Monster

Upon seeing Monster it’s easy to understand why Charlize Theron elected to portray serial killer Aileen Wournos. After reading the script, I’m willing to bet she should practically feel the weight of the Oscar statuette already in her hand. It would be a great part for any actress, though few could probably submerge themselves into the role the way Theron did in her rather amazing performance.

Of course, when I heard that a movie based on the life of Wournos was in the works, I knew I would see it eventually. I’ve written before about my fascination with crime stories, particularly those involving murderers or serial killers. (I think it goes back to my childhood, when I stumbled upon a copy of Helter Skelter among some books my brother left behind when he joined the Air Force.) I think what I’m fascinated with is how people become murderers or serial killers and what in their lives leads them to the point where that choice is made, and what influences that choice. I’ve always believed that “monsters” are not born, but made. So, I’ve always been interested in the stories of how they’re made.

When I saw “based on a true story” flash on the screen before the beginning of the movie, I should have known that liberties would be taken with Wournos’ story. I would come to see the reason behind the changes in the story, as they make sense from a storytelling/filmaking viewpoint, but they would also leave me with a nagging feeling that however much they helped the story, they hurt it a little too.

From the beginning we’re dropped into the rock bottom of Wournos’ adult life, narrated by her, as is the rest of the movie. We’re given flashbacks of her past, during the narration, that hint at an unhappy and probably abusive childhood. And that’s about it. We don’t get much more of Wournos’ story except for what she decides to share with her girlfriend, a victim of hers, and with the audience through her narration.

The girlfriend, Selby, portrayed by Christina Ricci in the movie, is entirely fictional from what I can tell, and a far cry from Wournos’ actual partner, Tyria Moore. Tyria Moore worked as a hotel maid. Selby, in the movie, is a middle class young woman estranged from her religious family because of her lesbianism, and from an entirely different world than Wournos.

Selby is my big problem with the movie. From the beginning I find it hard to buy her character’s involvement with Wournos’. Next to the make-up job done on Theron, Ricci looks downright clean-cut as Selby. I found it hard to believe that Ricci’s Selby would find Theron’s Wournos desireable. Their incongruity as a couple stuck with me through the entire movie. (There’s a moment in the movie when Wournos — from a distance — observes Selby among some lesbian friends, that makes one think Wournos realizes the the unlikeliness of their pairing, and is thus more desperate to hold on to Selby. Selby’s naivete’ was also a bit too much for me to believe as the movie went on, from her complete trust of Wournos’ explanations when she shows up with yet another victim’s car, to having no questions until Wournos confesses one murder to her. And in sending Wournos out to get another car, for them to make their escape to … wherever, Selby turns a corner that seems to make her complicit in Wournos’ final murder, as she knows how it is Wournos happens to come by vehicles. The only thing that rings true is her betrayal of Wournos from the witness stand.

I can understand Selby as a device to inject the movie with a love story made more compelling by it’s impossibility. Selby gives the Wournos’ of the flim something to fight for, dream for, live for and thereby kill for. The film shows Wournos’ making efforts at going “straight” applying for “straight” jobs that one knows she stands no chance of getting, attempts that would be nearly comic except that the script and Theron so effectively portray the absolute hopelessness of this quest for a way out, so much so that one feels Wournos’ final humiliation almost as deeply as she does in the movie. And it all stems from a desperate desire to hold on to Selby and to build some other life with her. One almost wants Wournos and Selby to make their getaway, and get out of the life they seem trapped in. But the trip to oblivion that began as a slow ride eventually becomes a speedy descent with no brakes. You know there is no other way this story can end, except badly.

Theron as Wournos is a revelation as an actress. It’s a bit cliche, but Theron – a stunning beauty – is one of those actresses who seemed to need to make herself ugly in order to prove herself as an actress, lest she be thought to have merely gotten by, and gotten parts, based on her looks alone. With her portrayal of Wournos’ she take full advantage of the opportunity to transform herself – gaining weight, donning dentures that give her a pronounced overbite, and make-up that leaves her skin freckled and blotchy. In the film, Wournos’ seems always to be covered with some oily, dirty film, that no amount of showering in cheap hotels or washing up in service station bathrooms can ever erase. It’s as if she is so permanently and deeply soiled that she will never come clean.

Theron looks hauntingly like Wournos; hopeless, desperate , and coming very close to making her a sympathetic character. However, extra weight and make up do not a performance make. Theron’s courageous willingness to go into dark places within herself as an actress — those depths that she has to plumb in order to make the Aileen Wournos of the film real to us — is what makes her performance the most unforgetable thing about the flim, is by itself reason enough to see the film.

