Sunday, September 25, 2011

Viewing Monster: Questions of Ethics in Literary Non-Fiction

Last night I watched Monster (2003) for the first time.

The film is based on the true story of Aileen Wuornos, a woman who, after years working as a prostitute, kills some of her customers.

Watching it, I knew it was based on fact and wondered how the author's plot and character design might affect the public's perception of the character.
Aileen is portrayed sympathetically, largely as a character who has little way out of her predicament. She is a product of the mistreatment and hardships she has suffered, but she is loving, fun and wants a better life. Monster is similar to Truman Capote's non-fiction novel In Cold Blood in its sympathy for a killer (Perry in In Cold Blood), and also for the many details, dialogue and events the author invented to convey this sympathy and tell the story. I noted that Aileen's final murder was of a man played by Scott Wilson who played the killer Dick in the film version of In Cold Blood.

It was the best movie I've seen in quite a while and naturally, it has me interested in the life of the real Aileen. I'm going to look up information on her, but I think the Aileen in Monster, brilliantly played by an unrecognizable Charlize Theron, will colour the information I will learn in any documentary or book.

A disclaimer at the end of the film explains that the film is based on a true story, but that many aspects are fictional. How many people will see that disclaimer? Will reading it even make readers consider the bias? Documentaries and all other types of journalism can certainly be biased, also, and probably are.

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