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Tuesday, February 03, 2004
MONSTROUSLY SAD

I am unsure what to say about the movie Monster, for which Charlize Theron is nominated - and the frontrunner - for the Oscar.

Indisputably, Theron's performance is amazing. It's almost eerie how she transforms her mannerisms, her walk, her intonation until you don't even remember what the real Charlize looks and sounds like. The other nominees are disadvantaged by the fact that they are only acting. Charlize is channeling...

Having said that, Monster is not a film that I can recommend to a general audience.... even a generally adult audience. This is a great film that requires a very wide berth of artistic, and frankly shocking sexuality and violence to deliver its fundamentally moral message.

Normally, I take the position that the end never justifies the means, and so "thumbs down" this kind of project. Generally, however, the ultimate moral message in this kind of project is not worth every disgusting and/or violating corridor that a film traverses to make its point. An example of this would be movies like The End of the Affair, Boogie Nights, To End All Wars, American History X, Fight Club, and pretty much everything by David Lynch (well, okay, except for The Straight Story and Elephant Man).

I am going to give Monster a grim thumbs-up, however, because it seems to me the ultimate message is very worth all the pain and suffering the audience has to go through to apprehend it. (And I give the movie a thumbs-up even though it is a portrayal of two lesbians, AND includes a couple girl-on-girl love scenes. --- HA HA John! Put that in your pipe and smoke it!)

The key to Monster is the title of the film. This is a movie that sets out to challenge the idea that a human being can ever be defined and dismissed as "a monster." Dead Man Walking dealt with the powerful theme that, "Every person has an innate dignity that can never be obscured by their own bad choices." Monster pushes this theme by presenting the causes that lead a human being into monstrous choices. In so doing, the film challenges the viewer to apply the word "Monster" to its main character, as we would be wont to do just hearing the cursory details of her story. Monster is a profoundly ironic title for the project.

Based on the true story of serial murderer, Aileen Wuornos, the film never excuses her, but does provide the sources of her alienation and so an explanation for her choices. It shows her struggles with her own grief and guilt as she tries to rationalize her understanding of herself as "I'm basically a good person" with her own terrible deeds. The film presents a God-like perspective of a lost human being. Borrowing from the book Poem of the Man God, "If you would see rightly (ie. like God) you need to combine facts with compassion." Ultimately, the film comes down to being the story of a woman who has never been loved. She has been abused by many of the people who were supposed to love her and has never been able to connect with a mentor, a teacher, a pastor -- anyone who could have thrown her a line on her way slipping down through the cracks in society.

The centerpiece relationship in the film is filled out in a largely over-looked performance by Christina Ricci who delivers well here as she always seems to. Interestingly, the movie isn't so much about lesbianism, as it is about two individuals who are desperately seeking to connect. It isn't sex, it is a glass of cold water to two people dying in a desert. My friend who attended with me noted, "I don't think either of them were really gay." I tend to agree.

Monster is a very, very sad story that is not for the faint of heart or the weak of sensibility. The film contains a moment of graphic sexual violence, and the other kinds of scenes one would associate with a lesbian-prostitute turned murderer. It isn't a gratuitous project, however, and it is far from being a Hollywood style exploitation film. Mystic River, by comparison, is an over-the-top actor's show piece. Proof of Monster's moral merit as an artistic project, is that it leaves the viewer feeling personally complicit in the tragedy that unfolds on the screen, as opposed to staring in superior fascination at Wuornos horrific story.

It's a great film. I just don't know too many people who should see it.