Blonde review: A nightmarish, unsettling reimagining of Marilyn Monroe's life you cannot watch more than once
Blonde review: There is very little truth and still so much reality in Andrew Dominik's not-really-a-biopic on Marilyn Monroe.
There are few films so horrifying, brutal and still so stunning as Andrew Dominik's latest feature, Blonde. The closest association I can tether it to is Darren Aronofsky's Mother! and Requiem For A Dream. Both divisive, both gorgeous and both absolutely impossible to watch more than once. Blonde is a reimagined, fictional biopic on the woman the world just cannot let rest, Marilyn Monroe. Dominik brings Marilyn back from grave and gives her the worst life one can imagine. With multiple scenes of rape, harassment, child abuse, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, miscarriages, forced abortions, drug addiction, mental illnesses, and suicide, the film is farthest thing from an easy watch about a Hollywood starlet. But Dominik also makes sure that behind the façade of Marilyn, it's Norma Jean who takes centre stage at all times. And Ana de Armas shines as both the glamorous star and the tortured woman that she actually was.
But as easy as it was for me to be mesmerised and affected by Blonde, others might find it extremely exploitative. Of course, if you had to imagine a different life for Marilyn Monroe, why did it have to be the worst possible version?
Her mother blames her for the dad ditching them, tries to kill her when she was a child and ultimately ends up in a mental hospital, pushing Norma Jean to a life in an orphanage. We cut to her finally landing her big break at the movies courtesy some horrible, non-consensual transactions with powerful men. The journey from one film to another might be more tough to follow if one isn’t too familiar with Don't Bother To Knock and Niagara and her earlier titles.
The whimsical transitions and editing also give the film a fever dream-like quality. Things feel more grounded when all the different men start entering her life. From being part of the most wholesome threesome ever, to landing herself a wife beater, to finally (almost) finding herself an idyllic life, the men are always an important part of her story. These also include the ones who raped her, the millions who lech on her in her flying skirt, and most of all, the one who left her before the story even started: her father. The ‘daddy' writes her letters after she becomes famous and they aren't always written in kindest words. Sometimes sharing her sorrow, sometimes stopping just short of calling her a slut, her absentee father (and unborn babies) became Norma Jean's entire reason to live and ultimately die. She falls at the feet of these men like their biggest devotee, rarely raising objection in a fashion that I have come to call ‘abhagan chic’. It's a Lana Del Rey song come to life.
Though the story follows a linear timeline, it still takes some cerebral power to keep up with. Dominik employs multiple filming styles, different frames and colour schemes, apparently at random. The same scene would be shot on black and white film then quickly switch to the hazy golden pantyhose style that I usually associate with Joe Wright's stunning period dramas. The purpose of it, beyond confusing the viewers, still eludes me. As does the purpose of getting Ana de Armas to shed her clothes in every other scene. After a point, it becomes extremely difficult to justify just why we had to watch the camera focus on her underwear in the flowing skirt scene for what seemed like an eternity.
But clothed or not, Ana makes sure you do not leave unaffected. She easily sells Norma Jean as the most beautiful woman you ever saw, and also the most tortured woman you'd ever meet. She is virtually the same Marilyn Monroe as she woos men for diamonds in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and lets her skirt fly in The Seven Year Itch. The scenes where she nervously gives film auditions and cries like a child in her mother's lap are sure to make the Oscars' sizzle reel for Best Actress award next year. With her uncanny ability to sell innocence (remember Knives Out) and the lack of it (remember Deep Water), there could not have been a better choice than her for playing Norma Jean and Marilyn Monroe.
Blonde is ultimately a polarising film but serves as a vehicle to hammer in Ana de Armas' star quality. Many will shun it for it horrific imagery and brutality on a misjudged, dead woman. But if you were to really give up on that idea, see it as the story of one fictional Norma Jean that never existed but all of us know how she very well could have, you have yourself the true heartbreaking, stories of a lot of women wronged by the world. Blonde, in my opinion, has been more than successful in achieving that.