Even if “Blonde,” written and directed by Andrew Dominik, had offered a sympathetic and insightful look at Marilyn Monroe’s private life, it would have been a cinematic disaster. The film is ridiculously vulgar: Monroe’s story as if channeled through Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” Her character undergoes an overwhelming series of unrelenting torments that, far from arousing fear and pity, reflect a special kind of directorial sadism. In an effort to denounce the protagonist’s sufferings, “Blonde” wallows in them. It depicts Monroe as the plaything of her time, her environment, and her destiny, making her the plaything of the filmmaker himself. The very theme of the film is the distortion of Monroe’s personality and artistry by Hollywood studio executives and artists; to tell that story, Dominik replicates it in practice.
“Blonde”, adapted from the homonymous novel by Joyce Carol Oates, has only one idea: that, throughout her life, Monroe was victimized. The girl Norma Jeane Mortenson (played by Lily Fisher) is a victim of her father, who never loved her; her mother (Julianne Nicholson), who is mentally ill; of her neighbors who deliver her to an orphanage. As a young woman, she is the victim of photographers who portray her naked. 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 papers; of an agent who shapes her personality and forces her to adapt to it; from producers and directors who underpay her and stereotype her as sexy and dumb; hers two lovers of hers 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 out of work, is fiercely jealous and physically abusive; and Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody), who vampirizes her for her work. She is sexually assaulted by President John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson); she is abused by the Secret Service on her behalf. (The film does not name DiMaggio or Kennedy, but identifies them unmistakably by their features and her role in Monroe’s life.)
The paparazzi and the press intrude on her private life. Her adoring fans are slimy perverts who demand her sexiness on screen and her appreciative adoration in public appearances. They confuse her Marilyn Monroe personality with her real self, even though she considers it a pure commodity for public consumption, having little to do with her real personality. The iconic moment in the film shows her looking at a picture of herself, Marilyn Monroe, in a magazine and saying, “She’s pretty, but she’s not me.” However, the film never comes close to suggesting who the real person is, in fact.
The film presents Marilyn as a thrillingly talented actress who, long before her experience with the Actors Studio, delves into personal experience and emotional memory to deliver performances of shocking intensity. It also indicates that Hollywood offers little outlet for that art and instead corrals her into roles centered around her sex appeal. She presents her as a cultured, thoughtful and perceptive actress whose artistic ideal and dream remains the theater and, in the best scene of the film, she explains why. During her first date with DiMaggio, she tells him that she wants to leave Hollywood to go to New York, study acting, learn to be a great actress and do theater (especially Chekhov), because acting in the movies is “short short short .” She adds, “It’s a puzzle, but you’re not the one to put the pieces together.” It is true that acting in movies and on stage are completely different, and those who are good at one are not necessarily well suited to the other. “Blonde” does not show the difference but simply states it; the movie just nods and nods in the general direction of what Marilyn could have accomplished on stage.
Movies may well be “cut, cut,” and Dominik inflicts some exceptionally nasty ones on the character of Marilyn. It omits what should have been a major moment of theatrical bravura, in Marilyn’s first class at the Actors Studio, where she is brought up onstage to read the title role in a play by Miller, who is looking there skeptically, doubting the truth. ability of the Hollywood diva to play the complex role to her satisfaction. Instead, she elicits wild applause from her classmates and astonished admiration and tears of emotion from Miller. But that performance itself? It doesn’t show up for a second.
There is nothing about Monroe’s politics in real life, including her defiance of the press and the studio to marry Miller (who was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee to testify about his former ties to the Communist Party). , his conversion to Judaism, and his own activism (including against nuclear weapons). There’s nothing about the control Monroe took over her own career by setting up a production company to choose and develop her own projects; there’s nothing about her early enthusiasm for movies or her discovery of modeling. (The film moves from the arrival of the girl Norma Jeane in an orphanage to a quick montage of the teenager’s photos in the magazines). There is none of her effort to escape from poverty and monotony, her serious and thoughtful efforts to develop her career; not a word about Monroe’s hard work as an actress, or her obsessive dependence, for seven or eight years, on her acting coach Natasha Lytess. In short, anything to do with Monroe’s devotion to her art and her attention to her business is relegated to the slightest margin.
The film insists, through a handful of scenes, that the character of Marilyn is a smart and insightful actress, but “Blonde” reduces to an indicative and forensic minimum the scenes in which she expresses sharp ideas and insightful thoughts. For example, Marilyn says, on the way to her catastrophic visit to JFK in a hotel room, that there is nothing sexual about her relationship. But what happened between them in the encounters leading up to the one in which he attacks her is completely absent. If she had a social life apart from her relationships with men, be it Kennedy, DiMaggio, Miller, or a pair of lovers: Charlie Chaplin, Jr. (Xavier Samuel) and Edward G. Robinson, Jr. (Evan Williams), with a who has shown in a threesome: Dominik is not interested in that.
The problem is not only what Dominik does not imagine, but what he does. He directs as if he defined poetry as the use of ten vague words where three clear ones would suffice, and then transfers that misconception to images. To approximate a sense of subjectivity, of Marilyn’s moods, he relies on out-of-focus images (but not so much that they are really dark), a soundtrack that plunges the voices into aquatic darkness (but not quite), scenes slow motion to underline feelings without developing them, a palette that goes back and forth between color and black and white (your life sometimes seems like a movie, understand?).
But such flexible approaches are trivial next to Dominik’s more gaudy and demonstrative tricks. When Marilyn gets pregnant, it’s through one of the worst side effects I’ve ever seen. She spends an evening outdoors with the two Juniors, discussing astrology as she gazes at a sky filled with stars that begin to move and then transform into squiggly sperm. Then her fetus is shown in her womb, and that fetus returns to the movie repeatedly, in CGI fetus madness that ultimately involves him talking to her. Marilyn aborts, to act in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”; this is traumatic, as is a subsequent miscarriage and another vaguely suggested subsequent miscarriage. Throughout all these episodes, the search for shock and subjectivity is carried out in a crude and insensitive way. An upward and outward view, from the point of view of Marilyn’s vagina towards the abortionist, evokes Dominik’s own violation and misuse of the character’s body. Amid so much grotesquery and vulgarity, de Armas’s performance alone, energetic and nuanced, gives the film a modicum of dignity.
Other similar effects and gimmicks throughout the film trivialize his ostensible importance and make his grim torment ridiculous. For example, when Kennedy cums in Marilyn’s mouth, the television in their bedroom shows a clip of a rocket taking off and shots (apparently taken from “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers”) of alien spaceships exploding into the Memorial to Washington and the Capitol. . Marilyn’s lifelong search for her father culminates in her face, the face of the man her mother called her father, projected skyward at the moment of death. her. When Marilyn’s songs from her movies are included on the soundtrack, they are the ones that include the word “daddy”, as in “Ladies of the Chorus”, and “baby”, from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”. You have to hand it to Dominik: he not only outclasses the ostensibly boorish showmen of classic Hollywood in overt artistic ambition, but also in cheap sentiments, unabashed bad taste, and sexual exploitation. ♦