Trigger Warning: This review discusses rape, graphic sexual acts, and violence.
The action of singling someone out for cruel or unjust treatment.
The process of being victimized, either from a physical or a psychological or a moral or a sexual point of view.
Blonde, both the book and the new film by the same name, are tragedies and travesties from beginning to end. In her novel, Author Joyce Carol Oates took significant liberties in creating a false narrative about Marilyn Monroe, and the film has gone even further in graphic, grotesque adaptations of the scenes generated within the author’s mind. It’s the definition of exploitation, destruction, and total victimization. Even further, it’s the assassination of a woman who isn’t even here to defend herself and state definitively what’s true and what’s false. There are no heirs to come to her defense. There are only devoted and committed fans who are rising up in an attempt to ensure the world knows Marilyn’s true story.
First and foremost, readers of the book and viewers of the film must remember that it’s based on fiction. The story told in Blonde runs parallel with events from Marilyn’s life and career, for example, her childhood, her marriages, her films, and her death. Marilyn and her life are the base from which Oates springboards into a dark and distorted world, wherein she created events and occurrences that are fabrications from within the depths of her mind.
Blonde (the novel) opens with the following message:
“Blonde is a work of fiction. While many of the characters portrayed here have some counterparts in the life and times of Marilyn Monroe, the characterizations and incidents presented are totally the product of the author’s imagination. Accordingly, Blonde should be read solely as a work of fiction, not as biography of Marilyn Monroe.
Oates, Joyce Carol, Blonde, HarperCollins, 2000
Let’s clear up several inaccuracies shown in this film:
- There is no evidence that Marilyn’s mother Gladys attempted to drown young Norma Jeane in a bathtub. Keith Badman’s book Marilyn Monroe: The Final Years reports that in a 1968 interview with the BBC, Marilyn’s third husband Arthur Miller stated Marilyn had told him her mother had threatened her life three times. No other details were provided, and I’ve not been able to find the interview to verify this. There are no other known or documented attempts.
- It’s true that Gladys suffered from mental problems and was indeed institutionalized for most of her adult life. There was a short period of time when Marilyn lived with her mother when she was young. Most of Marilyn’s childhood, however, was spent with foster families and she had a brief stint at Hollygrove, an LA orphanage. She married her first husband at 16 in order to avoid having to return to the orphanage.
- Marilyn never accused Darryl Zanuck of raping her, nor did she ever expose this act.
- In the film, Marilyn’s second husband Joe DiMaggio beats her severely (off camera but the soundtrack ensures awareness) following the filming of the subway scene in Seven Year Itch on the streets of New York (during which Joe became visibly upset and left). There are conflicting reports on the topic of Joe physically abusing Marilyn. Neither of them ever commented about this publicly, but some close to her claimed Marilyn was bruised the next day. Makeup man Allan “Whitey” Snyder and hairstylist Gladys Whitten both claimed the next morning the bruises needed to be covered with makeup. Others have also commented on seeing bruising while Marilyn and Joe were married.
- There is no formal documented evidence of Marilyn ever having an abortion. One thing she wanted more than anything was to have children. She was expecting twice while married to her third husband Arthur Miller. In 1957, she suffered and ectopic pregnancy. In 1958, while filming Some Like it Hot, she was pregnant. It’s the reason she appears heavier than usual in the film. She miscarried in December that same year. Some believe that she became pregnant in 1956 immediately after they were married, during filming of The Prince and the Showgirl in England. However, it’s never been confirmed and in fact was denied by Miller.
- The three-way sexual relationship between Marilyn, Charlie Chaplin Jr. and Edward G. Robinson Jr. also arose from a crevice somewhere within the mind of the author. Chaplin Jr. writes in his biography that he and Marilyn dated briefly, but there certainly wasn’t any involvement with Robinson Jr.
- The film includes vile and disgusting sex scenes, which never happened. One shows Marilyn, Chaplin and Robinson in a movie theater during a showing of Niagara Falls. Marilyn masturbates each of them while one penetrates her with his fingers, all while others are present also watching the film. Another scene shows Marilyn kidnapped from an airplane and dragged by members of the Secret Service down a hotel hallway to a waiting President Kennedy who forces her to perform oral sex, then he rapes her. These scenes insult the dignity of Marilyn Monroe and are yet another example of the malicious creativity of author Joyce Carol Oates.
