Andrew Dominik, Blonde, 2022, DCP, black-and-white and color, sound, 166 minutes. Marilyn Monroe (Ana de Armas).
TO SAY THAT ANDREW DOMINIK’S BLONDE is a biopic of Marilyn Monroe is not strictly correct. It would be more exact to say that it is a nightmarish, elliptical horror movie about a wonderful blonde being subsumed, and then destroyed, by an unfeeling business, and that the blonde’s name happens to be Norma Jean, though folks generally call her “Marilyn Monroe,” or “slut,” or “sweetheart.” Based on Joyce Carole Oates’s frantic, fragmented, exhilaratingly ugly 2000 novel of the identical name, it has passages of true, invigorating brilliance, and about as many moments of baffling mawkishness. Its formal daring is commendable however patchy, generally thrilling and sometimes—as when a CGI fetus communicates telepathically with its maternal host—bizarrely hokey. It bleeds in and out of color, banjaxing chronology in favor of a more expressionist arrangement of occasions. Like Oates’s bestseller, it amalgamates each fact and fiction so as to additional amplify Monroe’s already mythic status, making her even less human and much more abstractly symbolic—a self-sacrificing feminine saint whose sexiness, passivity, Daddy Issues, and want to be beloved made her the right mark for Hollywood. Ana de Armas, in the lead function, achieves a intelligent bit of Monrovian mimicry—the small foxed frown, the stiff positioning of her mouth and cheekbones—but retains her Cuban accent, an apparently unintentional but nonetheless effective move that lends the film additional uncanniness. It is made evident that we are watching somebody in a Marilyn costume, in the identical method we’d watch anyone standing in for Mary Magdalene in a Passion Play.
That the movie gets Marilyn Monroe’s ill-treatment by the press and by the men in her life proper just isn’t in query. That it will get the lady herself right is debatable, and the degree to which this matters is immediately in proportion to how far we are imagined to see the movie as being about Monroe at all. A well-known anecdote about the actual Marilyn Monroe has Truman Capote discovering her in a restaurant bathroom, gazing spellbound at her own reflection in the mirror. “I’m looking at her,” she allegedly advised him, coolly fascinated. The story sums up Monroe’s masterful command of her own picture, her super self-awareness, and the care with which she split her discrete selves: the calculating, genius comedienne and the dumb caricatured sexpot. In Blonde, it’s a male lover who asks if she’s “looking at her” in the mirror, and the alteration is suggestive of a curious disinterest in interrogating the degree to which “Marilyn Monroe” was not merely a dissociative facet effect of trauma, however a carefully and cannily maintained creation. (It is telling, too, that the movie has her praying desperately for her persona to seem, when those that knew her often noted her ability to turn it on and off, as casually as if she had been flipping a switch.) She is never proven excelling—as she did, once more and again—as a comedian book actress. At one level, Domnik freezes on her face earlier than she begins performing an Arthur Miller monologue, giving us one other opportunity to see her as a silent picture earlier than cutting to the audience’s rapturous ovation. Presumably, this system is supposed to ironize, via replication, the male gaze. Funny, although, how doing a factor paradoxically so typically simply appears like doing it.
“In the films they chop you all to bits,” de Armas’s Monroe complains. Certainly narratively, within the case of Blonde—emotionally, too, since Dominik is unafraid of displaying his heroine-martyr being psychically dismembered. I understand many critics’ cautiousness around the nastiest passages of Blonde, which options rape and compelled abortions and degrading oral intercourse, but for me, these are the sections of the film that work most successfully, containing as they do a few of the original novel’s bracing anger. “Why is feminine funny?” Oates has her Monroe character considering, in a panic, as she films Some Like It Hot. “Why did they love her? why when her life was in shreds like clawed silk? why when her life was in items like smashed glass? why when her insides had bled out? . . . why did the world need to fuck fuck fuck Marilyn?” There ought to be room for white-hot fury and brutality in depictions of misogyny, and of their most scrambled and nightmarish moments, both the novel and the film achieve the effect that J. G. Ballard as quickly as instructed he desired when writing Crash—that of rubbing humanity’s face in its personal vomit. Truthfully, the one auteur I would have trusted implicitly with an adaptation of Oates’s novel already conceived of, and then shelved, a project about Marilyn Monroe, with some elements of that germinal idea carrying over into the 2001 movie Dominik is clearly cribbing from in Blonde’s most putting shots. That film, by making its central blonde a lot an everywoman that she was actually two completely different women, elided the need to use a well-known figure’s story, and in doing so escaped the ethical dilemma that canines Blonde. Still, there’s one astounding moment late in Dominik’s movie that may persist with me eternally: Something terrible has occurred, and Monroe, in the early morning gentle, rises bare from her mattress. “What an awful dream,” she repeats to herself, as if in a trance. “What a horrible dream.” As the sheets fall back, we see blood masking her body from her waist down to her knees, and a less interesting scene would have concluded together with her clocking this and screaming. Instead, Dominik has her stumble from the room, not even bothering to look. She is so perpetually steeped in blood, the vignette implies, that she has ceased to even register the sensation of it.
Blonde opened in select US theaters on September 16 and begins streaming on Netflix on September 28.