Thursday, September 15, 2005


Monster (2003) by Patty Jenkins


If ever there was a tragic anti-hero, it is Aileen.  Her story is real, and the choices she made were deplorable.  As an examination of the human condition, though, it is exceptional.

Emotional scars make people do strange things.

Aileen’s descent into madness is well known and documented.  All in all, it’s not even that unique a story.  I’m struggling at the moment to recall any similar story lines from my favorite lists of blood-on-the-stage dramas.

What makes this story so compelling, though, is the relationship and presence of Selby.  Selby’s story, on its own, would have been interesting, if not quite as compelling.  She’s an outcast from her family, from her church, from her society all because she doesn’t “fit in” to their idea of right and wrong.

Selby is emotionally crippled, as symbolized by her arm cast.  As she grows into her own and violently removes the cast, she finds her place.  The problem is that without the kind of guidance and feedback one would normally get from a supportive family, she has no idea that she’s throwing herself into a relationship that is emotionally unbalanced on both sides.  

Selby is definitely not the Voice of Reason in this story.  If anyone is, that would be Thomas.  He, though, has almost nothing to say through most of the movie.  His presence is more important as a place where Aileen can feel comfortable and safe, but she has to choose it.  He never goes to her, and even when he has a chance to help her escape, he seems to be waiting for Aileen to “get it” herself.  In the end, he stands by to watch as she is arrested.

I suppose the only difficulty I have with the story is the Johns.  I know that the story is pressed for time, and even that the Johns are not the focus of the story as it progresses.  They end up being plot devices instead of characters, though.  It’s not like I, as a reader/viewer, want to know anything more about them, but I do want them to be a little more than two-dimensional.

I’m not going to get on the story for that.  The Johns are only elements in Aileen’s rapidly dissolving view of reality.  She doesn’t see them as anything more than objects, so I suppose it’s only appropriate that the story treats them as such.  Aileen’s real world is with Selby.  The problem is that even that real world is so disfigured by each of their own ability to contribute to the relationship that it, too, becomes more a fantasy than a reality.

If this had been constructed of whole cloth, it would be easier for me to argue that Aileen deserves some sympathy from us.  I’m going to make that argument anyway.  In some ways, she’s a victim of circumstance.  In a rational, empirical, dispassionate world, we can see that emotional trauma has long-term and far-reaching effects in people.  Not everyone becomes a serial-killer, of course.  And, conversely, not all serial-killers come from a traumatic personal history.  Here, though, in this one case was the chance for capital-H “Humanity” to step in and intervene in the lives of both, or either, Aileen and Selby.  An ounce of intervention, I argue, would have resulted in a whole lot of destruction being avoided.

Perhaps I can call Monster the Anti-“Thelma & Louise”.  Yeah.  I like that.

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