It's hard to watch a documentary about someone as complex as Aileen Wuornos, the subject of last year's indie hit "Monster", without thinking about the marketing aspect of it all. Wuornos was labeled as the "first" female serial killer in U.S. history, had a truly hard-luck story, and a very real mental illness. She was also a prostitute, a victim of rape, and, at least in her mind, a vigilante of sorts. This all makes for very alluring stuff indeed. The stuff of Dateline NBC interviews, countless specials, and, of course, the documentary film.
Nick Broomfield first visited Wuornos in his 1992 film, "Aileen Wuornos-The Selling of a Serial Killer". Ironically, Broomfield created a marketable film that exposed the media and law enforcement agencies' marketing of Wuornos. That particular film focused more on the actual case than on the woman herself, so when he revisited Wuornos in 2002, the filmmaker opted for a more personal look into the life (and death) of the woman.
Broomfield takes us on a journey through Wuornos' past, from her hostile upbringing in Michigan (where she actually lived in the woods for a period), to the ill-fated journey to Florida, where she began her life as a prostitute. Wuornos talks candidly about her crimes, her love life, her dreams, and life on death row. Broomfield underscores these moments with photo montages that show the simpler, happier moments in Wuornos' life; a harsh contrast to the woman clad in an orange death row jumpsuit awaiting execution. However, by the film's end, Wuornos seems almost eager to get it all over with, and her final words are chilling.
For anyone who has seen "Kurt and Courtney" or "Biggie and Tupac", you are already familiar with Broomfield's "documentary" style. He's not exactly Switzerland when it comes to taking sides, and seems to follow lean toward whatever party will bring him the most sympathetic reaction from viewers. In the case of "Kurt and Courtney", Broomfield all but convicted Courtney Love of her late husband's death. Here, Broomfield is squarely on the side of Wuornos, and points at the media and legal circus, as well as the woman's mental issues, as reasons why she shouldn't be sitting where she was when he interviewed her. This is the stuff of melodrama, and, sadly, it's become a regular part of the documentary film.
Still, Aileen is a fascinating film, if only for the moments we spend with Wuornos herself. No amount of emotional manipulation, stirring music, or clever editing can take away from the sheer intensity and horror of seeing this person recount her crimes. It's truly chilling stuff, and well worth a look.