For those looking for a romanticized, rose-tinted portrait of Marilyn Monroe, then Andrew Dominik’s Blonde is not for you. Based on the fictional novel by Joyce Carol Oates, the movie presents the life and career of Norma Jean Mortenson/Marilyn Monroe as a dark and disturbing tragedy. Much like Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, Blonde has a very theatrical and sometimes heightened presentation of real-life moments in Monroe’s journey as a cinematic icon. But unlike Elvis, this film pulls no punches in presenting the brutally troubling problems which affected women working in Hollywood within the studio system.
This comprehensive movie starts when Norma Jean was a young child living with her psychologically troubled single mother (Julianne Nicholson). As portrayed in the film, Norma Jean first experienced abuse at the hands of her mother. She would endure further abuse as an adult, as she struggles to get work as an actress in Hollywood. Adopting the persona of Marilyn Monroe (Ana de Armas), Norma Jean would have to give up her dreams as a real dramatic actor and settle for “success” and notoriety as a sex symbol. And as this icon of sexuality, the men in her life would continue to use and abuse her until the broken woman could no longer take it anymore.
Now, even though this movie utilizes gorgeous cinematography, and striking visuals, the dark, violent, and abuse content is often hard to stomach. Dominik and Oates obviously wish to make a biting indictment on the men of cinema and other powerful men who helped destroy what was a beautiful and remarkable lady. As portrayed in Blonde, the tragedy of Norma Jean/Marilyn is that she could never find the real love she deserved. By the time she finds a seemingly stable relationship with playwright Arthur Miller (Adrien Brodie) she has been pushed beyond the edge already, and is headed in a downward spiral.
The movie is an incredible experience and the tremendous performance by Ana de Armas definitely adds to the movie’s success in delivering its messages. However, Andrew Dominik’s choices in how he portrays Marilyn’s abuse sometimes crosses the line and feels exploitive in its presentation. There is one particular scene of sexual abuse that is so unnecessarily graphic, that it is gratuitous.
Nevertheless, Blonde is certainly one of the more remarkable movies of the year. With its incredible cast and their performances, along with strikingly otherworldly presentation, in addition to the uncanny recreations of some of Marilyn’s most iconic moments, it is a movie I still recommend, but with some warnings and reservations.