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Film / Monster's Ball

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Monster's Ball is a 2001 dramatic film directed by Marc Forster. It stars Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry, and Heath Ledger.

The movie chronicles a Southern correctional officer who, after the suicide of his son, strikes up an unexpected romance with a woman after the death of her husband (a death row inmate) and son.

For her performance in the film, Halle Berry won the Oscar for Best Actress—the first Black actress to win in that category.

This film provides examples of:

  • 13 Is Unlucky: The executed death row inmate's cell number is 13.
  • Abusive Parent:
    • Leticia goes berserk on her son when she finds out he's been hiding snacks from her, mocks him for being obese, and hits him when she proves on the weighing machine that he hasn't lost weight.
    • Hank gets mad at Sonny for puking during the executionee's last walk and gets into a fight with him later. Afterwards, when Sonny asks if he loves him, he answers no. Hank's father Buck also calls Sonny weak when they bury him.
  • Accidental Misnaming: After Sonny's passing and Ryrus and his sons come to offer their condolences, Hank asks which one is Willie and which one is "Harry". Ryrus politely corrects him that one is Willie and the other is Darryl.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Leticia eventually finds out that Hank is the former prison guard who executed her husband, but she doesn't confront him over it and as the credits roll it's left ambiguous whether their relationship will survive this revelation.
  • Anachronism Stew: While the movie is supposedly set in the early '90s, a late '90s / early '00s Cadillac Escalade can be seen passing through the foreground as Leticia enters the pawn shop. Also, a police camera showing Leticia and her son entering the prison to visit her husband one last time has the date pictured as 2001.
  • Artistic License – Geography: Throughout the movie, there are conflicting references to its being set in Louisiana, Mississippi, or Georgia.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Vera, the prostitute that Sonny frequented, asks Hank in one scene: "How's Sonny?"
  • The Atoner: After Sonny's death, Hank retires from being a corrections officer, buys a gas station and apologizes to Ryrus' sons Willie and Darryl for scaring them off with a shotgun. He later helps Leticia get her son Tyrell to a hospital to try to save him from a hit-and-run driver. After they have sex and build a relationship together, he gives his truck to Leticia as a gift and invites her to live with him after she is evicted from her home.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Hank's father Buck never liked being married to his wife/Hank's mother and brags about having a lot more sex from other women then during his marriage when his wife was still alive.
  • Big Eater: Leticia's son Tyrell loved to eat a lot of snacks like candy bars. She also drunkenly yammered to Hank about he ate Popeyes and red gumballs.
  • Big "NO!": Leticia's reaction when her son is pronounced dead in the hospital.
  • Bigot with a Crush: Despite his racist upbringing, Hank begins a relationship with a Black woman named Leticia.
  • Black Gal on White Guy Drama: This is not only a source of conflict, but the main one at that. A white death row guard begins a relationship with a Black woman after he walked her husband to the electric chair, which he keeps hidden from her. She finds out the truth by the end, but it's left open if they'll remain together.
  • Black Jezebel Stereotype: Leticia Musgroves whose main characterization and involvement with the plot relies on sex scenes and her relationship with her white racist boyfriend.
  • Brick Joke: Hank's love of chocolate ice cream. By the end, he and Leticia are eating some ice cream together.
  • Burn Baby Burn: Hank (Billy Bob Thornton) burns his corrections officer uniform after quitting the job.
  • Commonality Connection: Leticia and Hank end up bonding over the both of them having lost their son and struggling with grief.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: Buck Grotowski hates Blacks and makes it clear to both Hank and Leticia that he does not approve of their relationship when the two get together.
  • Death of a Child: Tyrell gets killed by a hit-and-run driver.
  • Death Row: Hank and his son are both death row guards. Hank particularly gets into it with his son when Sonny screws up a condemned man's "last walk" by breaking down puking in the middle of it.
  • Driven to Suicide: Sonny fatally shoots himself through the heart after a confrontation with his father Hank. Hank's mother also committed suicide years ago.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Leticia drowns herself in some alcohol just before sleeping with Hank (who also partakes in the same booze that Leticia was drinking) to cope with the losses of her husband and son.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Buck Grotowski makes his when the first thing he does in the morning is collect newspaper clippings of (black) inmates being killed, arrested or sent to the chair in death row into his scrapbook and then spewing racial slurs at the breakfast table.
  • Fan Disservice: Halle Berry naked during a sex scene? Attractive. Billy Bob Thornton? Not so much.
  • Fanservice:
    • Both times the prostitute Vera strips down for sex with Sonny and Hank.
    • Leticia sleeping naked in a pile of her late husband's clothes.
    • Apart from most of the aforementioned sex scene, there's also Hank performing (off-screen) oral sex on Leticia in his house.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • The racist Buck loves his son Hank.
    • Despite mistreating both their sons, both Hank and Leticia are devastated when both their sons die an untimely death.
