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‘Blonde’ Review: Please Let Marilyn Rest in Peace

Dir. Andrew Dominik — 1.5 stars

Ana de Armas stars as Marilyn Monroe in Andrew Dominik's film "Blonde."
Ana de Armas stars as Marilyn Monroe in Andrew Dominik's film "Blonde." By Courtesy of Netflix
By Hannah E. Gadway, Contributing Writer

This article contains mentions of sexual assault that may be troubling to some readers.

The tone of Andrew Dominik’s film “Blonde” can be summarized in one scene: As Marilyn Monroe and her lovers (yes, lovers — she’s part of a throuple) look into the sky, romance and promise linger in the night air. The camera pans up as stars glimmer overhead… and then transform into sperm writhing across the screen.

Yes: This is a real scene that came from a 22-million-dollar, Ana de Armas-starring Netflix movie about Marilyn Monroe, with some of Hollywood's top names. And, yes: The rest of the film follows in this tonally confusing, strangely melodramatic, and slightly disturbing fashion.

“Blonde” has a premise destined to confuse viewers. Described as a “fictional portrait” by Netflix, it is based not upon Marilyn Monroe’s true life but instead the historical fiction novel “Blonde” by Joyce Carol Oates. Despite being mostly fictionalized, it seems to embrace the idea that it is finally getting to the bottom of Marilyn Monroe’s character. It therefore poses the risk of convincing audiences that the film is in some way a factual representation of Monroe’s life.

“Blonde” possesses amazingly inaccurate and strange plot developments. Marilyn is part of a throuple with a pair of men that call themselves the Gemini, giving the relationship an incestous subtext. She is obsessed with a picture of her father that her mother gave her and hallucinates it speaking to her throughout the film.

When the film doesn’t exactly fall flat due to its bizarre choices, it’s horrifically disturbing. Multiple vivid scenes of sexual violence occur throughout the film, which are made even more shocking since they are placed next to more upbeat scenes. These depictions of abuse are meant to show the source of Marilyn’s trauma, but they are gratuitous and don’t clearly connect with the problems that she faces. There are so many instances of physical and sexual abuse that they merge together in a deluge of horror; the film seemingly enjoys forcing the audience to languish through them. In each instance, Monroe is not only abused and humiliated but also reacts with complete passivity. Instead of giving Marilyn agency in her own film, Dominik portrays her as a clueless victim. She never fights back, and it is hinted that her abuse might even be in part due to her naiveté.

Apart from these scenes of abuse, there are also many unncessary sex scenes which, instead of showing Marilyn Monroe as her own person, continue to sexualize her. Ana de Armas is forced to unnecessarily parade around topless in multiple parts of the film and say “Daddy” uncomfortably often. These vapid scenes contribute to the impression that Dominik is no better than the producers that manipulated Monroe in the 1950s.

The strangest part of the film is Dominik’s fixation on Monroe’s relationship with motherhood. Throughout the film, she struggles both with the memories of her mother (who tried to kill her during her childhood in the film) and her own role as a maternal figure. Marilyn is scarred early in the film when she is pressured to have an abortion, and pregnancy and motherhood dominate her life until the end of the film. In one half-appalling, half-oddly-comedic scene, a CGI fetus hallucination chides Marilyn about her earlier abortion. This storyline suggests that instead of being a sex symbol, Marilyn’s true role was that of a mother. Instead of being able to become her own person, Marilyn is chained to two different forms of misogyny.

The film is confused in ways aside from storytelling. The aspect ratio flickers between 1:1, 1:37, 1:85, and 2:39 seemingly at random, with no consistent theme used to distinguish between them. The color grading also switches between black and white and full color. The cinematographer, Chayse Irvin, makes these shots look beautiful, but Dominik’s constant changes only serve to disorient the viewer.

The disastrous plot of “Blonde” is all the more disappointing due to the care that others put into it. Costume designer Jennifer Johnson did an incredible job of recreating Monroe’s iconic outfits. The film boasts impeccable recreations of 1950s interiors and film sets. And Ana de Armas is obviously trying to put her all into the role, with some amazing shows of both gentle fortitude and turbulent emotion. However, Monroe’s famous baby-doll voice is clearly challenging to imitate, and Armas struggles to hide her accent.

Overall, “Blonde” is a confused film built on rocky foundations, which is only redeemed in any way by its realistic costuming. It uses sexual abuse for shock value and suggests that Marilyn Monroe even deserved some of the harm that happened to her. She is already passive in so many ways, but the worst is the way she is chained to a destiny that either links her to the role as a sex object or a mother. Dominik had a chance to finally give Marilyn the piece that she deserves. However, the film conveys only one message: It is time to let Marilyn Monroe rest in peace, lest her legacy be abused by the film industry even more than it already has been.

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