Film Reviews


By • Jan 9th, 2004 •

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Newmarket Films / Media 8 Entertainment/DEJ Prods. presents a K/W Prods. and Denver & Delilah Films production in association with VIP Medienfonds 2/MDP Filmproduktion
Running time — 108 minutes / MPAA rating: R

In Alexandra David-Neel’s classic “Magic and Mystery in Tibet,” she describes the ritual of chod:

“It includes long mystic preliminaries during which the celebrant naljorpa “tramples down” all passions and crucifies his selfishness. However, the essential part of the rite consists in a banquet which may be briefly described as follows. The celebrant blows his bone trumpet, calling the hungry demons to the feast he intends to lay before them. He imagines that a feminine deity, which esoterically personifies his own will, springs from the top of his head and stands before him, sword in hand. With one stroke she cuts off the head of the naljorpa. Then, while troops of ghouls crowd around for the feast, the goddess severs his limbs, skins him and rips open his belly. The bowels fall out, the blood flows like a river, and the hideous guests bite here and there, masticate noisily, while the celebrant excites and urges them with the liturgic words of unreserved surrender.”

Theron, performing “cinematic chod,” exposes herself and allows us to feast on her. She is a revelation. There has not been a performance by an actor or actress in the past twenty years that invites the audience to experience such a raw and riveting portrayal. Theron, and writer/directorPatty Jenkins, have not compromised. This is a brutal movie.

Triumphantly, Charlize Theron crucifies her image as a beautiful “model turned starlet” and completely plunders all personal vanity. As notorious serial killer Aileen Wuornos, Theron transforms herself physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Not only does she understand Wuornos, Theron forces us to understand and sympathize with her as well.

What is so staggering about Theron is her absolute submergence into the role. This is not a delicate performance. Aileen Wuornos was not a young, confused flower child dabbling in roadside prostitution. She was an overweight, roughed-up, homeless whore. Her currency was a blow-job. In Theron’s acceptance of the role you can see that she divested herself of objectivity: She is Wuornos in look, attitude, and pain. It is a deeply textured, layered performance. Theron does not play to our sympathy for a woman brutalized by men; yet her complete honesty in the role compels us to feel pity for Wuornos.

In 1989 Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron) walked into a Florida gay bar and met young Selby Wall (Christina Ricci). Selby, staying with put-upon relatives, brings Aileen to her room for the night. Aileen continues to prostitute herself to provide money for them. One of her last “johns” on the evening she is to spend alone with Selby is a man who viciously beats her unconscious. When she wakes up bloodied and defiled, she kills him in self-defense. It is a harrowing scene.

The men Aileen deals with are horrible. They are cruel and belittling savages preying on women who, for whatever reason, must sexually subjugate themselves for ten dollars. It’s hard to feel sorry for Aileen’s first victim.

Taking the man’s money and car, Aileen can temporarily provide for Selby, but Selby needs constant entertainment, excitement, and money. She’s manipulative and demanding. She likes the idea that Aileen must prostitute herself so she can be fed. Freaked out by killing, Aileen decides she will get a career. She wants to change for Selby. She has unrealistic optimism, but without any work experience she is once again humiliated by employers. These scenes are brilliant.

Aileen goes back to prostitution and starts killing men for their money. She collects newspaper stories on the killings and finally confesses to Selby.

There is not a false note in Theron. Every nuanced (and unattractive) mannerism expresses the character. When Aileen looks at Selby, she is not only sexually aroused, she is thrilled to have her. Ricci is alternatively passive and petulant. The film is a love story and Theron and Ricci recognize that this is the galvanizing core of the film.

Charlize Theron will never have to do another MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, SWEET NOVEMBER or WAKING UP IN RENO. She has become an actress other actresses are going to have to stay clear of.

Writer-director: Patty Jenkins
Producers: Charlize Theron, Mark Damon, Clark Peterson, Donald Kushner, Brad Wyman
Executive producers: Sammy Lee, Meagan Riley-Grant, Stewart Hall, Andreas Grosch, Andreas Schmid
Director of photography: Steven Bernstein
Production designer: Edward T. McAvoy
Music: BT
Costume designer: Rhona Meyers
Editors: Jane Kurson, Arthur Coburn

Aileen Wuornos: Charlize Theron
Selby Wall: Christina Ricci
Thomas: Bruce Dern
Horton: Scott Wilson
Donna Tentler: Annie Corley
Gene: Pruitt Taylor Vince

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