Abuse and Exploitation

By Sara Danial | December 2022

Art has the ability to transform suffering into an element we can accept which may otherwise be intolerable, like the miserable state of our icon worship of the tragic life of Marilyn Monroe. But if it’s pure pain and degradation, is that really art?

Andrew Dominik’s latest directorial “Blonde” is based on the fictional novel authored by Joyce Carol Oates. Although more like a 3-hour overlong odyssey, the film realistically depicts abuse and exploitation endured by Marilyn Monroe at the hands of men. As graphic as it may be, Blonde takes us through the epic journey of the icon’s tragic, short life, creating a paradoxical enigma, where the brutality is condemned and the Hollywood idea of Monroe is glorified.

Technically speaking, the film is impeccably visualized with immaculate craftsmanship in camerawork and abundant graphic content that may eventually force you to turn away from the screen. One of the most riveting scenes is when she had to go through the forced abortion and the camera gives a shot of Monroe’s cervix which acts as a breaking point for the faint-hearted. The film also oscillates between technicolor and monochrome, giving the audience the mind switch needed to watch an art film as it provides a lurid biopic that has left the critics polarized and nauseated. The alternation also translates into the inner confusion of her soul. Brownie points to the editing team for aptly presenting the young Marilyn in her helpless vulnerability, driven by ambition.

A lengthy, acute zoomed-in, and drugged-up Monroe felicitating President Kennedy while he’s on the phone in a hotel room also feels liberating which may be one of the reasons why the film has received a rare NC-17 rating. By and large, Blonde does offer an inspirational, darker stance on Monroe’s Hollywood dream while also portraying boldly the horrid side of American ‘heroes’ such as Joe DiMaggio and JFK. Indeed, there may be accuracy in the depiction of events. Or perhaps not. The way Hollywood influencers viewed her as merely a pretty face and a great ass when all the while she wanted them to see beyond it - a serious actress with a lovable soul – leaves the viewer empathizing with her.

This brings us to De Armas, who played Monroe’s character. She gave a powerful performance as her bliss and hurt are almost tangible when her trauma is laid bare on the screen, bringing Marilyn to life in her complete splendour and, more importantly, her downright humanity. Norma Jeane, Monroe’s real name, as she’s mostly called in the film, requires de Armas to cry. A lot. At times, it is merely showcasing a teary-eyed face, as the emotion draws from the traumatic childhood she inherited from her abusive mother; at others, she sobs endlessly as mental illness and addictive elements take toll.

When she is not crying, she is found naked. Most of the time, she is both. And bloody. In almost all the scenes, she acts either as a poker chip for somebody or a victim, as though a brittle soul seeking unattainable love and solace from a non-existent father figure. De Armas ensures that in every moment, she comes across as enchanting, even disquieting, leaving layers and layers of emotion that give away the depth the character necessitates.

It can be safely said that Blonde is as much a biopic of Monroe as ‘Elvis’ is a biopic of Elvis Presley. It strings together factual events from her personal (marriages) and professional (films) life. Eventually, it is a rhapsody of fame and fortune, which ends up in an increasingly vicious cycle of abuse and exploitation. By the end, however, this slant feels overpowering and a tad dreary.
Although more like a 3-hour overlong odyssey, the film realistically depicts abuse and exploitation endured by Marilyn Monroe at the hands of men.