By John H. Foote
Charlize Theron is a natural beauty with flawless skin, a shapely body, piercing eyes, she is woman incarnate.
The first time I saw the film Monster in which she portrays serial killer Aileen Wuornos, I stayed for the second screening because I could not believe my eyes. Had Theron just given one of the greatest modern day film performances? Yes, indeed she had.
She went far deeper than packing on nearly 30 pounds to play the wild-eyed roadside Florida prostitute, she inhabited the character so completely, so effortlessly, it seemed as though the broken, twisted soul of Wuornos had found its way into her body.
Theron researched the role with tenacious hunger, not wanting to create a cliché of her, but hoping to find clues to her history. Her goldmine came in the form of deeply intimate letters Wuornos had written each day of her imprisonment to her high school best friend. From these letters, Theron pieced together a past that included physical, sexual, and verbal abuse, constantly being beaten down by life, unable to trust anyone. When she found Selby (Christina Ricci) she found love, and though never a lesbian, she took love when it came, protecting the younger girl with a ferocity unlike any we have seen before. The trouble with Selby is her relentless neediness, and the fact she contributes nothing to helping the couple live. She wants to be kept, she needs it, and uses her sexuality to get what she needs. Complicit in knowing and denying the actions of Wuornos, the younger girl would be instrumental in the court finding Wuornos guilty.
Beaten by a client during sex, Wuornos kills him in self-defense, stealing his money and car, realizing at once how easy it would be to continue on this path. So between 1989-1990, she killed seven men, taking their money and car.
With blazing eyes staring out at a world she believes hates her, Wuornos was deeply misunderstood, but make no mistake, she was a cold-blooded killer.
Theron captures both aspects of her character, the one beaten down by life and the men she encountered, and the killer who lashed back with everything she had.
Nothing Theron had previously done prepared me for this performance. I emerged from the screening room after the second screening galvanized by her astounding transformation. All traces of Charlize Theron was gone, vanquished by the tortured soul of Wuornos in one of the finest performances I have ever witnessed. One of the most emotionally honest performances in film history, she is fierce, volatile, and contradictory, wanting normalcy in her life but lacking the tools to find it. Breathtaking in its purity, shattering in how heartbreaking the character becomes, yet terrifying in her actions, she brings Wuornos to vivid life as few actresses ever would have dared. She goes far beyond finding the humanity of the character, equally finding the vicious inhumanity of Wuornos, but also focusing on the inhumane society she grew up in.
Theron won for Best Actress from the Golden Globes, the Broadcast Film Critics award, the Screen Actors Guild Award, and the Academy Award, forever altering the perception of this extraordinary actress. Always looking for new challenges, she was twice been nominated for the Academy Award as Best Actress since, displaying remarkable range.
Still her greatest accomplishment was bringing humanity to a monster, in this seething performance.
Aileen Wuornos was executed in 2003.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.