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  • Writer's picturePaul Gainey

Blonde

Even if “Blonde,” written and directed by Andrew Dominik, had offered a sympathetic and discerning view of the private life of Marilyn Monroe, it would have been a cinematic disaster.


The movie is ridiculously vulgar—the story of Monroe as if it were channelled through Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” The character endures an overwhelming series of relentless torments that, far from arousing fear and pity, reflect a special kind of directorial sadism.


In an effort to decry the protagonist’s sufferings, “Blonde” wallows in them. It depicts Monroe as the plaything of her times, her milieu, and her fate, by way of turning her into the filmmaker’s own plaything. The very subject of the film is the deformation of Monroe’s personality and artistry by Hollywood studio executives and artists; in order to tell that story, Dominik replicates it in practice.


“Blonde,” adapted from the eponymous novel by Joyce Carol Oates, has a single idea: that, throughout her life, Monroe was victimized.


The child Norma Jeane Mortenson (played by Lily Fisher) is the victim of her father, who never wanted her; of her mother (Julianne Nicholson), who is mentally ill; of neighbours who deliver her to an orphanage.


As a young woman, she’s the victim of photographers who take pictures of her in the nude. As Marilyn Monroe (Ana de Armas), she is the victim of a studio boss, Mr. Z (David Warshofsky), who rapes her and then rewards her with roles; of an agent who crafts her persona and forces her to conform to it; of producers and directors who underpay her and stereotype her as sexy and dumb; of her two lovers in a threesome, who use and abuse her confidences.


She is the victim of her two husbands during her years of fame: Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale), who wants her not to work, is fiercely jealous, and is physically abusive; and Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody), who vampirizes her for his work. She is sexually assaulted by President John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson); she is abused by the Secret Service on his behalf.


Paparazzi and the press intrude on her private life. Her adoring fans are slobbering perverts who demand her sexiness onscreen and her grateful adoration in public appearances. They mistake her Marilyn Monroe persona for her real self, even though she considers it a pure product for public consumption, having little to do with her real personality.


The movie’s emblematic moment shows her looking at a photo of herself—of Marilyn Monroe—in a magazine and saying, “She is pretty, but she isn’t me.” Yet the film never gets close to suggesting who, indeed, the real person is.


The movie presents Marilyn as a thrillingly talented actor who, long before her experience with the Actors Studio, delves deep into personal experience and emotional memory to deliver performances of a shocking intensity.


It presents her as a well-read, thoughtful, and insightful actor whose artistic ideal and dream remain the theatre, and—in the movie’s best scene—she explains why. During her first date with DiMaggio, she tells him that she wants to leave Hollywood for New York, to study acting, to learn to be a great actress, and to do theatre.


“Where do you go when you disappear?” Norma Jean wondered in a poem she wrote in the orphanage. Scriptwriter Joyce Eliason and director Joyce Chopra are basically faithful to the gothic production values of novelist Oates. Thus, the torn blonde hair and bright-red dress on the white sand of a lonely beach in the bleeding dawn; a symbolic crow, a symbolic fish, a symbolic fox; mirrors, cameras, and dolls; dead-baby dreams. Much is made of Marilyn Monroe’s failed ambition to have a child. But she had one. She had Norma Jean.




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