically none herself. Theron plays Wuornos as a woman with severe communication problems, she loses her temper rapidly, even with the one person, Selby, who she’s able in her gentler moments to share a calm with. It’s hard to sympathise with her, extremely hard, but uncomfortably possible. She’s a representation of everything that is wrong with the world – we need her so we can point the finger because she shows us how good we are, that classic dilemma of evil.
This movie doesn’t entirely succeed in saying what I think it wants to say, but you’ve got to give it praise for trying. And Christina Ricci definitely deserves praise for balancing Charlize Theron’s Oscar-winning lead performance. I think each time I watch this movie I’ll find something new in Christina Ricci’s performance – in many ways I think she comes out of the movie the better actress, there are just so many layers in there. If she looks uncomfortable, it’s not because she’s a bad actress, it’s because she’s playing a character who truly doesn’t understand what she’s doing… like Wuornos, she just wants love, but for her it’s much more innocent. Take that into account and you might just see beyond the initial strangeness of her performance.