Director: Andrew Dominik
Writer: Andrew Dominik
Starring: Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Xavier Samuel, and Julianne Nicholson
Netflix calls Blonde ‘a bold reimagining’ of Marilyn Monroe’s life, which is one way to describe it. It’s based on the Joyce Carol Oates novel of the same name, which also takes liberties with history. It takes elements of the truth, exaggerates it, adds a chunk of fictional parts, and sensationalises everything on screen. This is easily one of the most divisive films this year.
It’s definitely not an easy watch, with Monroe presented as a victim to everyone in her life. At one point, as she’s being carried to the president’s room to be used by him, she asks is she’s a piece of meat and if this is room service, which is pretty much how she’s presented throughout the film. From her mother until her death, she receives abuse from every angle. Monroe is completely aware of how she’s being treated, but it powerless to stop it.
The film is very bleak. Even during the brief moments of happiness, people are taking advantage of her. Such as in the early days of her marriage with Arthur Miller, here played by Adrien Brody and listed as ‘The Playwright’ in the credits, he’s steals words from her mouth for his play, after promising not to. She’s never able to let her guard down, not even around those she’s supposed to be safe with and has no way to defend herself. Her relationship with Joe DiMaggio, played by Bobby Cannavale and listed as ‘Ex-Athlete’ in the credits, is full of abuse. It’s hard to watch at points, as she moves from disaster to disaster.
She’s presented as a child, throwing tantrums to try and get her voice heard, only to be drugged up to be kept quiet as her life becomes a blur. She also never calls either of her husbands shown in the film by their name, instead calling them daddy and asking if she’s been a good girl, as she endlessly searches for unknown father in others. Fetishising her underneath the idea that she was never able to grow up due to her abusive and mentally ill mother. Monroe is turned into someone with daddy issues looking to be loved.
This is a film that’s completely obsessed on showing the horrors and abuse in Monroe’s life and almost ignoring everything else, presenting her as a victim and not much more that that. Despite the issues with the script, the film is incredibly well made. Ana de Armas is excellent in the role, giving a believable and really strong performance, while also re-creating some of the most iconic moments of Monroe’s life. The direction and visuals is also spectacular. The film moves between aspect ratios, from colour to black and white, seamlessly, and it does feel like a cinematic journey.
Some of the best bits of the film is where is becomes more of a psychological horror than a biopic. Scenes like a ringing phone hidden in a chest of drawers, turning into a baby crying shortly after a miscarriage is harrowing to watch, calling back to her own childhood as she suffers through the loss of her child. The film also gets a little trippy with dream sequences, that are quite effective. It also has to be said that while it’s over two and a half hours long, it doesn’t feel it and the film moves at a steady pace throughout.
Writer and director Andrew Dominik said that Blonde has ‘something in it offend everyone’ earlier this year in an interview, and the film comes as close to fulfilling that promise as possible. It’s shows graphic abuse of all kinds, that is incredibly uncomfortable to watch, from the physical abuse she receives as a child to being used as the president’s plaything, it’s horrific. The film also takes liberties with the truth and takes any agency Monroe had away in her own life, relegating her to a plaything for others. It doesn’t go into details about how she rebelled against the studio system, not wanting to be typecast. setting up her own production company (Marilyn Monroe Productions) and in the process being part of the spark that dismantles the even-by-then archaic system. It doesn’t mention how she took a lot of control over her public image or her social activism. With so much of her life swept away, with a more dehumanising approach taken, you have to question what’s the point in offending everyone and not telling the actual story? In the end, as good as the direction and performances are, the film only serves to further darken and confuse Monroe’s legacy.
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