Monster is a film based
on the true crime story of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, a Florida-based
prostitute who, during 1989 and 1990, claimed the lives of seven men.
The film's opening caption states that it is based on a true story, but
how closely does Monster stick to the real story of Aileen Wuornos?
The following article is not a critical assessment of Monster as a film:
it is an examination of the relationship between the film and the real
life story on which it is based.
Aileen's partner is Selby
Wall, a young woman from Ohio who, after a row with her parents regarding
her lesbianism, is staying in Florida with friends of her family.
A broken arm and the resulting inability to find work mean that Selby is
facing a return to her parents. When Aileen invites Selby to get
together with her, Selby sees this as an escape.
During the period of her
life depicted in Monster, Aileen Wuornos's partner was Tyria Moore.
Moore was from Ohio and moved to Florida, independently, two years before
meeting Wuornos. Tyria Moore was understood to have good relationships
with her father, stepmother and many siblings
Legal issues must have
prevented the makers of Monster from using Tyria Moore's name but, due
to other differences, Selby must be regarded as a fictional substitute
for Tyria, as opposed to a “name changed for legal reasons” representation
of her. Also, Charlize Theron's Aileen, with her rough complexion
and stringy hair, is a near double of the real Aileen Wuornos. With
this in mind, it seems odd that the film's other main character, Christina
Ricci's Selby, looks nothing like her real life counterpart (Tyria Moore
was a plump woman with missing teeth). This is probably due to commercial
considerations: by giving the film one good looking main character, the
makers of Monster were able to boost the film's box office potential.
Aileen and Selby meet
just two days before Aileen kills for the first time. Although the
ages of the characters are not specified, their appearances suggest that
Aileen is in her mid thirties whilst Selby is in her late teens.
Aileen Wuornos and Tyria
Moore first met in July 1986. Wuornos's first murder took place more
than three years later, in November 1989, when she would have been aged
33 years to Moore's 27.
The timeline of the real
life relationship has been compressed considerably in order to fit the
screenplay. The film also increases the age gap between the two characters,
portraying Selby as a teenage girl led astray by a much older woman.
When Wuornos and Moore first met they would have been aged 30 and 23 respectively.
Aileen's first killing
is presented as an act of self-defence. A john beats, binds and rapes
Aileen before threatening to kill her. Aileen manages to untie herself,
grab her gun and shoot her attacker.
In her confession, Aileen
Wuornos claimed to have killed all seven of her victims in self-defence.
When she stood trial for the murder of her first victim, Richard Mallory,
Wuornos claimed that she had shot him after he had tied her to the steering
wheel of his car, raped her and announced his intention to kill her.
Wuornos's story did not stand up to cross-examination and the jury returned
a guilty verdict. Several months after the trial, it was discovered
that Mallory had a conviction for a sex offence (housebreaking with intent
to commit rape and assault, for which he had served five years in a psychiatric
institution): information that appeared to support Wuornos's self defence
claim. However, in an appeal against the verdict, it was noted that
if Wuornos's defence had used Mallory's conviction as evidence, it would
have been considered too old to be relevant: Mallory had committed his
crime more than thirty years before he encountered Wuornos.
There are four killings
in Monster, the second, third and fourth of which are so loosely based
upon the real life victims and events that they can be regarded as fictional.
By contrast, the first killing is clearly based on that of real life victim
Richard Mallory, or, to be more precise, it is based on the version of
events that Aileen Wuornos gave when tried for his murder.
Aileen tries to obtain
a regular job but, due to her level of education and lack of an employment
history, gets nowhere.
Aileen Wuornos, who was
diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, found it extremely difficult
to maintain her composure for any great length of time and was therefore
ill suited to most forms of conventional employment. Wuornos was
understood to have had a few spells in regular jobs, but all were short-lived.
Monster illustrates Aileen
Wuornos's difficulty in obtaining a job but it appears that her real problem
was that of keeping one.
ability to ride a bicycle
Aileen travels between
job interviews on a bicycle and, for comic effect, has difficulty in riding
One of the published
childhood photographs of Aileen Wuornos shows her, in her teenage years,
astride a bicycle. After settling in Florida, in her twenties, Wuornos's
mode of transport was said to be a bike. When, in her thirties, driving
murder victim Richard Mallory's car to a remote spot in order to dump it,
Wuornos took her bike along to enable her to ride home. It can be
safely assumed that Aileen Wuornos was a competent cyclist.
Monster sets out to highlight
the vulnerable side of a notorious figure. This is achieved, in part,
by making her the butt of some jokes. When Aileen admires herself
in the mirror, voices her over-ambitious career plans or mispronounces
Chablis, the makers of Monster are presenting her as a buffoon. The
slapstick cycling belongs in the same category, but would appear to be
at odds with the reality.
In her final attempt at
securing a regular job, Aileen visits an employment agency. She admits
to being a prostitute, which leads the agency representative to assume
that she has been convicted of a felony.
