Monday, April 25, 2011

Compassion for a Monster

On October 9th, 2002, Aileen Wuornos declined her last meal and instead settled for a cup of coffee. Her last words were,

"Yes, I would just like to say I'm sailing with the rock, and I'll be back, like Independence Day with Jesus. June 6, like the movie. Big mother ship and all, I'll be back, I'll be back."

Shortly after, she became the 2nd woman in the state of Florida to die of lethal injection.

Google the details, if you'd like.

The main points are that she lived a very horrible life. Abuse of all kinds, abandonment, prostitution since she was a teenager. You can easily begin to feel sympathy for this woman. Then, you read about what she turned into. Horrific.

So, when I watched the movie Monster a few days ago, I was half expecting to turn it off half way through; which is something I actually did when Jonas woke up early from his nap.

The movie stars Charlize Theron and I heard that her performance was memorable in it, so I figured that I'd take a look. It turns out that the rumors were true, at times I forget that it is even her. I could imagine someone watching the whole movie and then finding out that it was Charlize Theron in it. "Wait a minute. The girl from Arrested Development was in that? Which one was she?"

After the movie I was quite disturbed. I was confused. I have a hard time dealing with these kinds of stories these days. This woman lived a miserable life and it turned her into a desperate monster in the end. I'm not saying that she was an innocent victim, there was definitely good reasons to punish her for her crimes. She said herself that if they don't kill her then she would go out and kill again.

But at the same time, Writer/Director Patty Jenkins and Charlize Theron herself saw that there was more to this woman's life. On the special features of the DVD there is a featurette that follows the filmmakers into Wuornos world, asking questions, doing research and the like. Through it I started to see why these women wanted to tell a more sympathetic side of the story, with all due respect to the victims.

An example of what the filmmakers saw was the photo of Aileen appearing to be choking herself.  The media played it out as some crazy killer trying to choke herself with her handcuffs. When the truth was that she was just finding a way to brush back her hair.

This woman obviously had a lot of problems. Acting out in court and for the cameras probably caused a lot more laughs and cringes than sympathy. But the one thing that the makers of Monster wanted to do was tell the "greater truth". For that reason, I have to hand it to these ladies. This film has some crazy content in it, but the fact that they were able to give this lonely, crazy, and confused woman a small amount of dignity after death is something that I truly admire.

The thing that I love the most about those little featurettes found in the special features of DVDs is all of the set up and behind the scenes stuff they show while they are making the movie. It gives me a better idea of how a movie is made, and a greater appreciation for the filmmakers and actors as well. A scene from this featurette had such a profound effect on me that I am sure that those few moments stabbed at my heart more so than the entire movie. It doesn't do justice for me to tell it to you, you need to see it, but since the movie is so disturbing I don't want to recommend it. So, I can just try to tell you about it.

First of all, Aileen was at the stage of the movie when her killing spree was in full force. She would hitchhike, then offer the driver sex for money, as she was trying to save up money to run away with her girlfriend. Well, she would get the victim to drive deep into the woods and then she would kill them and take the car and money. In this one particular instance, a man picked her up and offered to help her out. She was very drunk at the time and the elderly man offered her to stay with him and his wife. He was being very nice to her, which bothered her because with all of her other victims she as able to justify her actions because they were perverts. Anyways, she tells him to pull the car over and gets out. He sees the gun drop out of her bag and she, not wanting a witness, gets back in the car and tells him to drive.

They make in into the woods and she tells him to get out. He pleads with her. She tells him to get on his knees. He tells her that his daughter is having a baby. She begins to weep and wail. Internal torment. She is convinced that she cannot let him go and suddenly Bang! End scene.

In the featurette, we have a look at this scene from the side. After the scene ends, Charlize Theron falls to the ground, weeping uncontrollably. Later, she is sitting in a chair away from the camera, bent over with cigarette smoke rising from her hand. The director is kneeling next to her, rubbing her back, consoling her.

This is where I lost it. I want to be on a film set someday soon and it is for performances such as this. Something in this moment made me think of love. Aileen died alone in 2002, in 2003 Charlize Theron is bringing her to life again. Telling the story. The unbelievable moment when an innocent good Samaritan is shot down in the coldest of blood.

I see mercy in there, somewhere, for Aileen. And the barer of it is Charlize Theron herself. She chose to play this character, to carry the burden of Aileen and her story. Whether or not she knew that it would affect her like this is anyone's guess. I have to believe that she knew the cost and decided to do it anyways. If this story hadn't been told on such a grand scale, the world would never have seen this "greater truth". There is something really beautiful there. I'm not sure if I am getting it across to you, but I needed to put it down somewhere so that I could at least look at it and remember it later.

Do I think that a favor given to a dead person has an affect on their soul? No, and that's not the point I am trying to make. The point of calling it mercy is that it is just that. This woman deserved nothing more than to be forgotten. Now, there is room to remember her not only as a murderer, but also as a victim in a place where it is impossible to grant justice.

Regarding the craft of acting, the behind the scenes look at an amazing actress dress herself in her character is something so mysterious and wonderful it makes me want to go back and watch it again and again.

Finally, one of Aileen's wishes was to have Natalie Merchant's song "Carnival" playing at her funeral. The song was later added to the credits of a documentary about Aileen's life. When asked about this peculiar connection, Merchant said:

"When director Nick Broomfield sent a working edit of the film, I was so disturbed by the subject matter that I couldn't even watch it. Aileen Wuornos led a tortured, torturing life that is beyond my worst nightmares. It wasn't until I was told that Aileen spent many hours listening to my album Tigerlily while on death row and requested "Carnival" be played at her funeral that I gave permission for the use of the song. It's very odd to think of the places my music can go once it leaves my hands. If it gave her some solace, I have to be grateful."

To hear the song click here

I remember when that song came out. I liked it too.

What to make of it all? An unwarranted favor for a dead woman? An Academy Award? I don't know. I cannot get away from the attraction of mercy and grace. The bigger the better. How does it tie in with justice? How can you be merciful and just to someone at the same time? When someone is completely guilty of the most incredible crime, I find it quite breathtaking to see a Hollywood actress come out and defend that woman's legacy, to carry the burden to it's completion. Once again, to tell the "greater truth".


Lois said...

VERY moving, Brett! I haven't seen the movie but I've heard about the story. You ask a lot of very good questions ... xo Mom

Brett Gee 英 明 said...

It wasn't stated very clearly in my post, but I would suggest not watching this movie. It's pretty repulsive in a lot of ways.

But, the background story is interesting. That was my intent.

Child of Venus said...

Thank you for this post. Your perspective resonates with me very deeply. I felt compassion for Aileen whilst watching the movie. I am reminded of someone saying 'The driving life force in life is fear'...
I'm at the point in my life where I feelt conflicted about the justice system. Somehow when I look at people like Aileen, I see their innner child and weep for where it all went wrong in their life - their childhood.

Brett G 英 明 said...

COV: Thanks for your comment. I am glad that you were able to relate to the content of what I was trying to say.

I agree with the idea of seeing people, horrible people, at the point of their innocence. It makes you look at the big picture with a different lens. It's an approach that encourages people to me merciful to their fellow man and I am all for that.