I said before that I believe “monsters” are not born, but made. From my perspective one of the drawbacks of the film is that we get to see so little firsthand of what made Wournos’ the “monster” she is labeled as by the movie. I write some of this off to the simple realities of making a flim from real life. There is not enough time, space or money in creating 90 to 120 minutes of film to include all the nuances, events, random happenings and chance decisions that go into making a life or that bring one to the business end up a gun making the decision to pull the trigger. Except for brief flashes in the beginning, and what Wournos’ character reveals, we’re left to wonder what happened to her before she began her murderous spree, and perhaps thats’ best. Perhaps the movie doesn’t need to give us any pat answers, or make any final decisions about whether Wournos’ was a monster “born” or “made.” In that case, perhaps there title is lacking a bit of punctuation; a question mark at the end.

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24 Responses to Monster

  1. Jennifer Reed says:

    I happened upon your website after seeing “Monster” last night and finding myself on a little quest for answers to questions that the movie left me asking. I just had to write to tell you how much I thought of your writing. I perused some of your other “thoughts”, though briefly as I am at work reading them. I just felt compelled to tell you how eloquent you are and how interesting I found your thoughts to be. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Denise says:

    I happen to know a law professor that was a consulting attorney for Wournos’defense. Being thoroughly familiar with the facts of the case, and having interviewed Aileen personally, she believes that the movie was fundamentally good and accurate. The thing she regretted the most was the fact that Aileen herself gave the filmmakers their title when she specifically asked them to “[not] make me into a monster.”

    She also elaborated significantly on Aileen’s childhood; you are correct — she was made. And not just by the specific individuals with whom she had contact, but by society.

    I have yet to see the movie; I’m afraid that I won’t have the stomach for it.

  3. Paul says:

    I have been for days disturbed after seeing “Monster”. I have been looking the web up and down to answer some of the questions and to try to put some flesh on my understanding of the relationship with Tyria Moore.
    For some reason this has interested me more than anything else. The love story – but what was the real nature of this love. Is it possible there was some mother, daughter aspect to the relationship.
    It strikes me that the one beautiful thing to happen to Aileen was to love Tyria Moore, don’t misunderstand me, I don’t think it is important that Tyria Moore loved Aileen or not although it would be nice to think so (and she betrayed her because it was the only way out – no point in two burning).
    However, it is a human thing to love and want to be loved – so my thought for the day is that at least the world afforded Aileen the grace to be able to love someone enough to take the fall, if in fact she did – or to sacrifice her only prayer for freedom in order to guarantee the freedom of Tyria Moore.
    The most powerful scene in the film for me was the boarding of the bus – sending Selby out of her life. I like to think of myself as a hard nosed business type – former Marine type – but there was a tear or two. Glad I was in a dark movie house where no one could see – heart breaking performance. Heartbreaking story of a person who it would seam did not have a shot.

  4. Linh Khuu says:

    Nearing the end of the movie I was sobbing like an idiot. This movie is incredibly heartbreaking , it was made like no other movie I’ve ever watched. The movie was far more at a deeper defined level then I expected. It kind of makes you look at life in a different way, it made me think about all the things that I’ve taken for granted.
    Its true that society looks down on bums,prostitutes ect, we only see them as their label, we don’t realize the story behind them.

  5. Amy says:

    After seeing Monster over the weekend, my boyfriend made a good point in reference to the title. She became the monster at the point of killing the last man, the one that was going to help her. The others were, in her twisted reality, justified because they hurt her, in one way or another. But that man wanted to help her and she had a hard time going through with it. She did do it,though, thus creating the monster – someone who would kill even when there wasn’t a valid reason for it. So I feel like the monster they speak about in the title wasn’t someone that was created from her upbringing (which you express you feel should have been divulged more), but someone she became out of her perceived necessity.

  6. shanna says:

    I too have seen monster about 10 times.i went out and bought it the same day it was released on dvd.My facination with this movie is very strong.My childhood was not as bad as lees,but believe me when I say I can see why she did the things she did.I wish i would of had the chance to know of this story befor her death.Im only 24 and will always have a place in my heart for Monster,and will be watching it untill myself have pasted!!RIP AILEEN WOURNOS!! KEEP ON RIDING WITH THE ROCK!!

