‘Blonde’ (2022) Review: An Insulting Spectacle that Toys Between Paranoia and Reality
Hollywood has exploited beloved actors who passed away in tragic deaths. Andrew Dominik’s Blonde reimagines the life of Marilyn Monroe (Ana De Armas), one of the most enduring icons of Hollywood. Just like the men in her life, Hollywood took her for granted. Abused and exploited, Monroe’s life was cut short, but the movie shows a haunting portrayal of the young woman. An excellent biographical film understands to invest the time and let the audience immerse themselves into the subject’s life. While Blonde explores that aspect of the biographical film, its approach is confusing and an insult to Monroe’s life.
The movie begins with a young Norma Jeane Baker’s (played by Lily Fisher) cataclysmic childhood in Los Angeles, as she tries to navigate the fear and loathing from her mother, Gladys Pearl Baker (Julianne Nicholson). In a schizophrenic rage, Norma Jeane’s mother abuses her. She tries to drive her daughter through a raging fire and drown her in a bathtub — all because her absent father wouldn’t acknowledge them. Norma Jeane has never met him. After Gladys admits into a mental hospital, Norma Jeane spends the rest of her childhood at the orphanage.
Many years later, Marilyn Monroe was born. A dazzling star with blonde hair auditions for a movie role. She has tried to find a father figure to love and protect her. She engages in sexual acts with Charlie Chaplin Jr. (Xavier Samuel) and Edward G. Robinson Jr. (Evan Williams). The Hollywood boys invite her into a room and seduce her, but after she gets pregnant, she is forced to abort the baby. After the miscarriage, she marries Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale). In his eyes, he’s perfect; for her, he’s the most polite man she met. But when Joe’s image of Norma Jeane falls off, her life turns upside down. He becomes abusive and possessive. Ultimately, their marriage ends.
Based on Joyce Carol Oates’ 2000 novel, Blonde attempts to chronicle the life of Marilyn Monroe/Norma Jeane in the most sincere way possible. Since the movie shows a blend of fiction and reality, it begins to question who Marilyn Monroe was. What did she mean in the Hollywood industry? Was she ever taken seriously or viewed as a sex symbol? These questions are not answered. Marilyn’s life is explored in psychedelic, artsy visual imagery that doesn’t make much sense. The majority of the movie is shot in black and white, and the film is indeed mesmerising. It doesn’t attempt to humanise and show Marilyn as an artist but as a woman who loses her mind as the year’s progress.
The movie desperately tries to answer this question: who is Marilyn Monroe? Was she a personality or a human? Norma Jeane desperately wants to be a star, but the consequences of it are dire. She is never taken seriously by her peers and the men in her life, who only see her as a trophy, not a human being. This is what Blonde tells the audience. While trying to understand Norma Jeane’s tragic life, it somewhat glamorises it. It is genuinely upsetting to watch the scenes where De Armas is playing this role so dedicatedly. There are scenes of raw screams which look and feel exhausting to experience. This kind of glamorisation is not what a biographical film should explore.
Blonde proceeds to show Norma Jeane’s struggles within the limelight. She disassociates and switches into Marilyn Monroe to shoot scenes, but Norma Jeane breaks through no matter how hard she tries to hold herself back. The movie suggests that Norma Jeane/Marilyn Monroe’s most prominent role she ever played was the role of Marilyn Monroe.
While Norma Jeane’s marriage to Joe failed because he couldn’t handle being married to a sex symbol, her marriage to Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody) crashes differently. In a horrible scene, she trips and miscarries. Miscarriage after miscarriage, Norma Jeane is unable to handle it emotionally. She breaks down while shooting scenes, and her marriage to Arthur crumbles. Her inability to become a mother is one of the reasons for her tragic death. But most of these scenes of her forced abortion and miscarriages might have been fictionalised. When Norma Jeane gets pregnant with Charlie’s baby, Dominik stages the forced abortion in a dramatic montage. A perspective shot of her unborn baby speaks to Norma Jeane as she runs around the hospital trying to run from the doctors. More of these perspective shots are during her pregnancies, but they all end up in miscarriages. It’s a harrowing sequence of images that shows how Dominik had no intention of carefully dissecting Marilyn Monroe/Norma Jeane’s life.
Blonde has a problem separating the truth from fiction. It is marred with nightmare sequences close to paranoia rather than reality. Dominik is not interested in showing Norma Jeane as she truly is. It’s a sad and grotesque portrayal of a woman who died of a drug overdose and went through depressive episodes because of the horrible circumstances in her life. Norma Jeane is a victim of this exploitative cultural image that continues to reimagine her life and steal her dignity. The truth is that Marilyn Monroe was cast away and devoured by Hollywood. It’s difficult to enjoy this movie when Dominik makes a spectacle of her tragic life and death. Blonde is a sad excuse for a biographical film because it sensationalises her death and crosses into trauma porn. From start to finish, Blonde is a traumatising biographical film that mistreats the legacy of Marilyn Monroe.