Serial Killers in Film

Aileen Wuornos: Analysis

Monster has been critically acclaimed both for the emotional performances of Theron and Ricci, and for Theron’s nearly seamless transformation into Aileen Wuornos. After viewing the film, I second this praise – when watching clips of Wuornos and Theron side-by-side, it’s clear that Theron must have studied and trained extensively to so convincingly mimic Wuornos’ speech and mannerisms. Though it’s typical of Hollywood productions to inadvertently glamorize real-life individuals by having more polished and conventionally attractive actors portray them, this isn’t the case for Theron’s Wuornos.

I think it’s fair to assume that, had Tyria Moore not been notoriously litigious, the portrayal of Wuornos’ lover would have likely been highly accurate as well. Regardless, the choice to depict Moore – or “Selby” – as a slender young woman naturally alters the viewer’s perception of the relationship. While watching the film, I sympathized more with Wuornos’ urge to protect and support the ingenuous Selby than I would have if Selby had been older and more masculine, like Moore. Likewise, while creative liberties like the roller-skating scene and Wuornos’ moment of mercy for the stuttering man were understandable choices for filling space and moving the plot along, they too help shape our idea of Aileen Wuornos. Most of these liberties seem to urge us to sympathize with her. They present her as a childish, luckless individual just as vulnerable as she is dangerous.

The film focuses heavily on the relationship between Wuornos and Selby, and in doing so, omits certain other events in the true crime narrative. The film doesn’t at any point acknowledge Wuornos’ friendship with born-again Arlene Pralle, for example, though it took place during the film’s timeline. This decision was probably made in the interest of time and because a character introduced so late in the narrative may be difficult to develop adequately, but by omitting it, filmmakers portray Wuornos’ final months as a period of isolation. This is not entirely accurate, and it may incite more viewer sympathy than if Pralle had been included as a character.

The most impactful creative decision made in Monster is the inclusion of a brutal rape scene based on Wuornos’ early testimony. Wuornos (in reality) claimed that her first victim, Richard Mallory, physically and sexually assaulted her, and gave indications that he was planning to kill her (x). Whether this actually took place is still unclear. Moore maintained that Wuornos didn’t show any signs of an attack, and in court, Wuornos’ story was inconsistent and without supporting evidence (x). However, it was revealed after Wuornos’ sentencing that Mallory had in fact previously served time for an aggravated rape charge – a compelling coincidence that further complicates the narrative (x).

The creators of Monster had three choices when it came to the alleged rape scene: they could portray it as Wuornos described, contradict her testimony by showing her killing Mallory unprovoked, or keep the events of Mallory’s death off-screen entirely and simply allow Wuornos’ character to provide her own exposition about it to Selby. Ultimately they chose the first approach, which has a profound impact on the viewer’s understanding and judgment of Wuornos’ motives. By depicting the events as Wuornos related them, the filmmakers give her narrative authority and present Richard Mallory as the catalyst for Wuornos’ later killings. It is by far the hardest scene in the film to watch.

It should be acknowledged that there is a later scene in which Wuornos kills a man in cold blood who simply meant to help her, and this too is an emotionally difficult moment in the film; however, because it appears well after the rape scene, viewers are likely desensitized to this degree of violence and may still be inclined to view Wuornos as a victim. It would have been a more ethically responsible approach to avoid showing Mallory’s death and instead leave the truth ambiguous, just as it is in reality.

Overall, I felt that Monster did not use any cheaply sentimental techniques to sway audience opinion of Wuornos, and that Theron’s performance was uncannily accurate to the source material. The truth of Wuornos’ personality was communicated effectively, but by relying on her testimony for information about Richard Mallory’s death, Monster does lean slightly in the direction of bias. In an effort to provide a concrete, simplified motive for the murders, the film makes an assumption that doesn’t quite do justice to Wuornos’ tragic complexities and contradictions. 

This page has paths:

This page has tags:

This page references: