In a career-defining performance, Charlize Theron wraps herself in serial killer Aileen Wuornos and wears her like a ball gown. This film, much like Aileen herself, makes no apologies for what it is. Monster’s brutal honesty is captivating and heartbreaking as it chronicles the tragedy of Aileen’s life.
After being orphaned as a young child and sexually abused for years by her uncle, young Aileen cashes in on her only sense of worth and turns to sex work to survive. It’s her undying sense of optimism and pragmatism that leads her to the dive bar where she would fatefully meet the love of her life, Selby, played by Christina Ricci. It’s the kindness of a stranger and the first sparks of love that give Aileen the strength to then escape a serial rapist and would-be killer. In the wake of her brutalization, she convinces Selby to escape her constrictive, homophobic family and run away with her on the promise that she will give her the life that they both dreamed of. This is the beginning of the end for Aileen in her naively optimistic fight for a good life in a system that was stacked against her from the start.
Unlike most lesbian romances, Aileen and Selby’s love story makes no attempt to appeal to appetites of straight men. Aileen builds her childhood dream castle in Selby, not realizing that it was made of sand. The viewer watches as it crumbles in the surf while a traumatized Aileen scrambles to be both the port and the storm.
The project was criticized for humanizing a killer, but this perspective misses the entire point of the film. For society to have so desperately failed Wuornos at every turn, it is the least director Patty Jenkins could do to afford Wuornos some posthumous dignity and humanity. This picture stands apart from all others in the niche genre of serial killer biopics because Aileen herself was unlike any other classified serial killer. This is the story of a woman who, being the archetypical serial victim, takes up the gun for herself as the proverbial Jesse James of sex workers.