Blonde, directed by Andrew Dominik and streaming now on Netflix, is just the kind of film that makes you feel that it’s time people stop using Marilyn Monroe for their own gain and let the Hollywood legend of yesteryear finally rest in peace. It is a shallow, simplistic, insensitive and exploitative film based on Joyce Carol Oates novel that is a mix of much fiction as well as some well known anecdotes of Monroe’s life. The final film leaves you disturbed, dissatisfied and even angry as the film reduces the tragic life of the iconic star to a series of episodes where as she struggles with the issues in her life, she appears more loony, drunk and doped in scene after scene. This, rather than capturing her tragically emotionally fragile state of mind that was to prove self-destructive. Let’s just say empathic, complex or nuanced Blonde is not.
The film plays more with stylistics and techniques rather than making us enter or even try to understand Monroe or Norma Jean’s mind. Dominik randomly mixes black and white sequences with color, infuses them with a dream-like quality and does capture some stunning imagery but never gets us to feel for his character. A lot of the stylisation takes away from the narrative rather than add to it. The use of the foetuses as the children Monroe lost does not work at all while some shots just leave you gobsmacked. The POV shot in a hazy sequence, where neither we nor Norma Jean are entirely sure whether it’s a dream or not when she’s forcefully made to abort President John F Kenendy’s child within her, is that of her uterus/vagina as we see the doctor at work through a large circular hole! The less said of the scene that has her performing oral sex on the President, the better.
The film focusses more on Norma Jean who switches on in front of a mirror or in front of a camera to become the Marilyn Monroe the world admires and lusts after. Norma Jean, having suffered a horrific childhood with a mentally unstable mother who even tried to kill her, is sent off to an orphanage. Thereafter, much of her formative years, which should have been the key to us understanding her, are glossed over hurriedly with a montage of magazine covers to tell us that she is looked at as meat and little else. The movie world tells us little more than what is already well-known – Monroe was looked upon as a sexpot and bimbette with no-one willing to believe she had any brains or acting talent and was exploited thus. Norma Jean’s issues are the lack of a father in her life and the lack of a child and family. This is repeated over and over and told to us literally scene after scene for the film’s entire 2 hours and 47 minutes running time, and without any subtlety whatsoever.
Perhaps the only sequences that work somewhat are those fictionalised ones looking at the imagined threesomes between the sons of Charlie Chaplin, Edward G Robinson and Norma Jean. She feels safer here and is on more surer ground with the two men as she is when she is with Arthur Miller, who looks at her beyond just her body. One sequence that does haunt you is the one of the grotesque gargoyle-like distorted and lusty faces of men screaming at her at the premier of Some Like It Hot (1959).
The performances, too, fail to lift the film. Ana de Armas gives it her all and is photographed lovingly with plenty of (unnecessary) nude scenes but is unable to rise above the script as the film exploits her and her body just as it does the legend of Norma Jean and Monroe. Adrien Brody gives some depth to Arthur Miller, who enters Norma Jean’s life perhaps too late as she is already on a downward spiral. Her miscarriage of his child pushes her even more over the edge. For someone, who looks at her more than just a sex toy, the film omits any reference to their creative collaboration, The Misfits (1961), from the narrative altogether, which was Monroe’s last completed film and written by Miller.
Blonde is just the kind of film that makes you feel that it’s time for people to stop using Marilyn Monroe for their own gain and to just let the Hollywood legend of yesteryear finally rest in peace and savor her work on the silver screen. It’s the least she deserves.
English, Drama, Black & White, Color