“Blonde” hyper-exploits Marilyn Monroe’s life and demise

*This article contains spoilers and topics of sexual assault, abortion, child abuse and domestic violence.*

Marilyn Monroe seemed to have the picture perfect life. Dazzling premieres, block-buster films, and notoriety around every corner. However, behind the beauty was absolute madness. It seemed Monroe couldn’t escape the several rumors surrounding her private life. Netflix’s new film “Blonde,” while stunningly created, overexploits Marilyn Monroe’s life.

Directed by Andrew Dominik and based off of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel of the same name, “Blonde” is a fictionalized version of Monroe’s rise to fame, the relationships she had and her tragic downfall that led to her 1962 barbituate overdose at the age of 36. The subject matter depicted earned the film an NC-17 rating, the first one on Netflix. The nearly three hour movie begs the question: do we need to keep exploiting Monroe 60 years after her death and why does Hollywood enjoy dehumanizing a troubled celebrity for its own profit?

Ana de Armas’ acting is stellar and delivers a powerhouse performance. One minute, she’s Marilyn Monroe on the Hollywood screen, delivering coy glances and innocent smiles. The next, she’s Norma Jeane, bellowing disturbing screams as she relives breakdowns of her childhood trauma. The makeup crew creates de Armas’ into a near perfect replica of the late actress. If one were to watch a clip side by side of Monroe and de Armas, it would be difficult to differentiate the two. In addition to de Armas, Lily Fisher, who plays a young Monroe, deserves awards as she naturally deliver’s Monroe’s traumatic childhood events. 

The cinematography is nothing short of stunning. Clips dart back and forth between the old glamour of black and white films and the muted tones of Marilyn’s modern life. The camera cuts to Monroe’s point of view several times which enhances the emotional appeal of the film. When Monroe is experiencing the effects of drugs, the camera shakes and the lens blurs, disorienting not only herself, but the viewer as well. Montages occur in important highlights of Monroe’s life and piece together her highest and lowest points that strings the viewer along. Unnerving music combines with intense scenes adding a heightened sense of unease.

While the acting and cinematography is of the highest quality, the plot pushes cinematic edginess and laces controversial issues of Monroe’s life in disturbing and, at times, graphic detail. Monroe’s childhood was one tragedy after another from being beaten and nearly drowned by her mother to eventually being placed at an orphanage. While it doesn’t explore her teenage years, the film cuts to her start in acting, fresh off her modeling career. The film shows Monroe’s most notable relationships such as with baseball play Joe DiMaggio and author Arthur Miller. It only shows the distressing aspects such as the off-screen beating and verbal abuse by DiMaggio and Miller’s condesceningness towards Monroe’s dreams of becoming a mother. The viewer cannot help but feel sympathy for Monroe and her dreams of being loved.

The film’s rare rating comes from the graphic depiction of Monroe’s sex life. While Monroe’s nude calendar photos are shown frequently and she’s often topless at her home, the disturbing portrayal of her being raped by a Hollywood executive at an audition and being forced to perform oral sex on JFK shows the unflinching ruthlessness Monroe faced. The film also shows two of Monroe’s abortions she had; not only having a CGI fetus giving an mini monologue, which sparked outrage from Planned Parenthood, but goes so far as to show a brief internal shot of instruments being inserted into Monroe. The sexualization of Monroe and the most intimate parts of her life are exploited to demoralize Monroe as a sex icon, not recognized for her quality acting and sharp wit that she had. 

While “Blonde” is certain to rack up accolades when award season rolls around, the story of Monroe’s demise after becoming one of Hollywood’s promising stars doesn’t shy away from 

showing how the men in her life used her and how the world never saw her for who she truly was. The film doesn’t glamorize her life in the slightest, rather it dramatizes it. The performances delivered by the actors are incredible, but the plot’s violent, vivid subject matter distracts the viewer from who Monroe really was; a kindhearted woman who wanted to be loved and adored, but fell victim to undeserving punishments. “Blonde” should be seen as an example of how a fictionalized gritty reality only harms the peace of a dead star who deserves to rest in peace, free from demoralization.

Header Photo: Ana de Armas portrays Marilyn Monroe in Netflix’s new film “Blonde” a fictionalized story about Monroe’s life. The film earned an NC-17 rating, the first Netflix-produced film to earn the rare and racy rating. (Courtesy of Netflix)

Write to Emma Johnson at emma.johnson.5@mnsu.edu

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