  • Formerly Fat: A deleted scene shows Hank talking to Lawrence about how fat he once was as a child.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Leticia and her son walking home when she warns him to stick close by to her or else "he'll get himself killed".
    • Sonny having sex with a prostitute and drinking a lot to calm his nerves. Once he participates in the last man's walk, he breaks down puking because it's too much for him.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Vera is a prostitute Sonny and Hank meets rather often. She appears to be kind and friendly as she never says anything harsh to him and always speaks in a sweet manner.
  • The Grunting Orgasm: In the sex scene between Hank and Leticia.
  • Hate Sink: Hank's father Buck who spouts off racist language and orders his son to scare away two young African-American boys off his property.
  • I Have No Son!:
    • After Hank's father Buck drove Leticia away with his racist remarks, Hank has his father removed from his home and put in a nursing home for what he done.
    • After being humiliated by Sonny breaking down puking during an inmate's last walk, Hank wakes Sonny up from his bed and tries to force him out of his house.
  • Internal Reveal: Hank finds out that Leticia is Lawrence's widow, though he does not tell her that he participated in her husband's execution.
  • Karma Houdini: The hit-and-run driver who struck and killed Leticia's son in the rain never got caught.
  • Love Father, Love Son: Not love, but Hank and his son visit the same prostitute in town. The sex itself in both instances is about as mechanical as you can get.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Hank's visible reaction after Sonny commits suicide. After giving a funeral, Hank retires from being a corrections officer, burns his uniform, and then locks the door to Sonny's room. He then purchases a gas station to use as a distraction in his retirement.
  • No Dead Body Poops: When a condemned criminal is to be electrocuted he is shown with adult diapers.
  • N-Word Privileges: The racist elderly Buck drops a few of these when he dislikes seeing the young black boys Willie and Darryl walk on his property with their friend Sonny. Hank drops one as well when he is restrainted by a black corrections officer stopping him from hitting Sonny.
  • Offstage Villainy: Lawrence must have committed some very serious crimes to be on Death Row, but his character is introduced mere days before his execution, which shifts the focus to how his wife and son will have to deal with his death.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Both Hank and Leticia lose their sons to untimely deaths.
  • Prisoner's Last Meal: Hank brings Lawrence his last meal—fried chicken, mac & cheese, collard greens, a glass of lemonade, and an ice cream sundae—before he is sent to the electric chair. However, the meal goes untouched, and the ice cream melts, while Lawrence spends his last moments drawing a sketch of Hank and smoking a cigarette.
  • Professional Sex Ed: This seems to be why Hank takes his adult son with him to visit a prostitute.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: We're supposed to feel sorry for and root for two people who were abusive to their sons prior to the sons deaths.
  • Race Fetish: Buck's lie to Leticia, implying that Hank is only involved with her because he enjoys sex with Black women. Other than Leticia, and that's mostly Sex for Solace, Hank has apparently had relations with mostly white women (Sonny's mother, Vera the prostitute he sometimes visits, etc.).
  • Racist Grandma: A male version. Hank's father and Sonny's grandfather is a racist elderly man who hates African-Americans and spews out racial slurs left and right.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Variation: Hank and his son Sonny are officers who work on Death Row and the story opens as the latter is about to participate in his first "last walk" of a condemned man. (The title refers to the party that used to be thrown the night before an execution.) However, Sonny loses his nerve and vomits during the walk. Hank is humiliated and furious and confronts him the next morning; the fight ends with Sonny committing suicide. The remainder of the film has Hank struggling with this loss (and notably, his own father chalks Sonny's fate up to weakness).
  • Sex for Solace:
    • Leticia has sex with Hank after the deaths of her husband and son. Hank himself had recently lost his son Sonny.
    • Sonny has this with the prostitute Vera prior to the monster's ball for a death row inmate.
    • Earlier, Hank attempts to have sex with the prostitute Vera after the death of his son Sonny. It doesn't work out.
  • Stress Vomit:
    • In the film's opening, Hank vomits in the toilet for some reason. Later, Sonny vomits during an death row inmate's last walk and he gets chastised by his father for it.
    • After having sex with Laticia, Hank's goes to the toilet to wash his face and he promptly vomits loudly into the toilet when he sees a picture of her late husband Lawrence Musgrove on the bathroom wall. A guilty conscience for him because that was the same death row inmate that he sent to the electric chair.
  • Sweet Tooth: Hank's favorite dessert is chocolate ice cream. And Leticia's son Tyrell loves to snack on candy bars and other various sweets.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: In one scene, Hank can't bring himself to have sex with the prostitute Vera because of his guilt over causing his son Sonny's death.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Hank is heard but not shown vomiting into a toilet twice for unknown reasons.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Sonny vomits during the executionee's last walk.
  • Wham Line: Leticia to Hank: "I want you to make me feel better. I want you to make me feel good."
  • Wham Shot:
    • In-Universe, Hank is shocked to learn that Leticia is the widow of the criminal he had executed on death row as she shows him the drawings he made before his execution.
    • When Leticia finds the drawings of Sonny and Hank made by Lawrence as he awaited execution.