BLondonAndrew Dominik’s new Netflix film adds as much nuance to Marilyn Monroe’s idea as can be inferred from a gynecological exam. The bombshell movie star has long been known as a tragic figure, a woman who was abused by Hollywood studios, her husband Joe DiMaggio and, as a child, her unwell mother. Rather than challenging the conventional narrative, director Dominik’s nightmarish film, adapted from Joyce Carol Oates’ 2000 fictional novel, takes it to an even darker and even more invasive. If you want to understand Marilyn Monroe, it suggests, you must first get into her womb.
This grim drama takes us several times into the previously unexplored depths of Marilyn Monroe’s vagina over an astonishing 2 hours and 45 minutes running time. I won’t “spoil” them all, but in the film’s opening hour we watch Monroe, played with unsettling vulnerability by Ana de Armas, excitedly clutching her belly as the camera cuts to her glowing womb – complete with a spectrally lit fetus . A few scenes later, we follow Marilyn to the operating table, where doctors perform an abortion that she has not consented to. ‘Please won’t you listen? I’ve changed my mind,” she begs, as her doctor inserts the speculum—a procedure that’s horribly depicted from the point of view of Marilyn’s own cervix.
Dominik insists on the animation principle of his film, which itself seems to be derived from that famous Rita Hayworth line about her most iconic and alluring film role: “Men go to bed with Gilda and wake up with me.” In blondsycophants and highwigs hoping to get a slice of the Hollywood starlet instead find a more timid, desperate woman named Norma Jeane, who just happens to look exactly like Marilyn Monroe. That might be interesting as a passing observation, but the movie makes this point again and again. “She’s beautiful, but I’m not her,” says Norma Jeane, looking at a glamorous photo of herself in a magazine. “F*** Marilyn,” Norma Jeane yells into the phone later. “She is not here.”
If Dominik’s point is that Marilyn is an invention – “baby’s first toy,” one of her lovers cryptically remarks – then perhaps these scenes of excruciating body horror are the director’s sadistic way of reminding us that she is more is then its two-dimensional projection. If you subject Marilyn Monroe to the compulsion of an unwanted abortion, won’t she scream in wordless pain? And when Norma Jeane becomes pregnant again years later, doesn’t her unborn fetus acquire the ability to speak human?
I promise you, you read it right. In one of the film’s most disturbing bodily sequences, Marilyn’s surprisingly talkative fetus—who somehow also has knowledge of her previous abortion—begs the host to let this pregnancy continue. It’s not just “alive” in the eyes of blond, it has a will. Marilyn can hear it. She responds aloud to them as if they are in conversation. I had to watch this scene several times to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating, but no – in the middle of the night blondthere is a madman Look who’s talking precursor.
Politically, these scenes of a woman burdened by years of abortion regrets are highly controversial. As a way of storytelling, they are completely alienating. Marilyn Monroe never seems less Real to me than when she is merrily conversing with the unborn child in her wonderfully radiant womb. Am I supposed to believe that all movie stars are lit from within?
Marilyn also never feels more like a Hollywood toy than when Dominik subjects her to gory sexual and medical violence, literally examining her and barbarically showing her what it feels like to be one of the most famous women of the 20th century from the inside out. blond is not a movie about Marilyn Monroe’s exploitation, but a new low in the way Hollywood treats her – a sex object reduced to a sexual organ.