‘Blonde’ Doesn’t Celebrate Marilyn Monroe, It Humiliates Her
Andrew Dominik’s new movie earns its NC-17 rating for the wrong reasons.
Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for Blonde.
Blonde portrays Marilyn Monroe as a lifelong victim. As one of Hollywood’s sex symbols, it’s not difficult to imagine the horrors and trauma that Norma Jeane Mortenson might have faced as an actor finding her way in Hollywood in the 50s and 60s. Exploited and often seen only for her physical beauty and allure, Marilyn was loved and hated by many. In Blonde, the film sees that love as an obsession. Some might call director Andrew Dominik bold for his take on Monroe’s story, but it’s hard to imagine that this movie is made by anyone who sees Marilyn as anything other than a sex object and a perpetual victim.
Norma Jeane Mortenson was many things, but Blonde only sees her as one. A woman without agency, she is there to be abused, abandoned, beaten, exploited, and raped — all right in front of the camera. The camera is absolutely obsessed with her, as degrading as the men in Monroe’s life. If you ever wanted a lesson in what the male gaze looks like, this movie is the prime example. It has a Ph.D. in Male Gaze. And perhaps on some level, this might fit a movie about Monroe; after all, she spent her life under the male gaze essentially being pinned to a stereotype she wanted to grow out of.
A Movie Made for Men Who Hate Women
It never feels like Blonde is sending a message with the excessive way it uses nudity. Ana de Armas is topless for about a third of the movie, most of the scenes she is alone or in her own mind. In these moments, Monroe is a sex object. She is nearly always sexualized in these scenes, even the horrific ones shoot her at an exploitative angle. In her other scenes, Monroe feels more like a rag doll than a human being. She’s tossed around, transported against her will, kicking and screaming, begging for mercy. It feels distinctly like this is a movie made for a man who hates women and wants to see successful, talented women get punished. That is the kind of viewer who will devour this movie.
There Are Moments of Promise
Yes, there is some depth to Blonde. There are moments when we see sparks of brilliance. Chayze Irvin‘s camera work is often dreamlike and the constantly shifting perspectives, aspect ratios, and jumping between black and white and color adds to the chaotic nature of the story. De Armas is a duplicate of Monroe in some scenes, with it nearly being impossible to tell the difference between her and the real Monroe.
While the actor’s accent is still present and sometimes obtrusive to the scenes, it’s clear why she was cast as the blonde bombshell. She embodies Monroe’s tone, her grace, and her timelessness. There are moments in the story where we see Monroe’s talent. Her skill as an actress, her poetic prose, her thoughtful mind. The fact that those moments feel so genuine makes it even more painful that the movie doesn’t linger in them and instead chooses to shock and sensationalize.
‘Blonde’ Fits Better As a Horror Movie
Most of the film can wholly be categorized as a horror movie. Monroe, full of life and the desire to break into the industry, is used and abused immediately. It’s made worse by how absolutely graphic the movie is, with scene after scene of stomach-churning imagery. It hacks and slashes, and it’s difficult to imagine anyone would leave this movie not feeling a bit discomforted. Monroe is perpetually surrounded by men; the only women in her life abandon her or make fun of her. She has absolutely no confidantes, no female friends, and barely speaks for long stretches of the movie. Nothing is subtle about Blonde; scenes are plainly laid out, with a script that is tell and not show. The script is really the foundation made to hold up the house so that it can be filled with endless shots of Ana de Armas from a thousand angles.
If Blonde was billed as a horror movie, this would be some kind of success — a crass one, but still. However, it is marketed as a historical film, and it’s not really emphasized to its audience that it’s based on a fictional story about Monroe by Joyce Carol Oates. This fictional Marilyn is gullible, dehumanized, and foolish. She never learns from previous experiences. And we’re never told why she doesn’t. She’s crying for the entire movie, and you want to cry with her for the way they’re butchering Monroe’s legacy. The bloated runtime often drags on and on, with Dominik lingering far too long on dreamy sequences that look pretty but have no substance to them. He shoots the scene of Monroe in The Seven-Year Itch about 20 times in a row from every angle you can imagine. You can almost feel him grasping for that golden statue award in these moments of perceived stylishness.
‘Blonde’ Isn’t Made for Accuracy, It’s Made to Shock
Considering that Marilyn Monroe is one of the most celebrated and beloved actresses of her time, there is never a single moment in this movie (that follows her through the height of her career) when she feels triumphant. Victory after victory is taken away by the abusive men around her. She’s manipulated and lied to by everyone. None of the people in her life — except for maybe her makeup artist Whitey, aka Allan Snyder (Toby Huss) — is there to comfort her or help her or love her. They all have ulterior motives.
The movie spends so much time banging us over the head with her abuse that you might be too dazed afterward to realize there really is no actual plot. There’s no real rising action or conclusion. We’re here to watch Marilyn get used. Men want to possess her or fix her or hurt her, women want to hate her and shame her. While we do essentially travel through her life, it never feels cohesive as a film. Performances from Adrien Brody and Bobby Cannavale are decent, though they’re really playing caricatures, so it’s hard to find any depth in their Arthur Miller and Joe DiMaggio, respectively.
Ultimately, the movie is made for a very specific audience: a male audience. Its messages are as shallow as a kiddie pool, and we grasp them within the first 20 minutes of this 166-minute movie. Considering how well-known Marilyn Monroe is, this movie offers very little in terms of a conversation about her. As a woman watching this and as a lover of Marilyn Monroe, this felt like torture. There’s no reason to shoot multiple rape scenes in graphic and explicit ways. The scenes are completely unnecessary, made to degrade the subject. While Monroe’s life was far from glamorous, and she did experience a lot of trauma in her life, Blonde turns it into a spectacle for you to watch while munching on popcorn.
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