‘Blonde’ focuses on a wildly incoherent portrait of Marilyn Monroe


Graphic by Gabi Camacho

Selvyn Orellana, Contributor

The idolization of Marilyn Monroe has long been utilized in many different mediums. More exclusively through famed Andy Warhol paintings, crass uncle T-shirts and pretentious yet separated from reality Oscar-bait films, no amount of which can prepare viewers for the 166 minutes of unrelenting tragedy and abuse that is “Blonde,” where even a shining performance from Ana de Armas isn’t enough to make the film worthwhile. 

“Blonde” is an adaptation of the novel by the same name by acclaimed writer Joyce Carol Oates. Andrew Dominik’s film is as close to faithful as a film can get, but the same cannot be said for the life of Monroe. Oates and Dominik have reinforced that the story of “Blonde” is a work of fiction derived from the life and times of the famed Hollywood actress. However, it’s hard to sit through the nearly three-hour-long film and ignore the damage it does to Monroe’s legacy. Likenesses are utilized to serve offensive rumors, the NC-17 rating yields needlessly graphic sequences and the defiance towards traditional biopic conventions only serves to shock and disorient. 

The film made headlines when Dominik wouldn’t back down on the rating: an elusive NC-17. In the world of “Euphoria” and “Game Of Thrones,” it’s hard to harp on excessive sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. So when “Blonde” was granted the unrestricted ability to depict and shoot whatever they wanted, everybody immediately wondered what it must have been like for Hollywood’s most recognizable sex symbol.

Dominik answers with a highly provocative yet nightmarish attempt at placing viewers into a world of exploitation and abuse. Dominik is not a rookie to storytelling with masterful visual language. What he is new to, however, is alluring visuals translating to coherent storytelling. At its core, “Blonde” is a very impressively directed mess that refuses to hold your hand through its narrative trauma. In other words, the film consists of disconnected events to spur up disoriented feelings of sympathy instead of a brutally honest portrait of Monroe.

“Blonde” begins with Norma Jean, the only daughter of a single mother and an absent, supposed film tycoon father and what follows sets a nightmare into motion; a traumatic childhood event that places Monroe on the doomed path of tragedy. “Blonde” has the inconvenient tendency to skip over what feels like important details in her life.

Dominik has placed a sharp focus on the most uneasy and provocative moments of Monroe’s life and career. Following her traumatic childhood, she is quickly launched into the hands of predatory Hollywood producers, complete with realistically graphic sequences of sexual assault. The film doesn’t make it very far before it becomes difficult to watch. It’s almost as if the film is against focusing on the uplifting moments of her life to increase the constant tragedy.

At the center of what increasingly feels like a comically unrelenting tragedy, is de Armas, a shining light in this dark, bleak portrait. There’s a complex delicacy to her performance that makes the film manageable to get through. Her talents are paired with striking closeups and beautifully crafted sequences that feel intricately painted by an artist. It’s Dominik’s collaboration with de Armas that adds depth to Monroe. The way she navigates raw and unfiltered misery feels like a poetic combination of old Douglas Sirk films and modern abstract horrors.

It’s safe to say that de Armas might be the only outstanding actor in the film as well-known male faces come and go as they leave their traumatic mark and then disappear. Adrien Brody makes a brief appearance as Arthur Miller, the only figure in Monroe’s life that’s treated her with genuine love.

The ending for “Blonde” couldn’t come any slower. When the credits do finally roll, it feels like a release more than an ending, literally and figuratively, in the sense that you can finally close the laptop and go about your ruined day and in the way that Monroe’s tragic story warranted an ending that never shut the book on her eternal exploitation. To this day, her likeness is instantly recognizable and utilized for its provocative nature. “Blonde” isn’t for the faint of heart, as the imagery is hard to digest and its messaging is difficult to dissect in the face of overt shock.