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Monster review

Patty Jenkin's Monster, which will have its international debut at the Berlinale Film Festival (US theatrical debut December 24th) , promises to be one of the most thought provoking films of the year. The film is about Aileen Wuornos who killed seven men in Florida she claimed bought sexual services from her and wanted to rape or assault her. She has been called the first female serial killer departing from the pattern of women killing known relatives.

Jenkins pitched Monster as the story of a serial murderer, a genre that has captivated audiences since the media sensationalized crimes of Jack the Ripper in the 19th century. Films such as The Boston Strangler (1968) and the Ted Bundy Story (2002) that depict the serial rape and murder of women have horrified and fascinated audiences for decades, often revealing the changing status of feminism in society.

Wuornos was executed in 2002 for the murders of seven men receiving six death sentences (the seventh body was never found), the largest sentence of anyone on death row in Florida. Wuornos is also the subject of two documentaries. British producer Nick Broomfield, who made the 1993 documentary on her execution day said, " Today we are executing someone who is mad. Here is someone who has totally lost her mind".

Jenkin's film does not take up the media interest in the trial. Instead, she provides a chilling portrait of Wuornos starring Charlize Theron, also producer of the film. Theron's acting is of superior quality and one of the best female on screen interpretations in a long time. The former model has been given parts over the years in which she has never been given a real chance to demonstrate her acting abilities. Her classic good looks have granted her casting roles where she is at the least decorative and at the most bursting through the seams of her parts.

Playing the tough Wuornos from a low income class is done convincingly and without the affectations of Julia Roberts who looks and acts like she hails from Rodeo Drive no matter what class she is supposed to represent. Monster is no Pretty Woman or Cinderella story and Theron's role is a fuse that ignites controversy. It is rare when an actress abandons the privilege of "beauty". Consequently, there is some humbug by critics unconvinced that the stunning Theron would take such a role and "uglify herself'". The criticism is unwarranted and goes only skin deep because Theron's role is a three-dimensional triumph uniting mind, body and soul. Jenkins reveals that one of her role models for physical transformation was Robert DeNiro's Raging Bull. The metamorphosis of Theron into the physicality of Wuornos however involved more than makeup. The mannerisms, attitude and bravura of Wuornos is given chilling authenticity. lt is often disturbing observing Theron as Wuornos and how her life spins out of control. The rage she expresses when she is brutally raped and mutilated prior to her first murder is almost unbearable to witness.

The film begins just before Wuornos is going to put a gun to her head. She seeks shelter in a women's bar and soon enters her first relationship with Selby Wall (Christina Ricci), a woman who later testifies against her in the murder trial. Jenkins has changed the pragmatic real life Selby into a naive girl looking for thrills. Their differences are so extreme that when Wuornos tells Selby she is never going to meet anyone like her again, she's fully convinced. The relationship intially provides Wuornos with the emphasis to change. Theron is brilliant when Wuornos decides to stop selling sexual services and get a "regular" job. The absurdity of this becomes clear when she goes on a series of interviews and is repeatedly turned down. It would appear that Wuornos had neither the preparation nor education for a real job and her attempts to give up prostitution fail. Emotionally scarred from several years of molestation by a relative, she grew up with skewed thinking that the attention she gets from boys is genuine and is unable to set boundaries. The film hones in on how incest survivors often wind up selling sexual services. Circumstances inevitably lead to murder in self-defense, ending with a complete meltdown in judgment about why she is murdering.

The story of Aileen Wuornos is tragic, and though director Patty Jenkins does not condone her murders , she has tried to express sympathy for a messed up life - the most, she admits, that Wuornos will probably ever get.

Moira Sullivan, Nordic Correspondent

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