The Strain of Sacrifice
Romanian director Marius Olteanu’s “Monsters” is a strong, if not definitive statement, on the troubling human tendencies which wound and mar us. Who are the monsters? Can it be that all of us are monsters when we look at how we all deal with environment, religion, etiquette and tradition; those characteristics that define a culture. The resiliency we gain via our individuality and not the blind devotion to institution is what provides for fulfillment rather than survival.
“Monsters” is a tragic saga that explores the social taboos surrounding sexual identity and female emancipation in modern-day Romania. This is a relationship drama told across three chapters that explores the relationship between modern cultures and sexual identity but pushes the envelope further by examining the psychological impact of living in a society where women are still primarily regarded as mothers and wives. The focus is on the lives of a husband and wife struggling to self-actualize. The first two chapters occur on the same night. The first opens on Dana (Judith State) as she washes away her tears in a train station bathroom before jumping into a cab and spending the night travelling around Bucharest. The second follows Arthur (Cristian Popa) who, after an intense gym sessions, visits the apartment of a man he met on Grindr to have awkward, casual sex.
Olteanu doesn’t give information about the couple’s past and instead has the audience explore their body language and carefully calibrated confessions to understand their conflict. The first two chapters are perfectly suited to their respective nights of introspection. But it also alludes to the violence and pain often required to achieve any semblance of fulfilment.
In the film’s final chapter, the pair wake up next to each other in their marital bed but the emotional fireworks they risk setting off never ignite. Instead they depart the house together to attend a friend’s daughter’s baptism, before having dinner with Arthur’s conservative grandmother who yells at Dana for failing to give Arthur a child. Do the Monsters of the film’s title relate to the pair’s inner demons, or how women like this will view them if they choose to be true to themselves?
This is not a conventional romance where love blossoms; we simply observe two people attempt to dismantle their supportive relationship in order to achieve some degree of contentment. But it’s not a simple as it sounds. Towards the end of the film Arthur asks Dana “Why did you stay with me?”. It’s a question she can only answer by asking him the same thing back, with the silence that follows suggesting that perhaps a loving relationship isn’t always the most nurturing space for an honest and liberating exploration of identity.
The movie succeeds in engaging the audience with a discussion on the futility of love, but also on social pressure, compromise and the overwhelming noise that surrounds us in the modern world.