Oscar odds makers predict South Africa-born actress Charlize Theron will earn an Academy Award nomination January 27, for her powerful portrayal of a serial killer in a stark drama based on real events. Alan Silverman has a look at Monster
Aileen Wuornos had trouble or was in trouble for most of her 46 years: abandoned as a child by her mother, pregnant by age 14 and a truck stop prostitute before she was 20. Her luck and life seemed to change in 1986 when she met a woman at a Daytona, Florida bar.
In the movie she's named Selby. For the next six years their relationship was sometimes loving, sometimes stormy; but it was something Aileen would do anything to preserve . . . and that included committing seven murders.
"I think it's very much a love story. That was the first thing that grabbed me: that it was an unusual love story," says Theron.
An almost unrecognizable Charlize Theron gained weight and abandoned her cover girl beauty to take on a harsh look remarkably similar to the real Aileen Wuornos. Although the character does horrible things, she says it was the romance that helped her find something to identify with.
"I think that when you make a so-called 'serial killer' movie people tend to go 'I can't relate to that. I don't anything about that world. Serial killers? I don't have anybody in my family like that.' It's the things like the betrayal and the need for love and the hope and wanting to be normal and fit in: all of these things that are human qualities that she really struggled with in her life," she explains. "In the propaganda we got through media news coverage of her we never got any of that flip side to the coin about all of these things that were missing in her life. It's just heartbreaking. Those are the things that ripped my heart out about her life."
Christina Ricci co-stars as Selby, who testifies against her former lover when Aileen is arrested for the murders.
"What I see in the character is she comes from a world that is very repressive and does not tolerate who she is; and Aileen is a chance to live her life the way she wants to live her life and she'll do anything to maintain this freedom," she says. "That's where you have to wonder how much she had to do with the crimes."
Monster is written and directed by Patty Jenkins, who corresponded with and earned the trust of the real Aileen Wuornos during her final years on Florida's death row. However, first-time filmmaker Jenkins insists the facts kept her from making the movie overly sympathetic to the convicted killer.
"Any sympathy we would have won for her without acknowledging the absolute truth would have been an empty victory," she explains. "I think the bar to try to rise to is to be able to tell a moving story that touches people without having an agenda that you're forcing upon the story. So I actually went out of my way not to make it a death penalty movie or a lesbian movie or an advocacy movie, but to tell this story with as much shading and dimension as I could."
It is that human complexity which leads Theron to believe it is wrong to dismiss Wuornos as crazy or a psychopath.
"Aileen did terrible things, horrendous things: those are the facts about her life. Those are things we really know; but, on the other hand, we don't quite know because she is not around any more and the victims are not around anymore," says Theron. "Nobody will really ever know what happened, but she had always been portrayed one-sided as a 'Monster' so for us to make a movie just about the sympathetic or empathetic side of this character would have been the exact same mistake that people were doing already with her. The scale always had to be evened out. I felt that through all of the bad things she had done, her life is not as black and white as people tend to want to make it. There are a lot of grey areas and through those you find the empathy for her."
Aileen Wuornos was executed in a Florida prison in October 2002. Monster was filmed in many of the same locations where the real events occurred.