Blonde runs two hours and 47 minutes, and it may as well have been two years. It is long, dull, and boring. I forced myself to watch it, all the while squashing an incessant urge to turn it off. It lacks any message or purpose other than to victimize Marilyn and portray her as a woman devoid of any happiness or fulfillment. It is a ridiculous film. I laughed out loud several times. Andrew Dominik, the film’s director, lacks in originality and creative impact. What he delivers is intentional shock and horror at the expense of Hollywood’s most beloved star. The film itself presents as a high school film class end-of-term project, created by a group of schoolboys hellbent on objectifying women, without ever having experienced being with one. Alternating color and black and white footage was shot to represent Norma Jeane (color) and then Marilyn (black and white). It was brilliantly unsophisticated. Worse yet, as Kennedy climaxes in Marilyn’s mouth, a television in the hotel room flashes a rocket launching into the sky. Again, sophomoric and embarrassing. While Marilyn, Chaplin and Robinson are stargazing, the stars slowly turn into… swimming sperm in the sky. Also, during a three-way sex scene with them, Marilyn’s head hangs over the edge of the bed as she’s penetrated from behind, and then the bed’s sheets slowly turn into water tumbling over Niagara Falls. (Yawn.)
Ana de Armas, who portrayed Marilyn, has gone on record saying she believed Marilyn was haunting her throughout production of the film. She further stated, “We got this big card and everyone in the crew wrote a message to her. Then we went to the cemetery and put it on her grave. We were asking for permission in a way,” the actress, 34, said in an interview with AnOther. “Everyone felt a huge responsibility, and we were very aware of the side of the story we were going to tell – the story of Norma Jeane, the person behind this character, Marilyn Monroe. Who was she really?” Well, you’ve undoubtedly missed the mark. (Again, this was a work of fiction.) I can tell you who she WASN’T! Marilyn Monroe was not the sniveling, weak, barely functioning woman that you portrayed. By all accounts from those who knew her and worked with her, she was smart and intelligent, funny and witty, serious and thoughtful, reflective and deep. Was she perfect? No. Did she have faults like everyone else? Of course. To even consider the idea of asking permission from Marilyn herself to tell a story where she is almost killed by her mother, raped multiple times, forced to undergo abortions, has public sex in a movie theater, performs oral sex on the President of the United States and so on is repulsive and abhorrent. (Ana de Armas: How is it that you EVER thought this would be okay?)
The one positive thing I have to say about the film is the costumes were spot on. They artfully and precisely recreated outfits from Marilyn’s personal and film wardrobes. Nonetheless, in some cases de Armas was clothed in garments that were not correct with the timeline of the story. During her time in the film when with Arthur Miller, portrayed by Adrien Brody, she was outfitted in a costume from Something’s Got to Give, filmed in 1962. Marilyn and Arthur divorced in 1961. Further, she wore her Mexican cardigan while with Miller, again an item she didn’t own until 1962.
Sidenote: Brody has now come out in defense of the film. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter he said, “…it works somehow for the film to be a traumatic experience, because you’re inside of her — her journey and her longings and her isolation — amidst all of this adulation…” Again, this is not the story of Marilyn Monroe. It is fiction. No one was inside her journey or her longings or her isolation. And, if you have to make a statement in defense of your project then you know you’ve missed the mark.
Scenes showing Marilyn’s womb as she was undergoing abortions, not to mention her unborn child speaking to her, were despicable. It was just crass and unnecessary. Again, all for shock value and totally void of any sensitivity or respect for the main character.
But, without a doubt, shooting scenes in Marilyn’s home, including the actual bedroom in which she died, is inexcusable and goes beyond disrespectful. Most casual fans of Monroe won’t recognize that the scene in Blonde in which Ana de Armas is laying naked on her stomach in bed then waking up is a reproduction of the position of Marilyn Monroe’s body when she died. In the collage below, the top image is the recreation of the scene in Blonde. The bottom image is the actual photo of Marilyn’s bedroom taken by the police as part of their investigation into her death. I’ve removed Marilyn’s body out of respect for her. This is the position she was in when her body was discovered. Ana de Armas is in the exact same position as Marilyn.
