On the day the state of Florida executed high-way-prostitute-turned-murderer Aileen Wuornos in October 2002, a crescent of death-watch reporters and photographers formed around Nick Broomfield, eager for a soundbite from the lucky duck who’d snagged the final interview with America’s first known female serial killer. A sleaze hunter willingly captured by the game, Broomfield casts himself as the auxiliary subject of his procedurals, and his documentaries always double as transparent chronicles of their own making. His investigatory technique remains a frustrating pileup of unfocused Q&As and misplaced credulity. But when Broomfield travels to her Michigan hometown, he pieces together a life blighted at breech-birth: a grotesque of abandonment, incest, physical and sexual abuse, pregnancy at 13, and homelessness. The biography discloses a hopelessly stunted, feral creature; Wuornos’s mad desire for oblivion smacks of a horrible logic.
Broomfield underlines two mitigating factors in the condemned’s guilt: the remote possibility that the first killing was in self-defense, and her evident insanity; one day after state-appointed experts reaffirm Wuornos’s mental competence, she says that the authorities “have been using sonic pressure” on her head since 1997. (Her disordered mental state would also seem to nullify the “confession” that the tricky Broomfield extracts when he tells her the camera isn’t running.) Wuornos spills streams of damaged consciousness and contradictory half-inventions, while her puffy, ravaged face freezes into nervous cheer or contorts in molten rage. At the start of the execution-eve interview, Broomfield stammers and hesitates as if he hasn’t prepared a word of questioning, and Wuornos’s death mask softens into fondness for a moment, revealing a human being inside there somewhere, mummified in scar tissue.
Laura Sinagra’s review of Monster
“Blown Away by Aileen: Broomfield Takes a Second Shot at Figuring Out a Serial Killer” by Laura Sinagra
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 30, 2003