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Blonde (2022)

From her volatile childhood as Norma Jeane, through her rise to stardom and romantic entanglements, this reimagined fictional portrait of Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe blurs the lines of fact and fiction to explore the widening split between her public and private selves.
2.5 / 5
INCLUVIE SCORE
2.8 / 5
MOVIE SCORE
Representation

Incluvie Movie Reviews


Atreyo Palit
October 12, 2022
1.5 / 5
INCLUVIE SCORE
3 / 5
MOVIE SCORE

'Blonde' Review: Like a Jeane in a Bottle, Except it’s a Cage

This article contains spoilers for 'Blonde', content warning for violence and sexual assault.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Andrew Dominik said “If you look closely at Marilyn Monroe, she’s the most visible woman in the world, but she’s completely unseen.” That’s an ironic stance from the director of Blonde, the film that almost made her less seen than she was before. If I’m to take the narrative honestly, which is bound to happen with enough viewers no matter how many times it’s reiterated that the story is a work of fiction, I’m bound to misunderstand her. I know it focuses on the story of Norma Jeane, the real-life Marilyn who lived outside the world of reel but having seen Blonde, I feel like that is used as an excuse to reduce her fierce personality into a timid victim seen through a patriarchal lens. Hollywood’s penchant for damsel-in-distress narratives isn’t gone even in 2022!

Starring Ana de Armas as the titular “blonde”, the film opens with a few scenes of a young Norma Jeane Baker (Lily Fisher). We’re introduced to her mother, Gladys Pearl Baker (Julianne Nicholson), and her ill-treatment of Norma. She shows Norma the portrait of a handsome man and claims it’s her father, refusing to tell Norma his name, let alone allow her to touch the portrait. Now, it’s a fact that Norma never knew who her father was and this is an interesting way to portray that. The rest of what’s depicted within the mother-daughter relationship is straight-up horrifying. Firstly, in reality, Gladys suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and it made her act erratically. But Norma hadn’t been rescued from a burning apartment by another couple after she ran from her mother who had just tried to drown her in the bathtub. I understand that biopics have to dramatize events often but this is too much sensationalism and also exploitative of trauma.

In fact, Norma had been given up for adoption by Gladys herself and although she had tried to take her daughter back, the scene of physical abuse in the jeep or the almost-murder in the bathtub, are all unnecessary sensationalism that just leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Actually, enough members of the film industry who were in Marilyn’s life had tried to get her to deny the truth about her mother and claim that she had died, and Blonde discredits her too, just portraying her as a maniac, instead of showing sympathy for a mentally ill single mother. You can’t possibly claim to be presenting a feminist perspective if your portrayal of women apart from the protagonist lacks nuance, not that hers is nuanced either, but I’ll get to that later.

What follows Norma Jeane’s adoption is a time jump to her breakthrough into Hollywood. Ana de Armas takes over from Lily Fisher and after a short montage of magazine covers with Norma as “Marilyn Monroe”, we’re introduced to “Mr. Z”. Mr. Z is possibly a bigshot filmmaker and a successful audition for him will mean Marilyn’s career as an actress will take off. We’re shown a casting couch moment where Mr. Z sexually assaults Norma Jeane during said audition and thus begins the series of distasteful depictions of trauma. From the sexual assault by Mr. Z to the physical assault by Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Canavale) and the doubtfully consented bl**job for President Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson), the depiction of her manhandling feels like it has a stinging lack of sympathy for her. And that’s largely due to the cinematography which is disgustingly male gaze-y. There’s an almost pornographic quality to the Kennedy scene and Ana poses almost suggestively instead of conveying vulnerability during the scene where Bobby Canavale pushes her off the bed and then beats her.

Blonde is problematically hyper-sexualized. I understand that Marilyn was a sex symbol and it may be necessary for any honest narrative about her to focus on her sexuality, but it can be done tastefully. While the iconic “upskirt” picture of her (it's disturbing that that's the highlight of Marilyn's life for a large number of people, also among the very first pictures of her when Googling) being shown is fine, the actual moment in time doesn’t have to be shown through a lens that treats her as an object. And while I might take it as commentary about how people looked at her, that wouldn’t explain the way Norma Jeane is filmed. She’s inexplicably topless in many scenes and a lot of time is spent on scenes where you’d expect her to be nude. In the scene in which Joe DiMaggio beats her in front of the camera, she’s reading a book while lying on the bed, and the wardrobe choice feels malicious given the framing of the scene which clearly focuses on her as a subject of sexual attention instead of focusing on Ana’s acting or Norma’s emotional turmoil in the moment.

Monroe’s treatment by Hollywood as a sex symbol instead of a talented actress is ever relevant because that’s been the story with many others. However, I feel like it’s extra important now because, with social media like TikTok, the distribution of sexualized scenes from film and TV has become excessively easy. And as a result, even in 2022, actresses like Sydney Sweeney and Ana de Armas or actors like Jacob Elordi and Henry Cavill are often unnecessarily sexualized in the roles they're given. Ana herself spoke about this during an interview with Variety and she says she believes explicit scenes from Blonde will get circulated out of context like with many of her previous films. While this is behaviour we can only hope to see reduced through the sensitization of society, what we definitely don't need is a film on Monroe actively contributing to the rampant sexualization in Hollywood. Ana’s status in Hollywood right now makes her a fitting casting choice but unfortunately, the film exploits her status as a sex symbol by featuring quite a few unnecessary instances of nudity and suggestive stances.

