Skip to content

Movie Review – Confronting the monster in all of us

May 30, 2004

Like all good South Africans, I went to see the vehicle of Charlize Theron’s Oscar triumph, the film Monster. I came away deeply disturbed.

As everyone knows, the film shows the true story of Ailleen Wuorski, a ‘female serial killer’ – patriarchy’s greatest nightmare. There are shadowy resonances between the life of the character and the life of the actress playing her – Theron, who doesn’t come from an auspicious background, saw her mother shoot her father dead. One almost senses that in another world – bad reality – the two could have been each other. Hence the sympathetic and powerful portrayal of Wuorski.

Touchingly, the film starts with Wuorski on the brink of suicide. She finds $5 in her pocket, and knowing that “I musta sucked some guy off for it”, she decides not to kill herself until she has spent it. So she enters the nearest bar. “God”, she prays, “if you have something for me in this life, you’d better bring it on now.”

Her salvation, in the form of a chance at love with a women by the name of Selby, presents itself. But fate intervenes, she is raped, fights back and starts on a downward spiral that even love cannot save her from.

She makes a genuine attempt to start a new life, but no one will give her a chance, and she is condemned by a society that condemns prostitutes as “people who have made the wrong choices” – as if all of us started from the same point, and had the same options – while failing to identify that prostitutes need clients, and as such are an integral part of society, and not a personal aberration.

In the end, also, it is clear how Wuorski dooms herself. Initially, her killings can be justified, even celebrated by the viewer as a necessary adjustment – much in the same way that we could celebrate the exploits of Phoolan Devi, the Indian Bandit Queen, who took revenge on the men who raped her and then lead a gang of outlaws for many years, attacking the system, the Indian state, that had allowed her to be victimised. In other words, Devi realised who the real enemy was – not all men, but a patriarchal power structure – and went about systematically fighting it.

Wuorski made no such distinction, and increasingly projected her hatred of those who had abused her onto men who had no connection to those events, while denying her own responsibility – it is not acceptable to claim, as she does, that she doesn’t mind hooking, and then blow away the men who want what she is offering. Her moment of damnation, at least narratively, comes when she kills a man who is clearly innocent and is genuinely trying to help her. She becomes so full of hate that she cannot even see those who are reaching out for her.

The prey becomes the predator, and although she reverses the situation, she never transcends it. And unfortunately, she is killed in the end by more powerful men professing the same ideology, and sending the very clear message that bitches who don’t know their place will not be tolerated. Welcome to the wonderful world of the Bush family.

What the movie neglects to mention is that after 12 years on death row, she was executed by Jeb Bush, brother of the more famous and equally execrable George. Also, that the Bush brothers are have a nasty habit of killing people – while George while he was governor of Texas, he executed more people than anyone in US history. This would have been a powerful point to make in an election year, with Bush arguing that the use of force to deal with shadow is effective.

Because this is what the movie has at its heart – how do we deal with the shadows that our society casts? The right wing has a simple solution: blame some one else, and then rush in with guns blazing and crack down on the ‘culprit’. More progressive people take upon themselves the much more difficult task of recognising that, while people have free will, a monstrous society can be expected to produce monsters.

Theron’s character, Aileen Wuorski, has learnt her way of being from men. After years of abuse, she finally got it, finally understood the way the world works: might makes right. When confronted by her lover who says “killing is wrong”, Theron’s character, correctly, answers “says who?”

She points out that “it’s no big deal, people are killed everyday, for politics, economics and lots of reasons – and the killers are our heroes”.

What message does this have for society? That the way we treat our shadow is of crucial importance. What is the shadow? In South Africa, it is the black and poor, the beggar at the door, the person with HIV-AIDS, the illegal immigrant, the hijacker with a gun to your head. The general response from society has been repression: the poor are lazy, they have a ‘culture of entitlement’ (which is rich coming from people who feel entitled to servants, cars and meals in expensive restaurants). People living with HIV-AIDS are ‘immoral’, and hijackers and other criminals should be ‘hunted like dogs’, in the words of Steve Tshwete.

Instead of realising that crime is a consequence of poverty, and tackling that problem, almost all resources are aimed at repressing the problem: more police, more security guards, more alarm systems.

In the end, though, how thoroughly do we want to encage ourselves in our secure zones – which are never as secure as we want them to be? At some point, surely, we need to escape from them and make an honest attempt to solve the problems we face.

Otherwise, the monsters will overwhelm us too.

Advertisements
2 Comments leave one →
  1. The Girl permalink
    May 31, 2004 11:37 pm

    “Instead of realising that crime is a consequence of poverty, and tackling that problem, almost all resources are aimed at repressing the problem: more police, more security guards, more alarm systems.”
    Well Said. I like you.

  2. The Girl permalink
    May 31, 2004 11:37 pm

    “Instead of realising that crime is a consequence of poverty, and tackling that problem, almost all resources are aimed at repressing the problem: more police, more security guards, more alarm systems.”Well Said. I like you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: