Monthly Archives: April 2004

Monster

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I saw Monster two weeks ago and I’m still reeling from it. It bothers me on some level that I can’t easily sponge off.

First off, I’m not saying it’s a bad movie or I’m sorry I saw it or they should have done something different. It’s a great movie. Charlize Theron did an amazing job and deserves every accolade she gets for it. That said, Monster really hits me where it hurts. I realize it’s a true story, but the film leaves me with a feeling that it’s not the world we can blame for the murders of those men, but the love of a not-so-good woman.

The film opens with Lee preparing to kill herself under the bridge by the highway. She’s got nothing, nowhere to go; the world has completely screwed her over. Her father was a bastard, her siblings tossed her out after she gave up her life to save them, men are jerks and no one gave a shit about what happened to her. But she would have just killed herself had it not been for the introduction of a hapless young lesbian.

The film implies that no man has ever shown any potential in Lee’s eyes. That Selby is the first person to…what, call her beautiful? Talk with her as if she’s a human being? Selby is kind to her at first. Is this the first kindness in Lee’s life? Here we have a critical moment in Lee’s life where she goes from wanting to die to wanting to give everything’s she’s got to Selby. Why? What makes an ostensibly straight highway blow job girl hand it all over to a lesbian? In the film, Selby is a kind of aid worker, the first person to take an interest in Lee’s life and give her some sense of hope and worth.

So now Lee is hooking with a purpose; she’s going to get money and spend time with Selby. She has something to look forward to. And then some asshole knocks her out, ties her up and rapes her.

She could have just died right then. The day before she wanted to die; now she wants to live so desperately that she finds the strength to beat off her attacker and shoot him until he dies. So we love Selby in this moment, because it’s her who gives Lee the desire to fight back. The love of a bad woman has some advantages.

And Selby really is a bad woman. (Note the emphasis.) She doesn’t want to work, she wants someone to take care of her. She doesn’t want to face her father, so she expects Lee to give her an option other than going home. So she accepts that Lee is a hooker and then expects Lee to keep at it in order to keep Selby in beer and acid-wash jeans.

What was more disturbing about the qualities of a typical witch in the 16th century witchcraze was their close approximation to the ideal woman; a woman nurtures and feeds babies, a witch nurtures and feeds demon-babies. Worship is good; worship of the wrong entity is evil. The same “natural” feelings directed at the wrong object means trouble, and that’s the feeling I get from Monster as well.

Selby is a traditional woman. She wants to be taken care of by someone with an established “career”, so to speak. The excuse in the film for her not working is her cast, but she seems otherwise completely helpless. She wants to be seen as helpless because it keeps her from having to do anything. She’s the wife who sits at home eating bons bons while her husband is off slaving away in a cubicle. Didn’t we strike down this stereotype at some point? Angel in the house? The double-edged sword of glorified womanhood? In real life, “Selby” worked as a motel maid to help support herself and Lee. In the film, her manipulation is demonstrated by letting the character fall into the position of ultimately traditional womanhood; the husband is the breadwinner, and Lee is Selby’s husband.

If the two things a woman is typically able to pull off is saint or whore, Lee is trying the forbidden tack of looking outside her gender options altogether. That, of course, is the point when everything goes to hell. Lee is acting as man, doing whatever he has to to support his woman. Since being a woman (ie, sexual object for men) for years didn’t turn out so well, why not try something different? This isn’t about breaking the molds, it’s about trying on someone else’s. Of course, Lee’s attempts at being a man are monstrous and horrific. She lives outside the law, megalomaniacal and drunk on power. If a Selby is powerless in such a false way, Lee the man has the power to dole out life and death, also falsely. Selby is manipulative and unfair as the supported wife; she may provide for Lee’s basic needs, but she has no sense of decency or justice. There is nothing right about these lovers; they are inverted, their desires are going the wrong way and result in crimes punishable by death.

When the credits of this film started to roll and I was wiping the tears off my face, Em turns to me and says, “Don’t worry. I won’t let you turn into a serial killer.” That made me laugh, but also got to the heart of what disturbed me most about this film; it feels like a condemnation of something more than a cruel world or a bad lover. Somewhere in there it felt like someone was (probably unintentionally) pointing at finger at love between women. Unnatural combinations and their horrific results. Only the tremendous power of lesbian love could push a woman to these lengths, it vaguely implies. This is an old idea and I feel like it got replayed in Monster.

Good film though. No, seriously.