Netflix Film, Monster is a courtroom drama that builds its premise on a popular Rashomon reference, “Everyone sees things differently.” However, in a courtroom, there is little space for perception or as the film refers it, “No grey space in law.” Therefore, the protagonist accused of killing a store owner has to face repercussions of the verdict. A 17-year old boy has nothing to gain but Everything to Lose.
The film is based on Walter Dean Myers’s novel of the same name and an extremely impactful screenwriter, Radha Blank adapted it for the screen. Coming from a stage background, Radha Blank has a knack for hard-hitting and influential dialogues, the same can be witnessed in the film, Monster.
A seventeen-year-old film student, Steve Harmon (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is put behind bars and is accused of murdering a bodega (store) owner named Aguinaldo Nesbitt. His other two acquaintances, William King (Rakim Mayers) and Richard “Bobo” Evans (John David Washington) are also put on trial.
Steve’s defending lawyer Maureen O’Brien (Jennifer Ehle) defends his case. The core of Steve’s plea is to prove himself innocent by manifesting his non-involvement with two other suspects, William King, and Bobo. However, on the day of the robbery and murder, a white woman saw Steve coming out of the bodega minutes before the crime. Further investigation also reveals Steve’s connection with King and Bobo who lived in the same neighborhood as Steve.
While the state lawyer, Anthony Petrocelli (Paul Ben-Victor), and other jury members see nothing but two black teenagers who intended on robbing the establishment but ends up killing the store owner, Steve Harmon defends his version of truth because it is all he has, to save his future.
Major Spoilers Ahead
‘Monster’ Ending Explained
Bobo’s statement to the court reveals that the two masked men who entered the store included him and his cousin, William King. Steve Harmon was ordered to enter the store and give a signal to King so that he can enter the store and rob it.
While on the witness box, Steve defends himself that on the day of the robbery, he entered the bodega but not because King asked him to do so. He entered to buy a soda drink while he was on his way to his home. Therefore, he denies any connection with King or the robbery. Here Steve applies the Rashomon theory taught to him by his film teacher, Leroy Sawicki. Rashomon underlines that each individual experiences incidents from his own point of view therefore the lady who saw Steve standing outside the bodega could have a perception that Steve was linked with the robbers, but while answering Petrocelli’s cross-questions, he defends himself by saying that he was checking the light standing outside the store when they lady passed him. Steve’s statement has so much truth that everyone gets convinced.
In reality, Steve went into the store after being threatened by King and he signaled him too. But he hid those facts because he might not be guilty of robbery or murder but jury members see him as a black kid from Harlem and if they found his connection with the event, they are surely going to label him guilty. It is their perception to see a black kid always with suspicion, and sadly, it is the perception of many others out there.
The jury finds William King and Bobo guilty of the felony. Steve is declared not guilty. However, in the end, the horrors of prison captivity still haunt Steve’s consciousness. Prison treated him like a monster and he still carries the terror and acquisitions inside his heart. He also remembers the 93 steps he took to the store and became an accomplice in the robbery. He tries to bury that claustrophobic feeling inside him, hoping that one day it will go away.
The Film Connection
Monster is a first-person narrative narrated by Steve Harmon himself. Steve being a film student narrates the events like the script of a film using the technical words used in a screenplay. For his past memories, he often uses the word, “before” symbolizing a flashback.
Through Steve’s teacher Leroy Sawicki (who could also be considered as the writer’s voice) makes a social commentary on “Films.” Leroy has only three scenes in the entire film but his dialogues are so striking that their impact could be observed throughout. During one of his classes in the college film club, Leroy asks his students, “Why do artists make films?”
“It’s because artists have a story that they have to tell. You have no choice. It pains you to keep it inside. You ache with the desire to write it, film it, share it.”
At this particular moment, Steve puts forward his own query that what if the artist doesn’t feel the pain inside him to tell a story. The teacher solves it saying that pain reflects the need to share. If it isn’t there then it means that he hasn’t found his story yet. Symbolically, the whole film acts as a painful journey for Steve and therefore it creates his need to deliver the story. It also depicts that through this film, Steve is narrating his own story.
With moments of both past and present, the film never loses its grip. Even when you feel like the narrative has reached a plateau, the striking dialogues uplift the drama. The entire film is well crafted and much of the credit goes to the incredible team of writers, that include Radha Blank, Cole Wiley, and Janece Shaffer.
Performance-wise actors didn’t have much to showcase and everyone has done a decent job. John David Washington did a cameo playing Bobo which also comes out to be satisfactory.
Monster is surely a film you should stream. Film students and Cinephiles might find extra relatability due to the many filmmaking references used in the narrative.
Monster is a 2021 film directed by Anthony Mandler. It is streaming on Netflix.
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