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9 October

Aileen Wuornos executed, 2002

On this day in 2002, the serial killer Aileen Wuornos was killed by lethal injection in Florida. She had been found guilty on six counts of first degree murder.

Her father, who she never met, was a schizophrenic who was convicted of sex crimes against children. Aileen’s mother abandoned her and her brother, leaving them to be brought up by her grandfather. Which sounds cosy until we learn that at 13 Aileen was pregnant after having been raped by one of her grandfather’s friends.

At 15 she was homeless, and started earning a living as a prostitute. At 20 she was married to a 69-year-old president of the yacht club, who ended up taking out a restraining order against her on account of her rowdy behaviour. The marriage lasted nine weeks.

Over the next ten years Aileen was arrested for armed robbery, imprisoned and involved in numerous minor offences. At 30 she met Tyria Moore in a gay bar and together the couple set up home. Shortly after this time Wuornos embarked on her killing spree.

Monster (2003, dir: Patty Jenkins)

Nick Broomfield made two documentaries about Aileen Wuornos (The Selling of a Serial Killer and Life and Death of a Serial Killer), the first of which had surely been seen by Charlize Theron, who plays Wuornos in Patty Jenkins’s sensitive biopic which doesn’t seek to condone but to explain.

It’s an interesting choice of film for an actress who fits the “drop dead gorgeous” category. Oscar-bait, if you’re being cynical. And sure enough, Oscar complied, though Oscars have been handed out for far less dramatic transformations than Theron’s.

Playing Wuornos as a woman who probably didn’t have a hope in hell of leading a normal life, whose essential good looks had been blown off her face by bad choices and bad liquor, Theron plugs into a character of awful hopelessness. Rarely has a serial killer been portrayed with so much sympathy – the unspoken notion being that she has fallen from the pedestal on which all women are placed. Though Wuornos’s deeds are not airbrushed away, nor her victims dismissed as guys who deserved to die because they’d paid for sex.

Christina Ricci is the other revelation here, playing a subordinate role below her pay grade, as the dim bulb whom Wuornos picks up and falls for, a creature almost as damaged as she is – together they’re going to start a new life, something approaching normality.

But given that Wuornos is all over the place (and check out Broomfield’s documentaries to see how brilliantly Theron captures this) the two of them don’t stand a chance. Nor, sadly, did the guys who ended up pumped full of bullets.

Why Watch?

  • Theron’s Oscar-winning, and Oscar-worthy, performance
  • To compare and contrast with the real Wuornos in Nick Broomfield’s documentaries
  • Monster resists the urge to make Wuornos some feminist icon, or a female Hannibal Lecter
  • It took a whole team of make-up people to make Theron look like that

Monster – at Amazon

I am an Amazon affiliate

© Steve Morrissey 2013

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