Aileen Wuornos had a lengthy
criminal record which, surprisingly, did not feature any prostitution-related
offences. Prior to her murder trials, her most serious conviction
was for armed robbery, for which she had served eighteen months in jail.
Wuornos's other convictions included common assault, grand theft auto and
various firearms offences.
Monster suggests that
Aileen Wuornos's pre-murder criminal record consisted of nothing more than
prostitution-related convictions. In reality, Wuornos's record documented
a long-established familiarity with theft and firearms.
tells her partner about the first killing
In an emotionally charged
scene, Aileen tells Selby that she killed her last john.
In her courtroom testimony,
Tyria Moore described the way in which Aileen Wuornos had told her about
the killing of Richard Mallory: whilst watching television, Wuornos had
calmly stated that she had shot and killed a man that day.
Sometimes, truth is stranger
Aileen's first and second
killings are separated in time by what appears to be no more than two weeks.
Aileen Wuornos's seven
murders spanned twelve months, with a five month gap between the first
and the second.
Monster suggests that
Aileen's second killing came about as a direct result of the trauma induced
in her by the events that led to the first. This is achieved, in
part, by distorting the real life timeline. In reality, the greatest
time gap between Aileen Wuornos's murders was that between the first and
the stuttering john
Aileen is all set to
kill a john but, at the last moment, decides against it.
A few days after making
her confession, Aileen Wuornos said the following in the presence of a
“I had lots of guys, maybe
ten to twelve a day. I could have killed all of them but I didn't
want to. I'm really just a nice person. I'm describing a normal day
to you here, but a killing day would be just the same almost.”
“On a killing day those
guys always wanted to go way, way back in the woods, but I wasn't scared
you know, 'cause they were always so nice. I trusted them.
I mean, we went so far back in the woods that there weren't even any roads.
Now I know why they did it, they were gonna hurt me.”
Also, Wuornos stole from
all of her victims and it is understood that most, if not all, of them
were carrying several hundred dollars in cash.
As regards the motivation
behind Aileen Wournos's murders and the criteria that she used in the selection
of her victims, this (entirely fictional) scene may get closer to the truth
than any of the actual murders depicted in Monster. The reason for
Aileen's de-selection of Gene as a murder victim could be that, upon hearing
him speak, she realises that he does not pose a threat to her, despite
having driven her way, way back in the woods. Alternatively, having
seen the contents of his wallet, Aileen may have decided that Gene doesn't
have enough cash to justify a killing.
Immediately before crashing
a car, Selby asks Aileen why she left home at such an early age.
Aileen claims that she and her siblings were left without a home after
their father killed himself.
Aileen Wuornos never
met her father and was abandoned by her mother. When Aileen referred
to her parents she actually meant her maternal grandparents, who adopted
her. When Aileen was fifteen years old, her adoptive mother/genetic
grandmother died, an event that triggered the disintegration of the family
unit. Aileen was thrown out of the family home, had difficulty in
finding accommodation and was often reduced to sleeping in abandoned cars.
Aileen's adoptive father/genetic grandfather committed suicide, but not
until several years after Aileen's departure.
Aileen Wuornos could
be creative when recalling her past and Monster may be depicting this aspect
of her behaviour. Alternatively, the film may be, pointlessly, fictionalising
Aileen's history. If the intention is to establish that Aileen Wuornos
had a bad start in life, there is no need to deviate from the facts.
Selby leaves Aileen.
Aileen dumps her gun in a lake. Aileen is arrested at The Last Resort
bar. Aileen telephones Selby from prison. Selby tricks Aileen
into confessing. Aileen is tried for murder, with Selby as a prosecution
witness, and is found guilty.
Tyria left Aileen.
Aileen dumped her gun in a lake. Aileen was arrested at The Last
Resort bar. Aileen telephoned Tyria from prison. Tyria tricked
Aileen into confessing. Aileen was tried for murder, with Tyria as
a prosecution witness, and was found guilty.
With the exception of
the part played by Bruce Dern's Tom (a fictional character) in the arrest
scene, the last few minutes of the film stay true to the real life events.
Whilst the last few scenes
of Monster stick closely to the true story on which the film is based,
the rest of the film features a hefty dose of dramatic licence. It
is probably unrealistic to expect Monster to provide a totally accurate
account of Aileen Wuornos's crimes and life: as a drama, the film is primarily
intended to entertain, rather than inform, its audience.
The real story of Aileen
Wuornos is told in the following:
Feature length documentaries
Aileen: Life and Death
of a Serial Killer (directed by Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill, UK/USA,
Aileen Wuornos: The Selling
of a Serial Killer (directed by Nick Broomfield, UK/USA, 1993)
Aileen Wuornos (Biography
Lethal Intent by Sue Russell
Another relevant book
is Nick Broomfield: Documenting Icons by Nick Broomfield and Jason Wood,
which features a chapter devoted to Broomfield's two documentaries on Aileen