We have a lot to answer for, you and I. Our national slogan seems to be "Hey, make something of yourself!" It's usually said to those of us tormented as children by being raped, abused or neglected by people like you and me: people, parents, relatives, charged with nurturing them but who instead cripple them. So they grow up to live in a fantasy world, failing at everything, meeting reality only as they careen from disaster to disaster.
That was the case with Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute working the highways of central Florida in the 1980s. Stumbling from blow job to hand job to 'straight up,' she was down to her last few dollars and thought of killing herself - not for the first time. Then she met Selby Wall, eighteen years old and trying to find herself as a lesbian. What happened to them from that moment on is the story - the true story - of "Monster," written and directed by Patty Jenkins and starring - for a minute I was going to say Aileen Wuornos, but in fact it is Charlize Theron, the stunning blonde of a dozen major films, who always enchants us with those gorgeous sky-blue eyes. But Aileen is not a stunning blonde. She has a face ravaged by acne, a bucktoothed mouth that turns down into an angry grimace, and piercing brown eyes that seem to open into a vision of hell. Theron lets us look into those eyes and see both the monster and the child; it is the performance of the year. And Selby is that amazingly brave actress Christina Ricci, who for more than a decade has made a career of testing herself in every offbeat film you can think of.
The two of them play out their lives for us as "Monster" takes us along with them. Aileen wants to be Selby's protector, her provider, her breadwinner. She dreams of a life with money, a house on the beach, a job. But all she can do is turn tricks. And when a customer takes her in his car out into the woods, ties her up and rapes her, she finds his gun and kills him. She's horrified at what she did, but she was justified in her own eyes. It seems to release some of the hatred she feels toward the men who used her from childhood on - she was turning tricks at age 13. So she takes the man's gun, and when the tension of another trick sets off that impulse again, she kills that man too. By the end she has killed seven men.
But the film is less about the killings, shocking as they are, than about Aileen and Selby, and the more and more frantic life they lead, trying desperately to act 'normal' but never making it; running from motel to apartment, hiding the johns' cars, spinning faster and faster in the whirlwind.
Wuornos has already been the subject of two documentaries; she was convicted - the media called her, inaccurately, "the first woman serial killer" - and spent eleven years on death row before being executed in 2002. We can wonder whether our pompous, smug society will ever take responsibility for our Aileen Wuornos, for surely there are many many more, crying uheard for help.