Marilyn Monroe once famously said, “Please don’t joke with me. I don’t mind making jokes, but I don’t want to be one.” Unfortunately, no one followed her wish there either.
Netflix’s latest film Blonde wants to do exactly what he’s trying to slander, which is to reduce Marilyn Monroe – a Hollywood golden phenomenon – to just sex and tragedy. It’s a grotesque resurrection of Monroe only to repeatedly dehumanize her and erase other aspects of her personality and life. It is downright disturbing to watch as it feels like torture pornography. The film is a cycle of sex, rape, abortion and an explosion of instability that robs Monroe of her agency as she craves approval from the men in her life – hoping they will become a father figure to her. In short, Blonde seems to enjoy making Monroe a glamorous victim.
In an attempt to “fictionalize” her life, Blonde becomes a vehicle to sell all the hyped and salacious controversies surrounding the star. It’s so graphic in its attempt to be “artistic” that it’s simply stripped of everything that creates shock value under the guise of realism, a sickening and exhausting justification. It’s just mostly the women who are abused, pawned, shamed and given little or no part in such shows or movies from House of the Dragon to Blonde.
Blonde zooms in on Monroe’s tattered sanity and overemphasizes her body, but never dives into her thoughts. The film, based on the book of the same name, totally misses the idea that Monroe was so much more. There are several breaking points in this fictional fever dream, one being the actual journey down her cervix as she performs an abortion and the iconic dress being blown up during filming of Seven Year Itch. There are repeated shots where she only focuses on the intimate parts of her body while hungry men keep cheering, and finally an extended oral sex scene. It’s excruciating to watch Marilyn Monroe being abused and exploited by Hollywood machines, again as fabulous as Ana De Armas at portraying her vulnerability.
We know the gloom of Hollywood and she’s been luridly objectified and the way she’s been treated as a “sexpot.” For years, biographers of Monroe have written books about the rumors that have surrounded her fame and allegedly slept their way to the top. Very few have actually attempted to unpack the phenomenon and the influence she has had, instead she has continued to be sexualized and dubbed the infamous “Dumb Blonde”. It’s a narrative that’s been going on for years, and Blonde continued the tradition. Conveniently, the film completely neglects to delve into the many facets of Monroe’s personality. We see her being abused by men but never the article she wrote to confront her. It was Monroe who exposed Hollywood’s nefarious environment for women in her 1953 article “Wolves I Have Known” – sixty years before #MeToo shook Hollywood. She was still a rising star, with only a handful of films, and yet she evoked the seedy men she’d met in Hollywood. She had written, “Some are sinister, some are just good Charlies trying to get something for free, and others make a game out of it.” There were many wolves Monroe had to fight — the ones who gave her gifts in exchange for sent sexual favors, and in some cases, when she refused, she was dropped from the contract.
It’s been a constant battle with herself, and Monroe admitted she hadn’t completely dodged the casting couch. In her own unfinished autobiography, My Story, Monroe wrote, “You know, when a producer calls an actress into his office to discuss a script, that’s not all he has in mind. I slept with producers. I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t.” It’s not like she was a pioneer for women’s rights — but she was still ahead of her time.
Still, she worried about other women as she was fully aware of the ugliness of Hollywood. She also warned other aspiring actresses in the industry about the dirt and grime, as Joan Collins recalled during British talk show This Morning. “She said, ‘Watch out for the wolves in Hollywood, honey … if they don’t get what they want, they’ll cancel your contract.'” But we don’t see that in Blonde. No, we just see a broken, battered woman desperately trying to come to terms with life, troubled relationships, depression and eventually a suicide that sees her “reunited” with her father figure.
The Many Sides of Monroe
Sarah Churchwell – one of the few biographers to actually do her homework on Marilyn Monroe – delved deep into the true personality of Monroe in her 2004 book The Many Lives Of Marilyn Monroe. She worked to debunk numerous myths surrounding Monroe, starting with fragility and the “dumb blonde” image. It’s a very different picture of Monroe that she creates from interviews with close friends, newspaper reports and interviews. Monroe’s life has been a struggle, yes, but she hasn’t always been as hysterical and at the mercy of men, and depressed, as portrayed in Blonde.
In fact, she had an extraordinary wit and a scathing sense of humor. One of the most prominent examples was when a journalist asked her if she thought Arthur Miller married her because he was looking for a muse. She said she would reply only on condition that he print her reply in full without editing. He agreed and she said, “No comment.” That’s the mark of a woman with a sharp and outrageous wit. Another example is her ability to turn the tables on an interviewer when asked if she was a new Marilyn. She coolly replied, “I’m the same person. But that’s a different suit.”
Constantly misunderstood as a “dumb blonde” because of the roles she played with such aplomb, director Billie Wilder praised her for this particular quality and famously called her “absolute genius as a comic book actress”. She was far from being “stupid” as she portrayed it – but few understood that.
In fact, Arthur Miller himself wrote an article in the 1958 issue of Life Magazine, addressing her sense of humor and vivacity. Several portraits of Marilyn Monroe accompanied the article, entitled “My Life Marilyn,” and Miller expressed how unusual it was in each portrait. “As in life, so in these pictures – it greets the imagination from the shore of the real until there comes a moment when it carries us, reality and all, with it into the dream, and we are grateful. Her wit here consists of her absolute commitment to two normally irreconcilable opposites – the real femininity and the man’s fantasy of femininity. We know she knows the difference in these images, but refuses to admit there’s a contradiction, and it’s serious and funny at the same time,” he had typed. He paints an ethereal vision of Marilyn Monroe, almost stunning – yet vividly real – a taste of what she actually was.
Fight for LGTBQ rights
Monroe was so much more than the bombshell she was always referred to. Blonde never references her politics or even her stance on LGTBQ rights — and we’re talking about a 1950s and 1960s world. She was once quoted as saying, “When two people love each other, who cares what their skin color, tastes or religion are? It’s two people. It is wonderful. Love is beautiful. It’s as simple as that.” She was supportive of people struggling with their own sexuality: “People who aren’t able to open the door for him scoff at his homosexuality. What do you know about it? labels. People love to put labels on each other. Then they feel safe,” Monroe had said, referring to Montgomery Clift, who was being harassed for coming out of the closet. “People tried to make me a lesbian. I laughed. No sex is wrong when there is love in it.”
But Blonde doesn’t capture any of that fire, wit and nuance. It only fits with the over-sexed, distorted image of Marilyn Monroe that has continued to circulate over the decades. Blonde shows her going insane, an unstable mother without a child. Monroe continues to be resuscitated only to be abused and exploited once again. She would just be left alone as it’s uncertain if a current production house would ever capture her iridescence.