There has been quite a lot of discourse surrounding co-writer/director Andrew Dominik’s fictionalized recounting of Marilyn Monroe’s life story. For what it’s worth, Blonde is a wildly experimental ride filled with shocking imagery, and a transformative performance from Knives Out actress Ana de Armas. Yet in the same breath, how can one ignore the senseless and often careless way certain life events are depicted? Too frequently, Dominik’s directorial eye is practically fetishistic of Monroe, content to wallow in self-indulgent pretentious asides. Minimal dialogue and an obscene amount of nudity also make Blonde seem almost pornographic at times—through it all, Armas stays committed, a testament to the power of her performance.
Where else to start but the beginning? Young Norma Jeane (Lily Fisher), long before taking the stage name of Marilyn Monroe, is beaten and almost drowned in the tub by her unhinged, alcoholic mother. Obsessed over the “titan of the industry” man who left her when Norma was born, Norma’s mother places the blame solely on her innocent daughter. Before we have time to properly come to terms with young Norma’s plight, her mother has already been carted off to an asylum, and Norma is abruptly declared an orphan. A montage of various magazine covers and spreads transport us from one stage of Norma’s life to the next. Now going by Marilyn Monroe, Norma (Armas) attends auditions, gets forcibly raped, then goes to visit her mom, who she has not seen for over a decade. Though we visit seemingly vital segments in her life, the way Blonde has been edited ultimately feels quite random, and frustratingly unstructured.
From here, Blonde goes off on all manner of bizarre tangents while lightly treading over Monroe iconography. Did the movie really need to be almost three hours if it wasn’t going to go in-depth about anything it chooses to cover? Moments like The Seven Year Itch dress, or Monroe’s Hollywood starlet career are barely a blip. Instead, everything from an intimate threesome with two queer men (one of whom remarks that her room smells like “rancid old love paste”), conversing with unborn CGI babies in her own womb, being slapped around and called “meat” by one of her husbands, orally pleasing the president while imagining she is in a performance playing to a theater audience, and a fixation on pills unfolds before the viewer. Through each hardship, Armas is constantly demanded to be in a state of undress. The graphic nudity is called for about every five minutes, and grows gratuitous and tiring long before we reach the climax.
If I had to make a cinematic comparison to Blonde, think: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, but not a fraction as good. I have seen this title brought up on Twitter and Letterboxd many times over; though apt to some degree, at least David Lynch had a baseline understanding of his subject. Marilyn here is barely given character, fleeting through life one man to the next, and unable to revel in her career highs and lows. She calls nearly every man “daddy” while receiving increasingly worrisome letters from her own father that are recounted strictly by voiceover. It may not be a perfect biopic, but at least 2022’s Elvis provided a window into the figure’s personality, and life of excess. Blonde is content to bask in Monroe’s tragic story while fluffing it out with unnecessary content, and drowning out any semblance of joy. Can we please let this woman rest in peace?
Blonde mourns the tragedy of Monroe when it releases in select theaters on Friday, September 16th before its global debut to Netflix on Wednesday, September 28th.