Blonde – Long Sexy with Hidden Truths / 2022 / NC-17 • 2h 47m
Blonde is not a biography of Marilyn Monroe, although she is the central character. This is, instead, an unusually forceful exploration of how difficult it is for women to fuse their public and private personas. It is also an indictment of Hollywood and of men generally. (3.5*)
(Note: This is rated NC-17. No one should watch this film who is not willing and able to view female nudity, and fairly explicit sex, including one scene of graphic fellatio.)
Marilyn Monroe (some facts) – Yes, this film is about her (or maybe, more accurately, it embodies an idea of her as the central character). But Blonde – based on the Joyce Carol Oates novel of the same name (which I admit I have not read) – makes some pretty big leaps and assumptions that are, simply, not based on facts.
Here is a list of things that the movie has either ignored or misinterpreted about Norma Jeanne Baker (aka Marilyn Monroe) based on what I’ve been able to turn up in reliable Internet sources:
While she once believed that Clark Gable might have been her father, there is no support for the idea that she obsessed with it.
While her mother was diagnosed as schizophrenic, there is no evidence she ever abused Norma Jeanne. In fact, Norma Jeanne lived in twelve foster homes and an orphanage before marrying her first husband, James Dougherty, at age 16 (divorced four years later!). The movie doesn’t even talk about her first marriage.
Although she did have separate affairs with both Charlie Chaplin’s and Edward G. Robinson’s sons, there is no evidence she was involved in a threesome with them.
She had two miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy that had to be terminated. But there is no evidence she had abortions, much less forced abortions.
There is no evidence she was ever raped – although the casting couch was certainly alive and active in Hollywood’s Golden Era.
There is no evidence that she ever received letters that were from her “father”.
While it is pretty well assumed that she had some kind of relationship with President John F. Kennedy, there is no evidence he treated her the way he did in this movie.
In short, this movie is – above all – fiction. And we need to make sure we understand what that means, especially in light of how damning the movie’s reception has been.
Blonde is about a woman. But it actually isn’t clear which one. The critics, many viewers, and perhaps even the screenplay/director Andrew Dominik and Joyce Carol Oates (who wrote the book on which the movie is based and, apparently, wholeheartedly endorsed the film) think this is about Marilyn Monroe. And, for good reason. Her name is invoked multiple times and the story parallels her life, including the explicit references to the films she starred in, her husband’s, and a pretty accurate simulation of her death. And Ana de Armas, through the magic of movies, looks, talks and acts like Marilyn did. Of course, Blonde is the story of Marilyn Monroe.
But it isn’t! In fact, the damnation of this film is rooted, not in its explicit depiction of sex, but in the disinformation and distortion it portrays about Marilyn’s life. This movie is absolutely not a biopic – a (mostly) accurate depiction of a well-known person’s life. This is pure fiction! Both Oates and Dominik have already admitted that they have both taken great liberties with the facts to present something like an “idea” of Marilyn Monroe’s life – not a true portrayal. Earlier this week I was decidedly angry when I realized this film had badly and, apparently knowingly, disseminated disinformation. It unapologetically creates an incorrect image of a woman’s life that is already badly misunderstood.
I get why the critics and the viewing public dislike this film. In addition to its difficult length, it portrays Marilyn as a smart woman but one who is constantly victimized by nearly everyone in her life – from her nonexistent father to friends who only take advantage of her, to lovers and husbands who simply assume she will be there for them, to a public that seems to only be concerned about her underwear! She is, in this film, a victim that is savaged over and over again and, frankly, that wears you down after about an hour or so.
Unfortunately, as if Marilyn’s victimization isn’t the only issue, there is also the secondary victimization of Ana de Armas! The critics are absolutely correct when they indict Dominik for his abusive exploitation of his beautiful young actress. Harvey Weinstein and the casting couch may now be relics of an ugly past, but hasn’t Dominik done the exact same thing with his leading lady? Sure, some sex acts seem to add artistic meaning. I especially liked how, after one of her orgasms the bed sheets fused into the gushing water of Niagara Falls and one of Marilyn’s scenes. That was a great movie transition. But she also performed an explicit act of fellatio, probably on a very good prosthetic phallus and not on a real person – although I’m not sure about that. Was that act necessary in the film? Or was Dominik simply doing, in a bit more modern way, what the moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Era did? Was Dominik any less abusive of Ana de Armas than so many other directors were of Marilyn?
After my second viewing, however, I came to a slightly different interpretation, maybe a little more forgiving of Dominik’s motivations. I have to believe that Oates and Dominik really had a much larger message here. There is a reason why they distorted Marilyn’s life so greatly, and why Dominik abused de Armas so badly. The essence of this story lies not as a biography of Marilyn Monroe (for which it fails badly), but as was stated, this is about the “idea” of Marilyn Monroe – an intellectual abstraction. And the abstraction isn’t just about the actress of that name, but, ultimately, is about “women” – about half of humankind. As in the movie, men have historically forced women into a position where they have to separate their public and private personas. Men have their own way of integrating those two personalities. But women have, at least historically, been discouraged from letting their private life out in any context. Norma Jean and Marilyn Monroe are really two distinct people and the forces that make it impossible for the two of them to link together are what make the dynamics in this film work. This isn’t a film about Marilyn Monroe. It is a statement about how difficult it is to be a woman in a man’s world.
There are problems with this movie, and the critics are right about conveying bad information about Marilyn and for badly abusing Ana de Armas. Ultimately, this is a story about half the human race and what the other half has done to them.
Part of me wants to give this movie a dismal rating, but the other part wants to encourage people to watch it. There is a message here and it is artfully done. So, I’m settling in at the bottom of my recommended range.