On Second Thought: “Monster”

IMG_0358.JPGThe biopic is an easily likable type of film. The only time I could imagine that not being so is if it’s about some person who killed people. While those still get made, and watched a lot, it’s usually because there’s some sort of sensationalist push behind this.

The Colombia Pictures film “Monster”, succeeds where most films of this nature don’t. You’re not watching something purely to get the juicy details.

This biographical film stars Charlize Theron (“A Million Ways to Die in the West”, “Prometheus”), Christina Ricci (“Lizzie Borden Took an Ax”, “Around the Block”), Bruce Dern (“Cut Bank”, “Nebraska”), Lee Tergesen (“Alpha House”, “The Blacklist”), Annie Corley (“The Killing”, “Blue-Eyed Butcher”), Pruitt Taylor Vince (“Those Who Kill”, “The Mentalist”), Marco St. John (“Lee Daniels’ The Butler”, “Treme”), Marc Macaulay (“12 Years a Slave”, “Burn Notice”), and Scott Wilson (“Bosch”, “The Walking Dead”).

The film was written and directed by Patty Jenkins (“Betrayal”, “The Killing”).

The film screened at several film festivals before opening in a few theaters on Dec. 17, 2003. The film had another limited release on Jan. 9, 2004 and finally opened in wide release on Jan. 30. The film would later go on to win the Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, and Screen Actors Guild Award for Theron as Best/Outstanding Actress, among many other wins and nominations.

It’s been awhile since I last saw this film. I was a bit afraid that perhaps I wouldn’t like this film the same way, mainly because I could only recall various tidbits about the film. Fortunately I was proven wrong and know that I do truly like this film.

The biggest draw that I found when watching this film again was Theron’s very humanized portrayal. I found that, even though you shouldn’t, there’s a lot to like about her character. She definitely has her rough edges and may seem unfriendly, but that I attribute to her life. The way she had to live shaped this. But, at the same time, she’s not completely unfeeling. When she does finally meet Ricci’s character, she allows for herself to truly enjoy life. It may start off rough, but over the course of the film, you see a woman that is fully capable of emotion.

The film even goes so far as to show how hard she wanted to turn her life around, but unfortunately, the world, being what it is (then and now), does not look kindly on those with little and unfortunate life situations. This sadly sends her back to her prostitute ways, which was really hard to watch. That was just one of the major areas with which I was able to feel so sorry for her. Of course, the next biggest way, and quite brutal, is when she’s first assaulted. Looking beyond how hard that is to watch, you know the result is somewhat okay. I had no qualms with what she had to do in order to defend herself. It’s what occurs later, because of this, that makes it all the more sad. She apparently, doesn’t really recover. She continues as a prostitute, but goes one step further. She just kills, to kill. I found this so surprising as I didn’t feel this was something she truly needed to do. Certainly not out of protecting herself. This is the only time where I can easily say I hated her. It was no longer understandable. But somehow, I still felt sorry for her. Even at the very end, when her time was up, it was still sad. I’m thinking this has more to do with the complete lack of opportunity she had all through her life. Every aspect was just depressing.

The make up for Theron’s character is phenomenal. While it’s a bit sad that we don’t get to see Theron as Theron (whatever that is), there really was no other way to make this film. Aileen Wuornos had a very particular face and was very well recreated. Because of this, I didn’t need to work a lot at believing I was watching someone else’s life. Even with all the prosthetics involved, there was somehow a lot to like and find enjoyable about Theron’s performance. The only question I have, now that I think about it, is did she have any believable facial movements? I just can’t recall, which is maddening for something like this.

The look said late ’80s and early ’90s. This idea extends to all aspects, except for characters directly. The costumes, look of locations, and set designs were perfectly created to give the late 1980s feel. A lot of the costumes informed you on who the characters were and the given circumstances they found themselves in, however unfortunate they may be.

I’ve been sitting and thinking for a few minutes on this, but still can’t figure out the right thing. I know there’s something great about Ricci being in this film, but what exactly is not coming. I know her character is supposed to represent a real life person from Wuornos’ life, so her inclusion makes sense, but that’s not just it. Is it because it’s getting the chance to see Ricci in one of her first major adult roles. Sure she had “Prozac Nation”, but that was years prior, so it’s exciting to see her be involved in something pretty complicated. There’s a lot to like of her character, especially as she grows through the film from naïve, trapped person to free young woman. I feel that’s what she was looking for and found it in Theron’s character. This is great, but after a while, she doesn’t do much for me, in any way, shape or form. So, now I’m back to why I feel there’s something great about Ricci’s inclusion. Great.

I feel like I need to talk about the way the violence was done. Yes, it was pretty graphic, but I felt that there was still something of a tasteful manner behind how it was shot and presented. I don’t want to go so far to say that this was necessary, but in some ways it was. I hope that makes sense. You can’t tell a story without this important part. That, and it’s not like we’re talking about content on TV and if it’s too much. While the violence was on what I believe to be a realistic level, it wasn’t excessive. Nothing lingered too long, nothing was overly gory. It was used to portray instances, but wasn’t just there to be there. It had a purpose.

While this is a film that’s about a serial killer, with plenty of violence, it’s arguably one of the saddest movies I’ve seen. You may not get tears or even misty eyed, but the whole story lacks anything remotely close to happy. If the performances hadn’t been as strong, as well as the story, then this film may not have been as appealing. You certainly couldn’t find yourself liking the main character in the ways that you do or should.

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