Our cultural fascination with Marilyn Monroe can be seen in full force concerning testimonies of Netflix’s highly controversial Blonde. Arguably rooting for the title of an epic, labels surrounding this film have instead largely taken the path of a ruthless ‘exploitation’. Rather than a sympathetic stance, the fictional plot depicts little triumph in the actress’ life, instead, an endless cycle of emotional abuse and sexual assault.
The film plunges the audience straight into a traumatic marathon within the first hour depicting child abuse, attempted drowning, rape and forced abortion. It is hard not to shy away from the film’s brutality, notably, its anti-abortion stance is made clear with a horrific portrayal of abortions and eerie CGI of talking foetuses. These depictions are all unintelligible imaginings of writer/director Andrew Dominik and partially adapted from Joyce Carol Oates’ fictionalised novel. Although Dominik hides no secret in his script’s fictionality, his deviation from the truth seems to only have been created with shock value in mind. With so much material from Marilyn’s life to work with, it is questionable why Marilyn is used as a protagonist at all, with what little regard for her memory is kept respectful. It is no surprise how Blonde has prompted a global conversation about the rise in recent depictions and obsession with female pain in Hollywood.
Remarkably, there is no attempt from Dominik to explain the namesake of his biopic; no scene, mention or even reference, clarifies the reasoning behind his title. Marilyn is undeniably remembered for her image, in this case, her hair colour, if the point he’s trying to make is how she was so much more than that, it is painfully ambiguous. The film’s imagery plays on Marilyn’s, indeed the world’s, most famous photographs, such as the Niagara shoot (most famously known in Andy Warhol’s work) and Marilyn in her breezy white dress. Even in this film’s cinematography, she is remembered through her image; there is no effort to explore an extraordinary story that sits right in front of its creators. Instead, there is a cruel irony to Blonde being a near three-hour appraisal of how the world, particularly men, still view the world’s greatest sex symbol as an object, merely blonde.
The film’s redeeming qualities undoubtedly involve the costuming and make-up. Ana de Armas is magically transformed as Marilyn and takes an uncanny likeness in many shots. De Armas herself takes a thrilling approach to the role and is certainly convincing as a delusional and misdirected Hollywood star. Similarly, Julianne Nicholson gives a startling performance as Marilyn’s mother at the height of her nervous breakdown. Whilst they may not reach critical acclaim with such uproar surrounding Blonde, their performances are no doubt unforgettable.
As one of the world’s highest-earning dead celebrities, Blonde indeed isn’t to blame for Marilyn Monroe’s modern exploitation. Nevertheless, the film profits through its explicit disrespect in its victimisation of Marilyn Monroe. Therefore this film helps to sustain and promote a romantic narrative of female pain, denying her an identity beyond one of beauty and tragedy, once again.