Is Netflix’s Controversial Marilyn Monroe-Inspired Movie Worth It?

The trailer for “Blonde” (2022) directed by Andrew Dominik.

Before the release of his filmwhich he took nearly 20 years to conceive, New Zealand director Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Again with emotion)defined Blond as if “Citizen Kane and Raging Bull have a baby girl”. However, it would be more accurate say that this almost three hour long film follows in the footsteps of David Lynch Mulholland Drive (2001) or by Paul Verhoeven Showgirls (1995), while evoking Revelation now (1979) in some of the nightmarish scenes. But does it live up to these masterpieces?

The fake biopic based on the mythical bestseller Blond written by the American Joyce Carol Oates offers a fictionalized vision of the life of the great Marilyn Monroe. It is above all a criticism of Hollywood, the entertainment world and the patriarchy, at the risk of erasing key moments in the life and career of the star. With Cuban-Spanish actress Ana de Armas (James Bond: No Time to Die, Blade Runner 2049) in the lead role, the film strives to portray a woman who is constantly abused. First by her mother, who attacks the little girl on several occasions, then by men working in cinema, literature or sport, and finally, in politics.

This dark and baroque film, which was presented at the last Venice Film Festival, is prohibited for those under 18 because it features realistic sex scenes and shocking scenes of physical and psychological violence. Between these raw shots, sometimes shot like monstrosities worthy of a horror film, or like an arthouse feature film, the public can see Marilyn Monroe during an audition, trying to gain respect by as an actress. We also see her declaiming metaphysical verses or crying over her fate in other poetic moments. However, we never really see the star play major roles or multiply takes on the set, in short, do his job.

Ana de Armas in "Blond" (2022)

Ana de Armas in “Blonde” (2022)

The innocence and the evanescent charm of the icon are well rendered. There is the accurate portrait of a fragile woman, who never knew her father, suffered from her mother’s madness, wanted at all costs to be loved and to have a child. But where is the glowing idol that shone in movies like Some like it hot (1959), or was she looking to perfect her acting skills? What about the left-wing woman who liked to read, educate herself or throw herself into psychoanalysis? The different layers of the complex, resilient and exciting personality of Marilyn Monroe, aka Norma Jean Baker, are silenced to foster cunning with adventurous camera movements and sound effects playing on noise, music and silence.

Ana de Armas and Andrew Dominik have chosen to champion a version of the Marilyn Monroe myth that portrays her as a childish ingenue, constantly victimized and hurt, like a lost Bambi caught in the headlights of a car. The director wants to denounce the patriarchy and the powerful and manipulative men of the film industry – who evoke prehistoric versions of Weinstein – but he continues on the same pattern with his scabrous, torrid and often quite reductive images. It moves us at times, especially when it dwells on Norma Jean Baker’s melancholy, loneliness and quest for identity, and it also disturbs us or sometimes makes us feel sensational. But the infernal Blond is not the movie “for all the unloved children of the world” dreamed of by the director, nor a great feminist and revolutionary work that will mark history. It is above all the umpteenth male fantasy cultivating the cliché of the superb, idiotic young woman waiting for her saviour. Neither the dreamy and haunting soundtrack composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, nor the aesthetic black and white shots have succeeded in saving it from boredom, bad taste and chaos.

“Blonde” (2022) by Andrew Dominik, available on Netflix on September 23.

About Herbert L. Leonard

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