The moment Ana de Armas first appears as Marilyn Monroe in ‘Blonde’, around the 17th minute, we froze in our seat: because Ana is Marilyn! She really does look like her!
Admittedly not like two drops of water: in her voice you can hear a hint of a Cuban accent – the Armas was born in Santa Cruz del Norte – and hopefully no one will blame us when we notice, walking on eggshells as carefully as possible, that the slender Ana lacks a certain, er, fullness in the physical sense. And yet there is something of the magic of the real Marilyn around her. Her childlike innocence, her sparkling wit, her unrelenting charm, her endearing sheepishness (like when Marilyn has no idea how to eat a boiled egg), the garland of tragedy that hangs around her: all the characteristics we have learned over the years. , rightly or wrongly, we have come to associate with Marilyn, we find very beautiful back in the rendition of the Armas. Here with that Oscar nomination!
It’s a shame that the film is not aware of the performance of the lead actress. It’s not often that we shy away from a blonde – gentlemen prefer blondes, not true! – but on this ‘Blonde’ we were finally blown away. The first point of discussion is the approach: director and screenwriter Andrew Dominik Without much sense of nuance, Marilyn portrays Marilyn in ‘Blonde’ as an innocent little bird released into the hell of patriarchal Hollywood. Already in one of the first scenes we see how Marilyn is raped during an audition without a boo or yuck by a studio boss who goes by the name ‘Mr Z’: hmmmm, could it be Daryll F. Zanuckthe big boss of Twentieth Century Pictures?
In the most shocking scene, the president, stretched out on a hotel bed, grabs Kennedy Marilyn by the curls and he forces her into a blowjob in a long held sickening shot. It could well be that Marilyn actually had to undergo those humiliations, but a disclaimer is appropriate here: the scenes in question do not arise from facts, but from fiction, rumors and fictions. ‘Blonde’ is based on a novel by Joyce Carol Oates, who used Marilyn’s life as the basis for an (allegedly splendid) work of fiction. Anyway, by portraying Marilyn as a butterfly mortified, abused, exploited, and ultimately destroyed by maledom, Dominik joins an expanding movement that has posthumously proclaimed Marilyn a martyr of feminism.
“Look at what happened to Marilyn!” this is how you could summarize the message of that movement (and of ‘Blonde’). “Look at the brutality she had to endure, and you’ll see why feminism was desperately needed!” Or like the writer Nancy Friday it said, “Look closely at Marilyn’s life, girls. Because this is what happens to you when you let yourself be treated as a sex object!’ Correctamundo, correct and completely true, but the devil’s advocate in us would like to throw a question into the group: Doesn’t that approach ignore the fact that Marilyn was much more than just a martyr?
Don’t forget: for every soul who proclaims Marilyn a martyr of feminism, there is a biographer who portrays her as an ambitious, intelligent woman who knew perfectly that her value lay in her curves and her curves. And wasn’t she also a great performer who had the unique gift of enchanting the whole world? Put 100 Flemish and international celebs on stage and have them perform ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’, and we’ll give you a note that none of them will be able to match Marilyn’s version – even Harry Styles not, if he put a blond wig on his crown. But for those qualities – her engulfing naturalness on the big white screen, her magnetic appearance, yes even her acting talent that bubbles under the skin – ‘Blonde’ remains completely blind.
In ‘Blonde’ we see how the gifted Marilyn is reduced to a sex object by most men, but the question is: does not Dominik make the same mistake by portraying her in most scenes as a ruthless romper? Anyway: enough material to put up a sturdy tree in the cafe afterwards. But you know, overall, it’s not even Dominik’s slightly narrow-minded angle that troubled us. No, it is mainly his film style that we have been rejected. Instead of opting for a classic biographical account, Dominik tries to draw us into a slightly surreal stream of images with his dreamy photography and his trance-inducing music score.
In that respect ‘Blonde’ can actually be compared well with ‘Spencer’, the idiosyncratic biopic that pablo Larrain last year made over Lady Di. Dominik also used that poetic style in 2007’s ‘The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford’, with wonderful results, but this time he misses the point in most scenes. During an abortion, the cinematographer gives us a point of view shot from Marilyn’s vagina, and during the blowjob she gives to JFK, images of surface-to-air missiles actually pass through – as if we are in a ‘The Naked Gun’-esque farce – like phalluses pointing upwards. Okay, there’s nothing wrong with a little comic relief, but the moment Marilyn’s unborn fetus starts talking out loud, we thought: okay, Andrew, now it’s enough with your imagery-of-licking vest.
Finally, one more thought. We wouldn’t want to feed them, all those writers, essayists, journalists and filmmakers who have been researching, commenting, analyzing, claiming, interpreting and reinterpreting Marilyn’s life since her death on August 4, 1962. But we may never know who she really was. We’d love to offer her a gin fizz and have a chat with her, but hey, she’s been under the sod for 60 years. Hopefully she rests in peace.