  7. Andrea says:

    ok i watched this movie tonight and i can honestly say that charlize theron was for the first time in her life a wretched, filthy, lesbian, hooker. Why somone would want to make a movie about such things is beyond me but as someone who is fascinated with the grotesque i LOVED IT despite the fact that i had to shower afterward. My sister told me that she saw a picture of the real Selbie (Tyria Moore) and i would love to find one. If any of you can help me out please let me know. too_teeny16@msn.com

  8. Lynda says:

    I too would like to see a real picture of Tyria Moore. This movie is heart breaking, and I cried. if anyone has a picture or Tyria’s own story, please email me with it at sdhmgirl@tds.net

  9. Jessica says:

    I saw the movie Monster and I can’t say I disliked the movie but one it did do was made me think. Aileen Wournos delt with many problems in her life, she probably felt as though the world didn’t exept her. Even though she murdered 6 men. I do have a tiny bit of sympathy for her. I do believe what she did was wrong and she should have punished for it. Because of my strong beliefs I DON’T believe in the death penalty, it is in no one’s hands to take away a life. I believe Aileen Wournos she have spent the rest her life in jail, rather than being killed, because it doesn’t make our society any better than her. I give my sincerest apologies to families to those killed.

  10. Sandy says:

    I watched Monster last night and was overwhelmed with the story and Charlize Theron’s performance. I could not believe the depth that she displayed in playing Lee. Christina Ricci was a little too naive for the part of her lover but it was believable too because she was so much younger than Aileen and painfully lonely. I would very much like to see a picture of the real lover, Tyria Moore. If anyone has a link that I can go to please send it to the sandra.rodville@temple.edu. Thanks

  11. taren says:

    I enjoyed the movie. I was blown away by the fact of how much Charlize Theron looked like the real life Aileen Wuornos. I would also like to see what the real life Tyria Moore looked like as well.

  12. Taren says:

    If anyone has a picture of the real Tyria Moore please email it to leneephelps@yahoo.com

  13. carol says:

    the real tyria moore is butt ugly, she weighs a few hundred pounds and has maybe three teeth in her entire mouth, I loved the movie but they did take a few liberties with it as movies will do, first of all richard mallory, who was the first man killed had actually served a 10 year sentence for sexual assault, though strangely no one could find this information until after aileen was convicted, the jury never knew the real mallory, he was a violent paranoid alchoholic who frequented prostitutes, I do not doubt that he brutalized aileen, nor do I doubt that she was brutalized by several of her johns, she was a prostitute from the age of around 13, and prostitutes are preyed upon by sadistic men because they are easy targets, as well the police involved in the case were fighting over who was gonna get the rights to aileens story, she kept ranting about how everyone wanted to make money off of her story, everyone dismissed her as crazy, but now we have the movie she kept saying was gonna be made, she wasnt so crazy after all. Tyria and aileen were together for 4 years, much longer than the movie portrays, Tyria hopes everyone is gullible enough to believe she was pretty much clueless about aileens secret murderous life, yeah right! unfortunately you can only get two views about aileen, one shows her as the ultimate victim, the other as a man hating psychopath who killed without reason or remorse, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

  14. Tina says:

    This movie won’t leave me alone. Since I saw “Monster” I have been trying to find out what made Aileen. She was a victim. A victim of a miserable childhood, a victim of society. Ultimatly she still decided on her own what she would do. Let’s face it, many of us are victimized in childhood and don’t end up like Aileen. Aileen did go to the extreme to feel justified. A part of me feels sad for her but another part says she did get what she deserved. The movie was well done, and I bought it on dvd because I would watch it again and again. Aileen, I hope that you did make peace with god.

  15. Lindsay says:

    Much like the other contributors, I also happened upon your website after seeing “Monster” last night. I was curious to find more information about Aileen, as well as her partner. I was interested; but not surprised to learn that her real life love interest, Tyria, was not like Selby at all, yet more like Aileen herself. I found the movie portrayed Aileen as a victim who had no other choice than to murder. This can be a dangerous theme as it is never a persons right, or an ‘out’ to take another life. I enjoyed reading your article, and will pass your site along to others.

  16. truck_driver says:

    My favorite seen of the movie was when Charlize showed her tits in the mirror! A+ baby! Sure am glad they killed that lying bitch in real life.

  17. Juli says:

    I have watched Monster 2 times now,and I happen to have the habit of analyzing things to death. First of all, I would have liked to have seen a few more minutes of her childhood. My first thought after the movie was over was that she didn’t deserve to die, that by her being executed, it was as if society was saying that everything was only her burden. I feel very strongly that she was created, every person who had any capacity for positive influence, authority figures (THE COPS), family, betrayed her. betrayed her basic needs as a child. I also believe that when children are horribly neglected and/or abused, there is a window of time where the child will be scarred forever. I believe that there is an irretrievable boundary of salvation. If this is crossed then the child simply will not be able to feel trust and true human love. I also am beginning to hate “Selby”, Tyria Moore, you suck. To try and pretend that you didn’t know anything is bull. I think she knew all along how Lee was getting these cars, she even encouraged Lee to continue to prostitute. Even when Lee didn’t want to. Although I don’t condone her actions, I hate a NARC even more. I truly believe “Selby” was in on a whole lot more than is portrayed. Lee who was so mentally messed up, still understood at some level what loyalty was, and demonstrated it to the fullest with Selby. What, and once Selby sold her out, she never has contact with her. How does she live with herself? Selby sucks!

