Blonde's sacrifice to Valhalla

Blonde (2022) converts the  'Marilyn prose' of the novel by Joyce Carol Oates (2000) into imagery in a relentless travesty devoid of integrity and ridden with clichés. Oates calls it a "penetration" of the fictitious self of Marilyn Monroe and was used by Andrew Dominik as a "bible" for his film. 

Many Netflix spectators describe that they reached a saturation point after 20 minutes. Oates' first chapter is mirrored in these opening scenes:  the leitmotif of closeups of Monroe in her white briefs forced into unsolicited sex in casting auditions or twirling on the set of The Seven Year Itch; growing up as an infant in a bureau drawer with a mentally unstable mother Gladys (Julianne Nicholson); receiving  a birthday present, a photograph of her absent father placed over her bed by her mother; the fire set that results in the child being placed in an orphanage.

The language of Blonde is torpid and  dramatic: "I will punish myself, despite your love" is one of the fantasmagorical constructions of the novel that finds its way into the film.  Oates describes Marilyn as a "defeated" child, "sacrificed" to an institution as ward of Los Angeles County. Her "Oakie name" Norma Jeane adapted from "movie people" - Norma Talmadge and Jean Harlow is changed to Marilyn by a studio executive studio executive and she takes her mother's maiden name Monroe. Her hair is bleached and her teeth straightened. She is a woman, according to Oates, "burdened by her body"; her natural beauty commodified by the studios.  She is not shown reading for serious roles in Ibsen or Chekhov. Blonde cherry picks the roles which gave her less money, less versatility and dwarf her real acting register.

 Ana De Armas, Blonde (2022).
©La Biennale di Venezia

Oates communicates that the psyche of the novel is about a "creature desperate to survive". She calls her 'a goddess visiting in disguise' for screen tests, films and public appearances but otherwise is just 'plain Marilyn'.  In Dominik's Blonde ritual enactments of 'goddess murder' are shown through objectification and sexual abuse.  Oates said that Monroe was aware of her predators like the Kennedy's but claims she  took the stance: "I won't interfere with the world that is trying to exploit me but see how far it will take me".  Yet, Blonde shows Monroe's complicity and rebellion against her subjugation in scenes where she is screaming,  reeling from pills and alcohol, dissasociating from trauma and speaking in her inner voice in a daunting and tragic downward spiral. It is one punch after another from the burning house to the orphanage to abusive marriages, to the White House.  

Oates regards the film as "feminist" and extraordinary for being made by a man. The film is neither feminist nor is the novel. The reactions from the general public are overwhelmingly negative since its debut at Venice in September.  It did not win any awards. Almost every scene of Blonde is embedded with misogyny towards Monroe, her mother, or any woman with a role in the film. Blonde is a  relentless dismissive portrait of a mythologized woman crammed with as many legends as possible from the annals of Monroe worship. 

Blonde populates Marilyn Monroe's world with predators in a cycle of abuse. Ana De Armas as Monroe infantalizes and subjugates her character in homage to a caricature that is a copy of a copy  incarnate from hell. She consistently uses a baby doll voice and is unable to register anything other than being a victim, seemingly unaware of the largesse of her character. The acclaim accorded to Monroe in her life is never shown, nor the respect of her peers. Her personal accountability for her career with media savvy smarts and entrepreneurship  that made her successful is non-existent.  The film seems to push her as far into her crypt as possible in Valhalla as a fait accompli. De Armas revealed that she visited Monroe’s grave in Los Angeles to ask for her permission to play her (after Jessica Chastain and Naomi Watts had already turned it down). It seems like director and actress knew nothing about her career and relied on a 20 year old novel to tell the story.

Joyce Carol Oates response to the overwhelming negative reaction to the NC-17 rated Blonde is don't watch it (albeit read her novel).  For those who are tired of the character assassination of Monroe it is good advice.  Oates and others attribute the negative reaction to the "artistic" way the film is made since it deviates from  Netflix' s standard entertainment. This assumption is an affront to the eclectic and sophisticated tastes of viewers.  Blonde mixes black and white with color cinematography, shows a superimposition of Marilyn having sex atop a gushing Niagara Falls,  dialogue with fetuses,  and POV shots of OB/GYN procedures. This is not why the film is controversial. Blonde's  framing of an ostentatious fantasy of Monroe drugged, dragged  and presented to Jack Kennedy’s room for sexual services while he watches sci-fi on a TV console is an egregious and pretentious turnoff  in league with Vincent Gallo's Brown Bunny.  "Death" arrives with a package to the actor's home in Brentwood two days before her death, a stuffed animal dressed up like a  "Rosebud". Montage and elliptical editing suggest Monroe dies allegedly from the horror of the experience.

After being subjugated, dissected and and colonized  by the camera and editing in the film's myopic and intrinsic misogyny nearly three hours have gone by. Monroe's body is central in the framing of the film, passive, erotic, and dismembered for the male gaze,  adhering to the embryonic blueprint of women in film. 

Netflix waited a year to release September 23 hoping for the NC-17 stamp to rub off,  hoping that a standing ovation at Venice in September would redeem it (all films with the director and stars present at Venice get standing ovations).  The film shows an actor without a single ally to support her.  She is surrounded by a sea of exploiters much like the exaggerated and massive extras on the set of The Seven Year Itch in Blonde.  

Andrew Dominik's films are seldom about women and he admits he knows little about them and would like to even be one to understand, so why make a film about one of the most complex, least understood women in film history? 

Fortuitously the gates of Valhalla today are laden with the lipstick kisses of women who esteem Marilyn Monroe - her being -  intelligence,  humor, entrepreneurship, artistry, and humanity, whose ambitions as a serious and gifted actor were often thwarted but who always conveyed a presence fueled by a powerful inner light.

Brad Pitt producer, Ana De Amas, Andrew Dominik and Adrien Brody at premiere of "Blonde"
Venice September 8, 2022. ©La Biennale di Venezia

© 2022 - Moira Jean Sullivan -  09/30/22
Movie Magazine International