Blonde movie review: Ana de Armas cuts you to bits and pieces as Marilyn Monroe
Blonde is not a silly biopic that is wholesome and heartwarming. It is raw, and completely stylised and fictional account of an iconic star’s life. It is inspired partly by facts, like Marilyn Monroe’s marriages, and partly by scandals and rumours, like the one with President John F. Kennedy.
castAna De Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Xavier Samuel, Julianne Nicholson
Of rumours, scandals and public spectacles. Of shocking revelations and distressing moments… That is what Blonde is made up of. The film is not a biopic, and neither is it the biopic of Marilyn Monroe. Blonde is just a reflection of the iconic Hollywood star through a prism. This prism is the 2000 book Blonde by author Joyce Carol Oates. In fact, the book allows for more of Monroe’s life to leak through the pages than director Andrew Dominik allows through his screen. His film magnifies and digs through the lows of Monroe’s life in a highly stylised manner, and as a result, what we really have is a spectacular Ana de Armas as Monroe, suck you in deeper while she drowns in her sorrows.
Blonde starring Ana de Armas got a standing ovation of close to 14 minutes at the Venice Film Festival where the film premiered. We see a young girl Norma Jeane Mortenson inflicted with trauma by her mother who blames her for her absentee father. Her mother — Gladys Pearl Baker (Julianne Nicholson) — is emotionally unstable, almost kills her daughter by intentionally driving into a wildfire, and when that doesn’t work, she also tries to drown her daughter in a bathtub. Despite all of this, Monroe seeks validation from her mother as an adult. She seeks to see pride shine bright in her mother’s eyes, and hopes that finding her father would help her mother’s mental state.
The film begins by showing Norma from the perspective of her mother who is not sober. It’s hazy and shaky. At one point, there is even a filter that smudges the image of Norma at the edges, as if to point out that the person looking at her is not in their sense. Then we see Norma through the people who begin to adore her. The men in her life, the fans who have hypersexualized her and objectified her, and men who claimed to do the best in her interest. We rarely see Monroe from her perspective, but the moment, when it occurs is blindingly breathtaking. Norma, as someone who has never found acceptance from her family begins to seek it outside, and she has created Monroe to get this acceptance that she had always craved. Norma, every time she appears, is an innocent woman who is most excited about receiving care and attention.
Every time Norma is in a tough situation, she brings out the Monroe in her to face it. It is as if Monroe is her armour, and towards the end, also her undoing. From sexual assault, and abortion to miscarriages, the attention that Dominic has paid to some dark moments in Monroe’s life forces audiences to think about the role that they play in perpetrating unsafe environment for actors. The struggle that Norma has around the spotlight, the untoward attention that she has gained, and the roles that only underscored her as nothing but blonde and dumb.
There is a sequence where Norma breaks down on the sets of one of her films in Blonde, and her struggle is with nothing but the image that she is being forced to live. Even as she speaks lines that only reiterate the image, she is unable to accept it wholly and she is split between the love that she continues to receive and the contrary image that is growing larger than her very life. It is then that she seeks the help of her makeup person Whitey to bring out the Monroe in her. He, in fact, seems to understand Norma the best, and their relationship also happens to be the only one that really sees Norma as a person and not a star.
The perspective of the film in its entirety is not personal. It is not Marilyn that is speaking to us, but someone who has had an insight into her life. It is a puzzle, one that is not meant to be put together. It is clear that the film doesn’t want to erase the mystery and allure that surrounds the iconic star. Instead, it wants the viewers to get to the depths of this very allure, yet stay far enough to keep the mystery alive. Be it Norma’s marriages in the film, her affairs, or the final act, where she feels as if she is being followed by someone after she gets pregnant with ‘The President’s’ child, it is just the perfect mix of truth and lies. It is so well-blended that not only Norma, but even we begin to confuse the reality to what we see on screen.
Her smile hid her pain, and that iconic laugh was a wall that she built around herself to feel safe. But in the end, nothing could help Norma, but silence. She breaks us apart with the raw pain that is evident in every scene, she challenges us to try being in her shoes, and she continually hopes. Despite everything that she was going through, she hoped for a future when she could be a better mother than her mother. It is only when that hope was repeatedly dashed, did the light in her extinguish.
Yes, the film is dark. Yes, it is torturous and triggering to some extent. But, if your breath caught seeing that moment her anger peaked, or when her sorrows deepened, for that moment, you knew Norma intimately. For that moment, you were her.
Rating: 4 (out of 5 stars)
Blonde is streaming on Netflix
Priyanka Sundar is a film journalist who covers films and series of different languages with special focus on identity and gender politics.
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