  18. Lindsey says:

    I just looked at Moore’s pic. They didn’t make any effort in making Selby look like Moore.

  19. Patricia says:

    Like most of the post here I too saw the movie Monster for the first time tonight. I am like most of the people that post here having a hard time getting some of the images off of my mind. I too have done some research. Not nearly enough but enough to get me going. I wanted to be able to see this film in the theatre but was not quite sure that I could handle it. Tonight even I was scared that I would not be able to handle this. You see for me to watch this movie and read of some of the events that transpired there in are very difficult. I feel as if some of what was being told was a part of my story as well as hers. I can realate to some of the feelings that she had, had. I too was a victim of circumstance for a long while. Growing up in an envioronment similar to Aileen’s. Not to the same extreme that hers was but similar. I too at a young age was living the life of prostitution. That was all that I had known. For people that have never lived that life it is hard to explain how others look at you and how they view you. The sence of hoplessness that you feel on a day to day basis. How you crave just to be loved. That some times you seem to search out love in all the wrong ways. You let yourself drift in to doing things that you know are not love, that you know are wrong. Yet you just crave what most normal people have. I feel that when she met Tyria that she felt a love that she had not been given and desperatly needed. I do feel that she was betrayd by her though. That she was so drawn in to something that was not there that she tried to do what ever she could to keep it there even if only in her mind. That does not excuse her actions. I believe that taking a life is wrong except in a life or death self defence situation. I believe that in the situation that happend with Malloy that maybe she felt as if there were no other choice but to take a life. That how ever does not excuse the other lives that she took. Having been beaten and raped by a john to the point of almost dying I understand what could have been going through her mind. For me that was the time that I took to wake up and realize that, there was no life for me on the streets. That if I did not want to die that I had to make some changes. I tip applaude that she did try to go straight. It is a hard thing to do with no education and no work history. I only wish that there had been some one that would open a door and at least give her the chance to walk through it. To walk in to a different life. One that did not have to be filled with pain and anguish. Maybe if a door had opened her life might not have taken on the tragic events that it did and the deaths might not have occured. There is no way of knowing what when on in her mind during that time. Maybe though lessons can be learned from her death. That yes, people can be victims of circumstance,yes life can be hard and cruel, but there is a chance for change. If she was given that one life line and someone believed in her as a person. Maybe she could have taken a different road. I have proven to myself that the road of prostition is not an easy one to get away from buy you can escape. I can and I have.

  20. NeeNa says:

    I watched the movie “Monster” and also read “Lethal Intent”…Aileens was a tragic, tortured life and although, under no circunstances do I feel that what she did was justified, I do feel that justice was not served in her case. There is no amount of consolation to offer the famiilies of her victims, but Aileen, herself, was also a victim of her childhood as well as society.

  21. Mary Ann says:

    I’ve searched and searched,but nobody has seemed to notice that the real Tyria Moore was an extra in the movie. The fair scene, check it out. I knew it was her the second I seen her.I don’t know why their keeping it such a secret.

  22. loren says:

    i thought that this movie was great and very upsetting.  Very well made though.  I heard that Charlize Theron had to gain 30 pounds for the movie.  It’s kinda hard to believe considering that she looks like she cant gain any weight.

  23. Leslie says:

    Last night I started to watch Monster.  I could not watch more than about half an hour of the show because it distrubed me greatly (in fact, I had bad dreams all night).  I think I will have to take this film  in small doses but will watch it completely at some point.

    Today, I find myself wondering whatever became of the son Aileen Wournos gave up when she was 15.  I do hope this child is having a normal life will never know he is the son of this poor woman.

    No doubt, her environment did much to mark Wournos. Truth is, there seems to be something genetically wrong  with this family considering her biological father, her grandfather, and her own sociopathic ways.  It would be very interesting to know how Aileen’s son is doing and if he shows some of these distrubing same traits.  Did the family that adopted him know his birth mother?  I wonder how this child has fared all these years and what has become of him.

    It seems to me that Aileen Wournos was a victim to a greater degree then was purported at the time of her trial.   I am sure that she was insane and might have been somewhat rehabilitated had she been given the opportunity to continue living her life in prison. I am also sure Aileen could never have been let out of jail even with some rehibilitation and good behavior; so I understand her wish to be executed.  

    It does seem she had almost everyone use her and turn against her with the exception of the one friend.  I am very sorry for this and hope we can learn from Aileen’s story.

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