Everyone wants something from Marilyn Monroe. She is the ideal canvas to unleash theories or fantasies. It’s part of her iconic status as an actress, sex symbol and cultural phenomenon. Sixty years after her death – she died of an overdose of tranquilizers at the age of 36 – she still appeals to the imagination.
If everyone is pulling you, trying to touch you, color you, who are you? It is a central question in blondethe Netflix film by Andrew Dominik, which previously included Killing Them Softly (2012) and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) directed.
blonde shows Norma Jeane, as she was called, as a woman without an anchor. Her self-image is severely damaged during her miserable childhood and becomes increasingly fragmented. Of course, it doesn’t help that she’s created an alter ego, the ever-radiant Marilyn Monroe.
blonde is not a biopic. The film is based on the 2000 novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates, who took plenty of creative liberties to get inside Monroe’s head. The book contains, among other things, invented diary fragments, letters and poems. In a similar way, designed as a subjective palace of mirrors, Dominik guides the viewer through the possible thoughts and memories of the tormented movie star.
What blonde wants to make clear is how degrading it is to be public property, however disruptive it may be, especially if there is no stable foundation. Dominik succeeds brilliantly in this. His film is a nightmarish descent into the hell that was Monroe’s life: she was repeatedly abused, both physically and mentally. While her intelligence and acting talent were chronically underestimated, the traumas piled up. No wonder she took refuge in ever heavier drugs.
Dominik uses a baroque, alienating style. At times it seems like a contest in curious camera angles (the scene from the womb wins), but it’s inventive, and often compelling. In all that visual violence, actress Ana de Armas is the emotional center. The Armas is so good—all nerves and fragility and devastation—that you can’t help but worry about her mental state. Her acting is a tour de force that involves either complete surrender or incredible technique – Oscar-worthy in both cases.
The vision of blonde on Monroe it is clear: she was a victim of her time and her environment. That is of course against the wrong foot of people who would have liked to see something different. A feminist heroine who exudes power, for example, or just something a little more cheerful – something that doesn’t make the film feel nauseous or partly guilty. Some critics accused Dominik of exploiting Monroe in his own way, showing her in all her vulnerability.
The irony is that blonde it is precisely about this penchant for appropriation. Marilyn Monroe doesn’t belong to all of us, Dominik shows impressively. blonde shows a Monroe (not the Monroe) who simply can’t live up to our expectations because it rips her to shreds.
Directed by Andrew Dominik
Starring Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Julianne Nicholson, Xavier Samuel
166 min., available on Netflix.