The film blonde, which comes out on Netflix today, has been dubbed a biopic about Marilyn Monroe and her turbulent life. Director Andrew Dominik based the plot on the book of the same name about the famous actress. But that book is a novel, not a biography. Which parts of the story can we take for granted and which should we take with a grain of salt?By Esther Villerius
“Marilyn Monroe is still alive – she’s reborn to tell her story; the story of one made a star,” reads the novel’s blurb. “blonde is a dazzling fictional portrait of the complex emotional world of the idealized and beloved movie star.”
The novel blonde, written by Joyce Carol Oates in 2000, is fiction. Inspired by a photo of a young Norma Jeane Baker, later known as Marilyn Monroe, the author set to work.
Oates based her book on Monroe’s life, but added a lot of detail here and there. This story subsequently became the basis for the film of the same name, which appeared on the market as a biopic: a biographical film.
There is no doubt about the credibility of well-known scenes, such as Monroe’s dress blowing up. But there are also moments in the film that are completely made up. Director Dominik keeps the line between fact and fiction vague.
Affaires with the Kennedy brothers
Monroe once sang sultry to US President John F. Kennedy for his birthday. This happened in 1962, a few months before her death. That event sparked rumors that Monroe was having an affair with the then president. According to biographer James Spada, the actress would also have had an affair with the president’s brother, Robert F. Kennedy.
The film hints at that long-running rumor about Monroe. In one scene, the singer, played by Ana de Armas, is dragged through the hallways of the White House to meet the US president. Monroe asks how she can help him, after which Kennedy forces her into various sexual acts.
The film also suggests that Monroe did not take his own life, but was murdered by Robert F. Kennedy to cover up these relationships. No proof has ever been found for this conspiracy theory.
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A love triangle and an abortion
Dominik also places Monroe in a love triangle with Charlie Chaplin Jr. and Edward G. Robinson Jr. In blonde we see so much gossip about the trio that Monroe’s agent asks her to stop the affairs.
But Monroe has never experienced anything quite like it. In Chaplin’s autobiography, he only confirms that there was a short-lived affair between him and Monroe.
In the film, the threesome’s relationships are ended by a pregnancy and the abortion that follows. Monroe becomes in blonde haunted by the thought of her unborn child. She would have had that removed because she was afraid of hereditary mental disorders. She also had two miscarriages.
There is no evidence for Monroe’s abortion. But she is said to have had three miscarriages during her marriage to Arthur Miller.
‘It is what it is’
Monroe’s billowing dress is not a fabrication, but there is some debate about the ramifications of this scene from The Seven Year Itch. In blonde Joe DiMaggio, who she was then married to, becomes so jealous that he beats her with a belt. This moment suddenly comes in the film: the couple seems to have it right in the period before.
In real life, DiMaggio’s jealousy and violence were a constant factor. It was for this very reason that the marriage, which lasted only nine months, came to an end.
Writer Oates herself has admitted to adapting certain events in Monroe’s life. She contextualized or made up details to enhance the story as the writer wanted to tell it.
This makes critics wonder how they should look at Dominik’s film adaptation. A reviewer from The Guardian writes: “Some people see blonde as a biopic and therefore condemn the film.”
“It is what it is, and it says what it says,” said the director. “And if the public doesn’t like that, then that’s the goddamn public’s problem.”