There are few actors and actresses who are known for such a remarkable portrayal of a character that it defines their career. Some of those performances that come to mind are Christian Bale in the Machinist, Ryan Gosling in Drive, Jeff Bridges in The Big Lewbowski, Edward Norton in American History X, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, Denzel Washington in Training Day, and Sean William Scott in The Dukes of Hazard (joking on the last one). Charlize Theron’s portrayal of Alieen Wuornos in the movie Monster sits atop of that list.
Monster is based on the true events surrounding the serial killer Aileen Wuornos who committed 7 murders between 1989 and 1990. Wuornos suffered a brutal childhood where she was sexually abused and beaten at a young age and became a prostitute at age 13 to support herself. After being raped and beaten by a John in her 30’s, she kills him in self-defense, takes his money and disposes of his body. Six murders later she is arrested, convicted, and sentenced to death. Wuornos claimed she killed every man in self-defense and that her tortured past left her in such a bad place in life, she was forced into a life of crime. After spending 12 years in prison she was executed in 2002 by the state of Florida.
Theron gained 30 pounds, wore prosthetic teeth, and sported amazing makeup to play the role of Wuornos. If I knew nothing about this movie going in, I would have never guessed Theron played the main role. Her acting is more than just playing a much less attractive person than Theron is in real life, the adaptation of the body language and speech is the most impressive. She makes it impossible for the viewer to not feel sympathetic for Wuornos even when she does horrendous despicable things.
This movie is heavily focused on one character who over shadows everyone else in the story. Bruce Dern and Lee Tergensen were great in their supporting roles while Christina Ricci played the strange girl friend of Wuornos. Ricci acted well but her character Selby Wall confused me in her morals and desires in life. Wall became very unlikeable and selfish towards the end of this movie which highlights the stress Wuornos experienced, so even if I didn’t like the character I can see how she was essential to the plot.
In addition to Theron’s performance the movie is well directed featuring creative shots and subtle symbolism. Screen play writer and Director Patty Jenkins hasn’t done much outside of Monster except for directing the movie Five and a various episodes for the TV shows Arrested Development, The Killing, and Entourage. She is currently working on the Wonder Woman movie getting sucked into the Super Hero genre. In Monster Jenkins had a great eye for emotional shots and imagery that complemented the great acting (most noticeably the mirror shot with a blood covered Theron, riding the Ferris wheel, and sitting under the overpass).
The best shot of the movie is in the final minute. Two prison guards are escorting Wuornos down a hallway towards what I presume to be the execution chamber, and the voice of Wuornos is playing over the scene.
“Love conquers all. Every cloud has a silver lining. Faith can move mountains. Love will always find a way. Everything happens for a reason. Where there is life, there is hope.”
She sighs and looks back at the camera and says dismissively, “they gotta tell you something.”
The pain, strength, and understanding in her eyes in that look back over her shoulder is intense and tells the whole story of the movie in one shot.
Charlize Theron was awarded the Academy Award for best Actress on February, 29th 2004, the birthday of the late Aileen Wuornos.