Despite running for almost three hours, Blonde barely covers new information about Marilyn beyond what could be found through a preliminary Google search and I feel that’s because so much time is spent showing off her physical presence. Complicit in the behaviour of the industry that it attempts to criticize, Blonde treats Norma Jeane like an entertainer. She’s like a tourist attraction in a circus troupe being paraded in front of a crowd for their entertainment. The traumatic experiences in her life aren’t handled with care by maintaining a respectful distance. Instead, they’re explored and treated like highlights. More than trying to create sympathy for Monroe, Blonde seems to be delivering sickening scenes of her being emotionally abused by men or being physically hurt like tripping while pregnant for the second time, just to add shock value to the viewing experience. That’s disrespectful to Marilyn.

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Jeremy Lawrence
October 8, 2022
3.5 / 5
INCLUVIE SCORE
2.5 / 5
MOVIE SCORE

The Relentless Victimization of Marilyn Monroe in "Blonde"

In his review for The New Yorker, Richard Brody likens Blonde to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Indeed, while Blonde, directed by Andrew Dominik and released on Netflix last week, is a nearly three-hour figurative crucifixion, it is also a relentless assault on the autonomy of its subject, Marilyn Monroe, as well as a regressive, portrait of her stardom and contribution to American cinema. It is a one-note film, singular of mind and intention, reducing Monroe to an offscreen non-entity, a victim of the Hollywood system used and abused over and over and over again by the industry of her times and Dominik seventy years later. The film is based on Joyce Carol Oates’ eponymous novel and stars Ana de Armas, whose nuanced and galvanizing performance cannot extricate its subject from the director’s sadistic, exploitative clutches and return to her the personhood she is unequivocally denied. Even from the get-go, young Norma Jeane (who throughout the movie is distinguished from the onscreen persona of Marilyn Monroe she later “adopts”) is denied any complex motivation. The absence of her father, a man her mentally ill mother indicates to her in a framed photograph, is her ostensible guiding star. Her lack of a father colors her relationships with men, from Joe DiMaggio who physically abuses her, Arthur Miller who betrays her trust by using her for creative inspiration, and John F. Kennedy who uses her strictly for sex, to a threesome with Charles Chaplin Jr. and Edward G. Robinson Jr., with whom she shares an emotional bond that the movie severs a third of the way through. The film takes such a narrow view of Monroe as a person that her arc as a celebrity and creative force is merely hinted at. Rather than credit her foray into modeling, comedic talent, professional determination, and navigation of a heavily male industry, the film is crass enough to attribute her break into Hollywood to being raped by Mr. Z, the president of an entertainment company. This event is representative of the film’s treatment of its subject: regressive and entirely one-sided, a director rinsing its subject through constant trials and tribulations with impunity. Whether personally or professionally, the film shows Norma Jeane in every compromised position conceivable and constantly mocks and trivializes her struggles. Her desire for a baby is illustrated through conversations she has with not one but three unborn fetuses. Her mother, consigned to a mental institution, only acknowledges her daughter to say she is a disgrace and will never be loved. As she passes away, a holographic image of her elusive father is projected into a starry night sky, in case we forgot what her motivation was. A scene of her performing oral sex on the President of the United States is intercut with images of flying saucers crashing into the Washington monument. The relentless assault on the autonomy she should have earned elicits no pity or empathy, only shame. Norma Jeane is shuttled from one debasement to the next at a relentless pace that seems to be going nowhere fast. Blonde feels more like a collection of tasteless abuses rather than a cohesive story, illustrating a director who is more comfortable stringing together a series of self-contained scenes (Marilyn stumbling around the house in the dark; Marilyn being raped; Marilyn being told she is unlovable, etc.) than crafting a cohesive story. This is a characteristic of Dominik’s work (I’m thinking primarily of 2012’s Killing Them Softly), and so is the unique style of dialogue that uses a lot of words to say very little. Though Norma Jeane is the focus of the film, her words reveal few inner complexities beyond the superficial. The only consistent through-line—besides the haphazard editing techniques that distract from the content and seem to exist for no other reason than misguided artistic ambition—is that Marilyn is a depthless character with no purpose but to be the director’s canvas for cinematic flogging. The film insists Norma Jeane was Hollywood’s plaything and awards her zero credit in crafting her onscreen persona, mentions nothing of
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Movie Information


From her volatile childhood as Norma Jeane, through her rise to stardom and romantic entanglements, this reimagined fictional portrait of Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe blurs the lines of fact and fiction to explore the widening split between her public and private selves.

Rating:NC-17
Genre:Drama
Directed By:Andrew Dominik
Written By:Andrew Dominik
In Theaters:9/16/2022
Box Office:

Runtime:167 minutes
Studio:Plan B Entertainment

Cast