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Blonde

Released 2022. Director: Andrew Dominik

SIXTY YEARS AFTER HER UNTIMELY DEATH IN 1962, HERE COMES a new movie to dredge up the sordid and lurid details of Marilyn Monroe’s troubled life. Blonde recounts Monroe’s life from childhood to death, but the facts are meshed with fabrications in the name of art, and the result is exploitative and mean and it leaves you with a sick feeling with its overwhelming obsession with despair.

It is important to be aware that the movie is not a biography. The material for Blonde is based on a novel by Joyce Carol Oates, a work of fiction featuring real people, real events, mixed with imagined scenarios. Knowing this, it’d be unfair to point a finger at director Andrew Domink for misleading us.

We’ve seen this being done before many times in many movies. Artistic license is always expected in movies about famous people, but it’s where the line is drawn that matters. In the case of Blonde, they’ve gone too far.

Monroe’s troubled life began when she’s only a child. Her mother Gladys struggles with mental illness and as the movie shows, has a breakdown and tries to drown her in a bathtub. Monroe, whose real name is Norma Jeane Mortenson, ends up at an orphanage when her mother is institutionalized. The unloved, unwanted girl believes the father she's never met is an actor and spends the rest of her life waiting for his return. Dominik hammers the notion that this is the root of Monroe’s psychological damage which carries through the rest of her life, reflected in her father fixation and colours her relationships with men.

Norma Jeane, endowed with a face and body adored by cameras, grows up to become a model, sometimes photographed in the nude, and tries to break into show business. She auditions for top Hollywood producer Darryl F. Zanuck and ends up what we might now describe as an interview with Harvey Weinstein to get her first role.

Monroe’s career takes off. She has a relationship with Cass Chaplin and Eddie Robinson, sons of famous Hollywood personalities. Her marriage to baseball legend Joe DiMaggio ends badly. She marries playwright Arthur Miller. She has an affair with President Kennedy. She dies of drug overdose at age 36.

Now add domestic violence, abortion, miscarriage, rape, and you see Blonde focuses only on the most lurid and miserable aspects of Monroe’s life. The facts are twisted so much it’s become a cottage industry online to ferret out what did and did not happen, as far as anyone could tell. Some of the embellishments are pretty significant. For instance, the throuple relationship between Marilyn, Cass and Eddie cannot be substantiated. The part about the Secret Service forcibly abducting Marilyn for an abortion appears wholly made-up. Cass pretending to be Marilyn’s father writing her letters over the years is also historically uncorroborated. There’s a lot more where that came from.

Applying creative liberty for dramatization is expected, although reimagining (that utterly fanciful word to thwart fact-checking) to the level seen in this movie is pushing the limits. These are real people with real names. They each had a life, family, career, contributions, reputation and legacy. To sully their memories to this degree just feels cruel, for the sake of making a movie.

Dominik said in an interview “There’s something in it to offend everyone.” He might be referring to the graphic sexual depictions, the crude visualization of abortion, tarnishing of character, victimization, tastelessness and exploitation. What is also disappointing is he shows absolutely no interest in finding a balance or creating a nuanced view, other than insisting on torturing Monroe, pushing the woman from one dark episode to another, physical, mental and emotional.

The hair-styling and makeup people may have transformed Ana de Armas to resemble the iconic bombshell, but the actress has her hands tied playing a two-dimensional victim. Marilyn Monroe rolls around like a punching bag from one irredeemable man to the next, used and abused, unable to heal to her last day. Armas’s performance in this unabashedly misogynistic squirm fest is dedicated and fearless, but the movie doesn’t deserve her.

Blonde is a horror tragedy that is single-mindedly tawdry and vile. Its presentation is unpleasant and sadistic. And it doesn’t care about dishonouring the memory of anyone involved.


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