Friday, September 24, 2010

Yes, Really with Wilde.Dash #13: Monster (2003)

The usual caveat: Believe it or not, for someone totally obsessed with movies, I do a lot of selective editing, snubbing, and ignoring. That is to say: there are a whole lot of well-known movies I've actually never bothered to watch. I've spent a lot of time hunting down obscurities and not quite as much time seeing the movies you've probably been watching since you were 10 years old (for example: I decided maybe I should watch Saving Private Ryan in Winter 2008). Because of this, in conversation I frequently have this interaction. Me: "I've never actually seen that movie" You: "What? I've seen a movie you haven't?" Me: "Yes" You: "How have you not seen that movie?" Me: "I never wanted to" You: "Really?" Me: "Yes, really." Thus: Yes, Really with Wilde.Dash a near weekly feature in which I fill in my pop culture education, watch all the boring basics, and let you know whether or not I decided they were worth my time. Get it? Got it? Good.
It's been a long time, and there are actually several of these Yes, Really entries backed up in the queue.  Today, I think, is the day.  Today is the day to knock them out and move on with my life.  I need a fresh crop of movies you saw years ago to watch without feeling guilty that I never wrote about the other movies you saw years ago on the blog I don't get paid to write.  So, after that last massive diatribe, let's keep the discussion on Monster short and sweet.  I would posit that unlike Irreversible, the opportunities for gender/human sexuality discussion via Monster are not as available as they might first appear.  Yes, yes, Monster is the story of serial killer and lesbian prostitute Aileen Wuornos.  Yes, Charlize Theron won an Oscar perhaps in part for getting her forehead/eyebrow area done up to look like the ice man's skull (I'm exaggerating, her acting also makes her just about completely unrecognizable).   Yes, the film chronicles the true life of a woman whose trade is sex with men and who then begins killing said men to support her naive girlfriend (Christina Ricci).  Wuornos killed seven men in the span of a single year, allegedly also attempted to rape them (which seems ironic as they were soliciting sex from her...), and was executed via lethal injection in 2002.  So, perhaps the most interesting twist on the matter is something that really isn't included in the film: the female prostitute raping the johns.  Of course, nobody wants to watch that.  Sort of like how I really didn't ever want to watch Monster.  But I did.  For you.  My conclusion?  On the surface you can pretend like a female serial killer is some sort of interesting perversion of the norm, but, in all honesty, Monster is just a movie about the same old Southern backwoods crazy person rapist archetype you've seen a million times over.  It's Deliverance, with a woman who (and I'm sorry if this is body snarking) appears to have been smashed squarely in the face with a frying pan or stung by an entire hive of hornets, and men really want to have sex with her, and she really wants to kill them for their wallets.   It's 2003's Oscar bait with the ick factor.  

This film did nothing for me.  The one draw here is Theron's performance/embodiment of a sick, sad, desperate woman.  For awhile, she manages to make Wuornos's crazy veer towards empathetic.  There are several instances where, through the magic of Hollywood, we are granted access not to the lurid tabloid details of this woman's crimes, but to the conflicted impulses she has to try and start over.  Theron's Wuornos seems to want to be good, to try harder, and to begin anew with 18-year old Selby (Ricci).  We can see how she adapts to a role as provider in the only way she knows.  We are shown how her background, lack of education, teenage marriage, and history of abuse have transformed her into someone twisted and unattractive, brutalized and world wary in spirit, mind, and body.   Wuornos can't get a real job.  She's not good at interacting with people in a way that isn't primal.  She responds to impulses of anger or desire and seems to really only understand these same impulses in others.  She can't trust, and with good reason.  We understand that Selby's naivete is what draws Wuornos; that Selby is good in a way that Wuornos does not fully understand, or, perhaps, believe.  Theron does well with this.  In 2003, she deserved her Oscar.  The rest of the movie?  The rest of the movie is the forgettable, pseudo-lurid piece of true crime cinema it looks like.   It's what Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer would be if Michael Rooker turned in an A game of transformative, emotional method acting.   It's all grit and no style with a focus that oscillates between humid Florida lust and roadside murder.  Either way, the goal is to git 'er done.  Either way, it's coated in a layer of dirt you can practically feel. 
That said, in terms of aesthetics, Monster was already a pretty wildly unattractive draw for me.  What can I say?  If I want to watch violence, I like it dressed up a bit.  Beyond that, though, past the solid lead performance, I found Monster to be a hollow, frequently almost boring, shell.  I wasn't invested in this lunacy.  I almost wanted it to become more horrifying and less safely harbored in the dramatic.  After years believing that Monster was some envelope pushing, boundary crossing, almost exploitive film devoted to an mentally unstable lesbian prostitutes and bloody killers, I was kind of disappointed with the lack of, well, a lot.  One of the biggest reasons I was never interested in this film is because of the way it was discussed and hyped.  It felt like capitalizing on something that was, literally, exploitive emotionally to the real life people involved.  It was just unappealing all around.  Now that I've seen it, and its qualities as an exploitation film are limited, is it terrible that I was bored?  Maybe.  Is it terrible that I sort of wanted Patty Jenkins to throw in some sensationalized violence with this chick beyond redemption?  Yes.  Probably.  It probably makes me some sort of jaded American hypocrite.  So it is.  So it is.  What can I say?  I wanted more crime scenes, less motel soap operas.

One thing I can say that's a non-conditional positive:  in my deep, deep loathing for Journey and their "beloved" powerballad "Don't Stop Believing", Monster has provided me with the only exact, appropriate usage of that song I have seen so far.  Sorry everyone else in America, but to me "Don't Stop Believing" just evokes dirty, flannel clad white trash making out in a roller rink.  That's right.  When I hear that song, I see dirty white trash with bad teeth.  Sometime with trucker hats.  Sometimes fixin' their trucks.  Sometimes sitting in a broken lawn chair drinking instant powder lemonade with a rifle propped against the trailer.  Sometimes with fringed hair and a crucifix on the wall. 

That's what I think of your Journey.

Yes.  Hate me. 

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