Brian Lynch, M.D.
2879 North Milwaukee
Chicago, IL 60618
Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper
“At The Movies”
The Chicago Sun-Times
Dear Roger and Richard,
As I welcome you every so often into my home via your program I thought I might offer some return “conversation.”
Due much, to your urging I saw “Monster.” I so much agree that this is a defining performance.
I write mainly to make several points about your comments concerning the real life horror of Aileen’s life.
I more than anything want to thank you for using the precious time on your show to say something about the death penalty. I think I saw two shows where you reviewed “Monster” and in the second show you both took more time to state your views.
I want to thank you particularly, Roger, for speaking at length about how Aileen was obviously very disturbed, especially at the end, and that there is something very wrong with executing such a person. That said I have noted, and have appreciated more, that neither of you are shy about giving your opinions and, as good Chicagoans, are not necessarily impressed or concerned with the “entertainment” business.
The issue however is, of course, complicated. I write, also, then to simply say something about the comment by many, including yourselves, that the movie does not “excuse” her actions.
Much of my life deals with counseling people in their troubled times. Much of that time has been spent with prostitutes, addicts and some murderers. Much of my life, too, is spent dealing with my own struggle in trying to figure things out and how to give the best counsel.
Theory and practice has brought me to the conclusion that in the common sense, sense of “choice” we have no real choice if we are emotionally damaged. I have come to say we only have real choice if we are emotionally in shape to make positive choices, where the environment is about maximizing human connection. These environments start in each home, or not. They start when parents encourage their child’s interest instead of dictating to them, theirs.
The movie rightly shows us that she never had a chance. That she had no such up bringing. That she knew what she knew. She knew a world of pain. To say there are no “excuses” is, unfortunately, a moot and useless term. It really says nothing about nothing. What does it in fact mean? If we all would simply ask ourselves what we mean by the world “excuse” it would be a better world.
What it seems to mean, and be assured I am not criticizing either of you but rather I hope to be stating an opinion that I hope you will find of some interest. Thenton, in fact, said in an interview much the same things you said and too qualified it by saying it did not “excuse” Aileen’s actions. My bet is that all of you think in your hearts that that is precisely what the movie did if we are to use the word “excuse”, it does “excuse” her actions. This is the power of the movie; it gives an evenhanded portrayal. There are no villains, except maybe her first victim, but even here we are given a chance to have sympathy for him. We see this from the dialogue “I love em’ [women] and I hate em’, you know what I mean?” (rough quote). We are asked, I believe, to juxtapose this sentiment against her often times ambivalence, and rage, against the various men that follow. It is simply a very thoughtful movie. We must ask where his hate and ambivalence come from?
Why do we then feel the need to deny the experience, the truth, we see on the screen and in the story? To say there is no “excuse” is to, de facto, blame the person for the action immediately after we see all the detail of what lead up to it. To say it, logically, actually negates the entire movie or simply makes it into a “story” of someone that “could have done differently if she would have chosen differently” but there is nothing in the movie that gives a clue as to how she would have done that, how she would have had the skill to do it.
True many will say well “I had a hard life and didn’t kill anyone,” and in fact, even this argument is covered in the conversation of the relative of Aileen’s lover in the café. They make this point by having this middle class, middle aged housewife, again, say that “we all have had a rough time” and then she goes on to say something like “just because your father hit you a few times,” The remarkable comment, that is probably not noticed much, is the comment that follows where she warns the girl that the way she is going is not good and that the truth is you have to “straighten up and maybe even live with someone you don’t like to have a roof over your head.” (Paraphrase.) So what? I guess, be a whore or be a whore! This is not a “misogynistic” statement, but one that is still very much a reality for many women, and will be for some time to come. It is the hope that we are on a journey to a better place.
We say there is no excuse as we feel shame that we live in a culture that permits such environments to exist and we don’t know how to fix that environment. We feel helpless. It is so mind boggling that the most common and easiest way to solve the problem and get rid of it, get rid of our confusion is to blame the person.
I do not expect you to have the answers, nor do I expect myself to have them but I for one do not feel it solves anything to blame Aileen. To say why again, I repeat we do not have a choice if we are emotionally overwhelmed, if we are constantly confused by the messages the world gives us. This is the power of the last scene with the voice over. She was told, “every cloud has a silver lining,” “everything happens for a reason.” She wanted to believe but it simply did not happen for her and she broke, or lets say she was broken from the time she was raped as a child and now she shattered.
Of course the law itself is very confused about these issues. The law itself has always recognized, at times, the power of emotion with such concepts of “crimes of passions.” Were these not crimes of passion? We seem, indeed to distribute “crimes of passion” on the basis of class, just like we mandate severe penalties for crack cocaine and much less severe punishment for powder cocaine. Why, because the “upper” classes use the powder and use it “recreationally” whereas the “crack head” is somehow “evil.”
One place the law is confused is when it teaches us that crimes are more heinous when they are “premeditated.” I often use this as an example. I want to contradict this view. I say the premeditated crime is, in a sense, the more “passionate,” as I believe we are always motivated by emotion, positive or negative. Premeditated murder, if nothing else, is not evidence of “evil” but of intense enduring fear, anger, disgust or shame or all the above. The operative word is enduring.
So do we do nothing? Of course not! Such people have to be restrained but they should not be punished. I believe that in all cases punishment, on average, in the long run does society more harm than good.
OK, you both are very busy (and I do not see how you see so many movies and write so much) and I do not expect you to read a treatise.
I end by saying again thank you for the fact that you promoted this film, the world is better for it, and thank you for your extended comments especially given the short time you have on the show to say anything. You could have said that it was “a great movie but it does not excuse her actions” and have been done with it, but you did not.
Thank you and sincerely,
Brian Lynch COPYWRITE 2004