Blonde will polarize audiences. You’ll either like it or your won’t. The movie comes after a swarm of controversy over the NC-17 rating for sexual scenes and this is finally a time in which it’s an adequate rating for two scenes that I will discuss later. But it’s also a horrifying look at how we glamorize celebrities.
Filmmaker Andrew Dominik based the movie on the 2000 biographical fiction novel of the same name written by Joyce Carol Oates. And the movie couldn’t have come at the best time as the aftermath of the FreeBritney movement is still fresh. You can almost see some comparisons between Britney and Marilyn. And the public is hoping she doesn’t go down the same dark path.
The tragedy is Marilyn never had a choice. Born Norma Jeane Mortensen and played as a child by Lily Fisher, she is the subject of abuse at the hands of her mother, Gladys (Julianne Nicholson) so bad that even in the 1930s it was considered a problem as Gladys was determined to be mentally unfit. Unfortunately, Norma Jeane can’t find anyone to love her and take care of her. She’s unaware of who her father is but Gladys presents him as some Hollywood bigwig in a picture she shows him on her seventh birthday. Seeking help from a young couple who are her neighbors, they refuse to take custody as they aren’t ready to have a child and drop her off at an orphanage as she screams, “I’m not an orphan!”
Gladys is committed to a mental hospital as Norma Jeane grows into a young woman who becomes a pin-up model and adopts the professional name Marilyn Monroe, yet people still call her “Norma Jeane.” Yet, this duality of a life is something that David Lynch would examine in one of his movies. And you can’t help from see pieces of his nightmarish movies Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, both set in the City of Angels.
Her attempts to break into acting are terrible. She is allegedly raped by a Hollywood bigwig named “Mr. Z.” For legal reasons, this only suggest Daryl Zanuck who was the Harvey Weinstein of the era. A screen test where Marilyn (Ana de Armas in a wonderful performance) pours out her heart yet the chauvinistic men refuse to even consider her even commenting as she leaves she has a great ass.
Marilyn only seems to find joy in a “throuple” relationship with Charles Chaplin Jr. (Xavier Samuel) and Edward G. Robinson Jr. (Evan Williams), even though this has been heavily considered to be fictional. Marilyn did briefly date Chaplin though. No mention is made of her first marriage to James Dougherty from 1942 to 1946 probably because it was so irrelevant to the movie. She was only 16 when they got married and later said it was a boring life as a “housewife.”
On the flip side, it seemed that what Marilyn wanted was the family she never had. Her brief marriage to Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale) after she became more famous for Niagara and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes ends in tragedy as he turns jealous and abusive. She calls him “Daddy” in her sweet innocent voice even as he hits her, but she foolishly thinks it’s because she hadn’t been able to keep the house clean. He’s mad about her previous nude photos and appearance in movies as a sex symbol stating she isn’t a piece of a meat. They were married less than two years.
She later meets and marries Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody doing what he can with just a small role). They have what seems like the perfect marriage and everything is going well until she suffers a miscarriage and falls into depression. She was married to Miller much longer than DiMaggio. However, the one man she seems to be most at ease with is Allan “Whitey” Snyder (Toby Huss), her personal make-up artist and friend, who seems to be the only one who knows how handle her when she breaks down on the sets.
Much has been written about how the movie exploits Marilyn and there are some shots that seem exploitive instead of avant garde. A toilet bowl point of view of Marilyn vomiting as well as an abortion from the fetus’ POV seem too Lynchian. But the rape scene is bad but thankfully as short as it needs to be. Probably the scene that earned it the NC-17 rating is when Marilyn is more or less forced to perform fellatio on what is supposed to be President John F. Kennedy. It’s also implied he raped her as well.
The scene is shot where we can tell what is happening but not seeing any explicit nudity. And I think this is what Dominik is going for. There are several scenes of Marilyn nude, but he still holds back with the male nudity. Even after the ratings system was implemented in the late 1960s, male nudity was just reserved for showing the buttocks. If there ever was a penis, it was considered too graphic. However, women could be shown full-frontal nude and it was deemed acceptable. Also, movies used to use rape indiscriminately in movies. Billy Jack has one and it was rated PG. So does Coal Miner’s Daughter which features Loretta Lynn being raped on her wedding night as she screams for him to stop.
And yes, the movie is exploitative of Marilyn, but that’s the way it was. She came to stardom around the same time as Elvis Presley where audiences found a new connection to celebrities. Men may have liked Jean Harlow, Veronica Lake and Rita Hayworth to say a few, but Marilyn turned a charge on them that neither Jaynes Mansfield nor Mamie Van Doren could fill. Maybe it was the post-World War/nuclear atom bomb era in which people realized it was pointless to hold back if the world could end at any minute.
During a movie premiere where Marilyn does that famous “Muah” blowing kiss, the men are crowded amongst themselves as their mouths scream and stretch more than humanly possible. It reminded me of the South Park when the young boys result to caveman tendecies grunting and groaning among each other when the character Bebe begins to develop breasts. And yet, I don’t think it’s toxic masculinity Dominik is going for but how celebrity stardom has a double standard.
Blonde stretches the truth in so many ways but most biopics do that. Was there ever really a relationship between her and JFK or did people misinterpret that famous “Happy Birthday” song she sung? Gladys never did try to drown her as a child as it’s shown but even though it was a rough childhood, she still loved her mother. Yet, when appearing as a blonde in fashion to visit her mother at the hospital, she says she doesn’t recognize the person in front of her. I guess the throuple with Chaplin and Robinson is presented to show Marilyn was at her happiest when it was an “non-traditional” marriage.
Blonde is less a biopic than is a psychological horror story about the dangers of stardom and how it sucks in those most gullible and niave to welcome the attention then hate it. A muscial score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis presents a celestial, dreamlike feel. Hollywood is the City of Dreams but yet our dreams don’t ever turn out the way we hoped.
Dominik, a New Zealand-born Australian filmmaker, has made other biographical movies, such as Chopper starring a pre-Hulk Eric Bana and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford with Brad Pitt, who is credited as one of the producers. He’s more interested in a style rather than a coherent story. The movie fluctuates between black and white and color and aspect ratios. Those expecting the same old biopic, need to look somewhere else. I liked it. I can’t really say I would rush out to watch it again. At two hours and 46 minutes, it’s a long movie where some scenes have little to no dialogue.
The tragedy is that Norma Jeane/Marilyn was doomed to go down the road to destruction no matter what. And people at the time didn’t see the warning signs. Maybe the fascination with her and her time in Hollywood is what would’ve happened if she had lived to grow into an older actor. Would she have finally gotten the roles that would have showcased her acting? Or would she have fallen into the B-movies and exploitation movies torward middle-age and appearing on game shows?
Even Marilyn’s death in 1962 at the age of 36 has been the subject of conspiracy theories and controversies. Sixty years have passed and she’s still as popular as ever.
What do you think? Please comment.