Those of you who are wondering just how close Charlize Theron got in Monster may want to check out Aileen: The Life and Death of a Serial Killer, Nick Broomfield's documentary about the Florida prostitute who was executed in 2002 for murdering seven of her johns. My opinion? Theron got damn close. But there's something about the real-life Aileen Wuornos -- a wild-animal ferocity born of fighting for scraps your entire life -- that no actress could hope to match, not even Theron. This is actually Broomfield's second documentary about Wuornos. In 1992, he came out with Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, which examined the media frenzy surrounding Wuornos' trials. The cops, Wuornos' lawyer, even the fundamentalist Christian woman who formally adopted the defendant -- everybody wanted a cut of the pie, and Broomfield caught a lot of it on tape. Now, it's 10 years later, and Wuornos is about to wear out her welcome on Death Row.
She doesn't look much worse for wear, if only because she showed so much wear and tear the last time, but she certainly sounds worse for wear, ranting and raving about the prison's use of sonic pressure to control her thoughts. Broomfield thinks Wuornos was stark raving mad toward the end, and maybe she was, but by waiving her right to a final appeal, thereby expediting her execution, she may have made a perfectly rational decision. Unfortunately, it entailed changing her story yet again, now insisting that none of the murders were in self-defense. We'll never know why Wuornos did what she did. Nor will we know how big a role her childhood played in her adulthood. But Broomfield takes us back there anyway, and it's a nightmare -- abandoned by her mother, beaten by her grandfather, molested by her uncle, thrown out of the house after giving birth at age 13, surviving in the Michigan woods while trading sex for food and shelter, then off to Florida, where at least the nights would be warmer.
The Don Quixote of sleaze, Broomfield likes tabloid subjects -- prostitution, S&M, murder, suicide -- but there's a certain gallantry in his approach when he thinks a woman has been mistreated by the media, as he did in Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam and does here. He saw Fleiss as more of a fall girl than a fallen woman. Likewise, he sees Wuornos as less sinner than sinned against, a victim who finally started victimizing others. And the movie backs him up, except for the part where his own documentary methods get put on trial. Subpoenaed by the court, Broomfield went to Florida expecting to testify in Wuornos' behalf. Instead, his first documentary was used by the prosecutor to dismiss the claim that Wuornos' trial lawyer was incompetent. I'll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that the scenes shake our confidence in Broomfield while the fact that he includes them at all strengthens it. He may fudge the facts on occasion, but at least the fudge is right out there where we can see it.
Whereas Wuornos fudges the facts often and rarely admits it. She's fascinating in part because she's unknowable, even to herself -- was, anyway. Her final gesture, in the last interview she ever gave, was a middle-finger salute to the world that had never even tried to understand her. Then she was off, she believed, to another world, aboard a spaceship manned by angels.