Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003)

Nick Broomfield's second documentary about serial killer Aileen Wuornos, focusing on her mental state on death row.
  • 7.1 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Writer:
  • Joan Churchill, Director:
  • Jo Human, Producer:


7 / 10

Suffers a bit from Broomfield's bias but is still chilling and Wuornos is clearly not mentally competent

Almost a decade after he made his original documentary around the trial of Aileen Wuornos, Nick Broomfield is surprised to open his door one morning and be served with a subpoena to attend what would turn out to be Wuornos final appeal. After being heavily criticised for editing his film to give false impressions, Broomfield's involvement is finished when Wuornos gives up on her appeal and volunteers for the death sentence. Broomfield continues his documentary, looking back at the original trial and getting several interviews with Aileen before her death.

I have not seen the film Monster but I may rent it out after seeing this film as it has raised my interest and given me more factual background to the story than I imagine a Hollywood film would give me. I'm not a massive fan of Broomfield and I was amused to see him being slightly hauled over the coals in court over his editing (the implication being that he made it look like Aileen's lawyer had smoked several spliffs before coming to advise her). However, despite opening himself to this criticism, Broomfield starts looking at the case and digs up some interesting fans, but the real value of the film is the interviews with Wuornos herself. While the film has plenty of little legal points about whether or not she was well advised and about how the media seemed to vilify her more than other similar male killers, it is almost impossible to agree with the penalty when you hear Wuornos talking.

Throughout the film her story changes and I was confused as to what the truth was as she seemed to be lying with every other word. We are then given background of abuse and tough living conditions and suggestions that she is the creation of her harsh and unpleasant background. Despite some interviews (particularly with her mother) that cast doubt on her life, the overwhelming impression of her youth is one of suffering, hardship and cruelty. On top of this, Wuornos herself is increasingly erratic and is clearly not in her right mind ? reason enough for locking her away for life rather than killing her. She appears to be suffering from some form of split personality ? one moment talking calmly to Nick, the next swearing non-stop at the courts to let her die. The idea that Bush's competency hearing lasting 15 minutes just makes matters worse.

Broomfield is clearly a liberal and is very against the death penalty (his comment 'it has been proven that the death penalty is no deterrent' is just lazy) and this does give the film a real slant in Aileen's favour. Despite this the film is still chilling ? it is not totally clear what is true and what isn't but there are two things that are very clear. Firstly, there is no doubt that Aileen killed those men and that (in my opinion) self-defence is no defence for all of them. Secondly, Aileen is not in her right mind and should not have been killed but should have been jailed for life. It is chilling that so much is stacked in her favour and that Wuornos is only one of many people involved who want to flick the switch.

Overall, this is not an easy watch and even the Bush brothers would maybe have doubts over her death penalty. Her last interview descends into total paranoia and instability and is horrible to watch ? I was left in no doubt that she deserved jail but in no way did this woman deserve to be killed. It is a well made film despite some bias from Nick and the end result is a chilling film that really made me worry about the systems in some states in the US that seem to treat the death penalty with such ease ? like Nick says in reference to the physiological competency test, 'it makes you wonder what you have to do to fail'. After this film Broomfield was interviewed in The Times and said 'When I moved to the US in the 1970's, I had a real belief that it was the land of the free. For me this film marked the end of that belief' ? it is to the film's credit that many viewers will be shaken in the same way.

10 / 10

So important....

to see films like this. When the media dehumanizes a person for profit, and thanks to Nick Broomfield, we see the other side. A 13 year old girl raped and impregnated by her grandfather, who slept in the freezing Michigan forest when her family kicked her out of their house.

Shame on Diane, Aileen's mother, who sits and states that Aileen loved living as a homeless person. The denial in this abusive family is rampant. I was actually angry and upset by this film.

Actions have consequences. Abuse starts at home, and this entire situation escalated to the point it did because an abused woman finally lost her grip on life, she had no help, no means of support, and the state of Florida was only too pleased to step in and garner media attention during an election year.

Capital punishment does not provide a deterrent (this is a scientific fact) but it does prove man's inhumanity. Thank you Mr. Broomfield for this upsetting documentary. 10/10.

7 / 10

Painfully sad

"Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003)" is a documentary about the life of the notorious Florida serial killer, Aileen Wornous, who inspired the much lauded film "Monster". Not to be confused with "Aileen Wornous: The Selling of a Serial Killer (1992)", also by Nick Broomfield, this film provides background on Wornous who was selling sex for cigarettes as a 9 year old child in Michigan and follows her life from criminal trials to death row up to her execution (which was not shown). The film paints a portrait of a troubled woman who descends into paranoid schizophrenia as the end nears all the while maintaining the unexpectedly undaunted, matter-of-fact demeanor of one very much reconciled to her fate in spite of being trapped in a system with no recompense for abuse in childhood nor insanity in adulthood who well may have been failed by the criminal justice system as well. A worthwhile watch for those interested in the Wornous story, especially as a follow-up to "Monster". (B)

10 / 10

excellent film making.

I really enjoyed this docu - was thought provoking and gut wrenchingly sad. I haven't seen Monster but I did watch Nick's original, so go out and watch that first, then sit back and be shocked, horrified, touched etc.. at this final chapter in the life of someone who did not deserve the life she had.

I hope Jeb Bush watches this, I don't know how he can sleep at night - the karma police are going to catch you up.

What a tragic tale.

7 / 10

Mostly fascinating

Nick Broomfield's second Aileen Wuernos doco (with Joan Churchill) does not walk the same hallways as the first, but it explores how the first, "The Selling of a Serial Killer", impacted the serial killer's mostly miserable life.

Wuernos's claim that the police department left her alone to kill so that they could ultimately sell the story rights to Hollywood is given a lot of play here. Broomfield doesn't take it up any further with the cops themselves (he did some of that in the original doc), but he does include fascinating footage of his own experience as a documentary "witness" to the dope smoking of "Dr. Legal", Aileen's first lawyer.

Aileen's final speech, almost directly to camera, is powerful and raw, much like the rest of this doco.

Some material feels whipped to death, but the revelations about the killer's childhood (at thirteen, after giving birth, she lived in the woods behind her house during a snowy winter) certainly help us to understand her better.

Worth seeing, but I feel that it would work better on the small screen.