Column | This movie also keeps Marilyn Monroe captive in her golden cage

It started two rows behind me. A gasp in a fist. A chuckle spread through theroom like a fire. The couple in front of me looked around, disturbed. Thenthere was a liberating slash from the left – a woman laughed. I started tolaugh with relief myself. We watched Marilyn Monroe’s death scene in the newmovie blonde.

Earlier this month, during the Venice Film Festival, the premiere received ahistorically long standing ovation of over twelve minutes. The film is basedon the 2000 novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates.

There was an excited atmosphere at the cash register and popcorn. I too wasreally looking forward to it, whereas ten years ago I would have probablyturned my nose up at a Monroe biopic. I’m sure I’m not the only one. In anessay for the American vogue Lena Dunham describes her initial disinterestin Monroe. Dunham was more interested in women helping to shift the culturallandscape, contrarian forces. “I found women who called Monroe an inspirationcorny at best, boring at worst.” It wasn’t until she started reading aboutMonroe—like the classic Marilyn from Norman Mailer – she discovered thecomplexities behind the Hollywood star, her intellectual interests and hertraumas. About the ways sexism and the media pushed her to the top and toppledher at 36.

Typically something to make a film about in 2022 (see also: Princess Diana).Too bad it was done by director and screenwriter Andrew Dominik, whose scriptleaves no room for even a sliver agency. Instead, he drowns Monroe invictimhood and beautiful tears. Almost all looks are accurately based onexisting photo shoots. But that is precisely why the film maintains its goldencage, instead of bending the bars open.

“You can’t believe anything you read in the magazines,” Monroe says in thefilm. You shouldn’t just believe director Dominik either. In one scene we seeMonroe and President Kennedy. There was plenty of gossip about their allegedaffair; little of it has ever been confirmed. Dominik let his imagination runwild. Kennedy calls Monroe his little slut in the movie. And we see hersucking off the leader of the free world while he’s on the phone with ajournalist. Close-up, from Kennedy, and insanely long. I looked away, not outof prudishness, but because I felt I was looking at something really perverse.A made-up sex scene about a woman who was plagued during her lifetime by hypedmedia scandals.

It is a film that, under the guise of a more progressive zeitgeist, glorifieswhat it pretends to criticize.

The final scene shows Monroe’s blond locks, luscious between the stark whitesheets, her hand voluptuously along her neck, her heart – so sexy – giving wayunder the barbiturate overdose. The laughter in the room showed no disrespectto the main character, but rather protected her. It was the refusal to takethis image for truth. It was one of the most loving bursts of laughter I’veheard in a long time.

Madeleijn van den Nieuwenhuizen writes a column on this site every other week.