Monster is the 2003 film from director Patty Jenkins, based on the life of Aileen Wuornos. Wuornos was a Florida prostitute who became one of America’s first female serial killers.
Having studied many details about the case, including watching several documentaries, I began to form my own opinions about the nature of this case; namely, whether or not Aileen’s past physical and psychological hardships should be overlooked merely because of the crimes she committed.
The film starts when Aileen meets Tyria Moore, who in the film is named Selby Wall. At first Aileen isn’t interested in Selby, but as they spend more time together a love begins to blossom. (Probably my favorite part of the movie is the segment where “Where Do I Begin” by the Chemical Brothers plays.) Selby eventually finds out about Lee’s killings, and out of fear, helps the cops with their case against Aileen. The film ends with the arrest and trial of Wuornos, which features Selby (Moore) testifying against her, while Aileen cries. She was held on death row for twelve years before her execution.
Monster also gives brief details into the past and childhood of Aileen, such as at the beginning when narrator “Lee” says she dreamt about being a movie star, which is why she sought solace in men, including taking them into the woods for sex, until one day she woke up and realized she was destined to be a prostitute and nothing more. (Whether or not she had dreams about being a celebrity is questionable, and she was essentially forced to live in the nearby woods, as her grandfather was rumored to have been abusive.)
The film also mentions her giving up a baby for adoption at age 13, while also saying that Aileen’s father killed himself, while she didn’t have a good relationship with her brother or sister. Specifically, before killing her fifth victim in the woods, she says she was raped at 8 years old by her father’s friend, and after telling her father, her father beat her.
Some of the most powerful scenes in the film are probably the most questionable in regards to their validity; namely, these are events which Aileen claimed to have happened which led to her murdering most of the men, although none of them can be proved (very much the fault of the cops for not collecting evidence.) The first time Aileen commits murder she is beaten, raped, sodomized and had alcohol poured over her; essentially she was lucky to get out alive. She also experienced verbal and physical abuse from cops, and as a result tended to have quite the temper when she didn’t get her way.
As far as the murders portrayed in the film, it’s obvious that the murders not in self-defense were caused by a break in Aileen’s mental state. Even the non-aggressive men became rapists and abusers in Aileen’s eyes, and as a result she began to train her mind to believe that murdering them was justified. This is where the line is typically drawn in regards to the real case. While some believe Aileen’s mindset was like that of the film, in that she didn’t have a choice other than kill the first man, (and therefore she killed the remaining men out of fear,) others believe that Aileen purposely began killing because she wanted to become famous, and therefore all the murders were premeditated.
Interestingly, in a documentary made by Nick Broomfield about Aileen before her execution, Aileen refuses to speak out about what events actually transpired which led to her committing murder, saying that she didn’t want to contribute to the media frenzy and the corrupt authorities who wanted to make money off of her case. She also says that she was not an experienced killer and certainly left behind forensic evidence, which cops ignored in order that she kill again, raising her profile as a female serial killer. Therefore, if Aileen did murder these men for fame, law enforcement still screwed up in some way as surely Aileen did leave evidence behind (and she was already in the system for smaller crimes,) and if she did murder out of self-defense/insanity, one should take into account the hardships she had to experience growing up which forced her out on the streets in the first place.
Overall, despite Aileen’s pleas that the media leave her case alone, director Jenkins’ portrayal of her is one of sympathy, showing a humane and loving side to Aileen that may or may not have existed.
Charlize Theron rightfully won an Academy Award in 2003 for “Best Actress” for this role.