Blonde is a tough watch and definitely the darkest take on Marilyn Monroe that will ever be put to film.
Published on October 27, 2022
Rating 2.5 /5
Earlier this year, Netflix debuted a lackluster Marilyn Monroe documentary based on the thinnest of materials to imply the flimsiest of conspiracies. So many nothing projects have cropped up around the pop culture figure of Marilyn Monroe that perhaps the best citation of the character in the last ten years was when her name was used as a sexual phrase in the anime comedy Pop Team Epic. So there was no doubt some tired sighing when Netflix debuted another Marilyn Monroe film, this one being a provocative biopic by director Andrew Dominik. For better or worse, this feels like the most vicious of pictures of the legendary model/actress that it’ll probably call for a moratorium on movies about her.
Dominik’s film is both surreal and savage. It doesn’t shy away from Monroe’s darkness but rather steers head-first into the uncomfortable moments of contemplation, depression, and desperation. It starts in her childhood when the young Norma Jeane Mortenson finds herself struggling to handle her mentally unstable mother. Her somber childhood is revealed through a hazy fog of fire and fights, where Norma finds herself being placed as a burden. Fast forward to the 1950s, when Norma grows up to become Marilyn Monroe (Ana de Armas). She’s picking up more work in the world of showbiz but also grows more detached from herself, lost in a sea of sex, booze, and drugs.
There’s one scene that perfectly encapsulates the movie. During an audition, Marilyn breaks down in a fit of tears and screams around people. The camera starts from a distance but then pulls forward, getting right up in Marilyn Monroe’s face. This is very much what the director wants us to see. He wants us to stop viewing Marilyn as this pop culture goddess who was the perfect embodiment of beauty and a legendary woman. She was not a goddess. She was a human being who had more than her fair share of problems.
This is a deeply polarizing portrait of the celebrity considering the often taboo places it delves into. One of the more controversial topics is when Marilyn becomes pregnant. The film not only depicts the sperm entering her body and the fetus being developed but poses moments of Marilyn speaking directly to her unborn child. In one light, this could be read as Marilyn trying to reason with a soul yet to be tainted by this world. Read a different way, however, it easily becomes anti-abortion propaganda, especially with how Marilyn’s first abortion is treated as a nightmare, complete with disturbing internal shots of her body being opened.
Marilyn’s many lovers are not portrayed well either, highlighting all the abuse and manipulation. This spans everything from the violent outbursts of Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale) to the secret sexual desires of John F Kennedy. The Kennedy is particularly provocative for depicting Marilyn giving oral sex and her internal monologue focusing on her maintaining her cool and not gagging. Much of these scenes, however, feel extra bitter with the clear male gaze thrust upon Marilyn’s most humiliating moments, never giving her a moment of peace amid the unending unease that was her life.
Blonde is a tough watch and definitely the darkest take on Marilyn Monroe that will ever be put to film. This makes for a movie that is fascinating to observe for what it says about the celebrity and tapping into the most taboo of areas. It also makes for a disturbing one that you’ll probably never want to watch again.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.