For this post, I’m putting on my academician & literati hat…
I read Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates in 2010, out of my urgent love for Oates’ chilling writing & adoration of Marilyn Monroe as a fashion icon & screen legend. Knowing that the book was, in fact, marketed & labeled as a fictional biography, I voluntarily stepped into Oates’ well-researched & mystifying gaze upon Monroe’s troubled & glitzy life. By the time I finished the book, my heart sunk deeply into a place of grief for another version of the life of Hollywood’s most iconic of bombshells, ending in solemn tragedy, the same feeling I recognized from HBO’s Norma Jean & Marilyn (1996) & then later with My Week with Marilyn (2011), as well as Netflix’s documentary The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes (2022), HBO’s documentary Love, Marilyn (2012), & Lifetime’s The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe (2015).
No matter the avenue by which a viewer enters the memory of Monroe, the outcome is always the same; at first, I suspected that Oates’ Blonde offered a revisionist hope, but by the end, that remains unattained because Monroe does die & never gets her glorious victory. That’s a blunt reality that can’t be changed, even if the fictional road to her demise is illustrated with fearless creative license.
However, not long after completing Oates’ novel, I started freelancing for Movie Buzzers, & the one bit of film news to have followed me from that era of my life has finally come to fruition with director Andrew Dominik’s interpretation of Oates’ heralded fiction, which has come under fire with deeply scathing criticism, after its long-awaited premiere.
Having read the book & nearly every major review of the controversial film, I stand firm in stating that Dominik serves Oates well. That’s not to say that the film is perfect, but it’s a loyal depiction of another artist’s depiction, & yes, these are depictions of a real woman—one who is still very much relevant at the forefront of the media 60 years after her death. These days, headlines about Monroe are less about her films & more about her experiences through the lens of the media & paparazzi. No matter the screen size, big or small, Monroe’s legacy is fraught with exploitation. Dominik serves one more example, albeit an explicit & unapologetic vision, that won’t victimize her more than she already was, especially as unauthorized biopics & mini series about other celebrities—who are still alive & vocal about their disapproval for such interpretations—are made by those with enough money to not care, consumed by the public, & awarded by the industry (see: Pam & Tommy).
The NC-17 rating for Blonde is a justified warning the audience chooses to join when streaming the film on Netflix; therefore, they should expect the unexpected. The sex is graphic. The nudity is excessive. The abuse is gutting. The fetuses—yes, plural—are unnecessary, but overall, vehicles that reinforce the myth of who the woman underneath the platinum persona was. Marilyn Monroe is a myth that killed Norma Jean Baker—that is Dominik & Oates’ story.
In addition, Ana de Armas, recognizable accent & all, is mesmerizing, even in tears, on a stage, when victimized, opposite her lovers, when nude, in a drug-induced hysteria, & when joyous. de Armas embodies Oates’ Monroe, spitting out every ugly side of a male-dominated, vicious Hollywood back at the audience. Moreover, de Armas conquers the demands of the role, sure to garner her an Oscar nomination.
The shifts from color to black & white are confusing, but it’s wiser to go with it than question it, in order to immerse the audience in the imagery that made Monroe sparkle & dimmed her at the same time.
The costumes, hair, & makeup are identical & uncanny to Monroe’s most gorgeous, provocative, & vulnerable moments captured on film & through photographs.
Ultimately, if your hope is to enjoy Blonde, do your research first to not only understand the source material, but the context in which Monroe lived. Do I recommend this film? Not to every one. However, there are far more shocking & formulaic forms of entertainment about fantastical lands with their own crude, misogynistic mythologies that the masses flock to. If you appreciate cinematic artistry that pushes boundaries, watch Blonde. If everything you’ve heard about it makes you pause, move on.
Also, read Oates’ short story “Three Girls” to see how the author focuses on Monroe in a shorter, more validating & charming fictional work that I’d love to see find its way to the big screen.
View the trailer & other videos about Blonde below. Happy Styling!