In reflecting on the film, viewers have to question the intent and the message of Blonde. The author and the director are both guilty of blurring the lines between fact and fantasy, resulting in the general public believing, just enough, that Blonde was the true story of Marilyn Monroe, which forever curses the star.
Just this weekend I was approached by someone who noticed my tee-shirt (with an image of Marilyn). He asked me if I’d seen the film and proceeded to tell me how horrified he was to learn of the life of Marilyn Monroe. He stated he was so disturbed that he prayed for her. Over the next several minutes I explained to him that it was not the true story of Marilyn Monroe. Suffice it to say he was very relieved. But our worst fears are now realized. People believe this was her story.
In a recent Tweet, Oates stated, “I think it was/is a brilliant work of cinematic art obviously not for everyone. surprising that in a post#MeToo (sic) era the stark exposure of sexual predation in Hollywood has been interpreted as “exploitation.” surely Andrew Dominik meant to tell Norma Jeane’s story sincerely.
I think it was/is a brilliant work of cinematic art obviously not for everyone. surprising that in a post#MeToo era the stark exposure of sexual predation in Hollywood has been interpreted as “exploitation.” surely Andrew Dominik meant to tell Norma Jeane’s story sincerely. https://t.co/YCehGfskds
— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates) September 30, 2022
To that I say if this is a work of fiction that shouldn’t be taken as a biography (as per Blonde’s book intro), how is it exactly that Dominik is telling Norma Jeane’s story? What was the intent over two decades ago when you penned this novel well in advance of the #metoo movement? And, with her talent and resources, why could you not have chosen instead to honor Marilyn and attempt to write the true story of her life instead of creating a false narrative, which now the general public will believe thanks to the film?
Regarding Dominik, it’s clear he’s not a fan of Marilyn. During an interview with reporter Christina Newland from Sight and Sound magazine, the topic of gender dynamics in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was surfaced. As part of that conversation, Dominik referred to the main characters of Lorelei Lee and Dorothy Shaw (portrayed by Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell) as “well-dressed whores.” Newland posted outtakes from the interview on her Twitter account.
& here, I’m afraid, is an outtake. pic.twitter.com/1WxLzIKZh6
— Christina Newland (@christinalefou) September 27, 2022
It begs the question of Andrew Dominik: What is so wrong with you that you pursued this project for nearly 15 years, focusing solely on the utter destruction, dehumanization and figurative dismemberment of someone you’ve classified as a well-dressed whore?
I encourage those who are interested in learning the truth about Marilyn Monroe to read the following books:
- Norma Jeane (First Edition) by Fred Lawrence Guiles
- Marilyn Monroe by Maurice Zolotow
Zolotow’s book was actually written during Marilyn’s lifetime. Books written more recently that I’d recommend are:
- Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed, The Girl, and When Marilyn Met the Queen, all by author Michelle Morgan.
- Icon: The Life, Times, and Films of Marilyn Monroe: Volumes 1 and 2, by author Gary Vitacco-Robles.
I know the above two authors personally and can speak with certainty that they have left no stone unturned in attempting to portray Marilyn’s life accurately, with integrity, and out of respect for her.
Finally, for those interested in more accurate documentaries, I suggest The Legend of Marilyn Monroe, narrated by director John Huston, produced and distributed in 1965, along with Reframed: Marilyn Monroe, the four-part series produced by CNN released this year.
In a 1960 interview with journalist Georges Belmont Marilyn said, “The true things rarely get into circulation. It’s usually the false things.” Blonde is utterly atrocious, misogynistic, and a fail in every sense of the word. My only hope is that it is perceived by viewers as so incredibly ridiculous, salacious, and horrifying that the general public will switch it off and assume it couldn’t possibly be an accurate representation of the mosts famous blonde of all time. We should all take comfort in knowing Marilyn Monroe is not here to witness this.