Ana de Armas Embodies Marilyn Monroe as Something More Than Sexual 


Ana de Armas Embodies Marilyn Monroe as Something More Than Sexual.”  That gets the one major compliment for the trepidatiously buzzy fictionalized biopic out of the way.  Aside from that, there is sadly little pointedly good to say of filmmaker Andrew Dominik’s aggressively unpleasant adaptation of the acclaimed 2000 novel by Joyce Carol Oates.  

It took some time to arrive at just why Blonde stands apart from other, more conventional feel-bad stories of abuse, assault, mental breakdown, and toxic fame. While the movie has not incorrectly caught some flak for hypocritically appropriating Marilyn’s story (i.e., Norma Jeane’s story) similarly to how Marilyn herself is appropriated by everyone around her for fun and profit in the story, that can’t be what sets Blonde apart.  That accusation is far too broad.  To varying degrees, it could be leveled upon any Monroe biographer in any media, no matter how well-intentioned the effort may be.  This is different.  This is an attack.

In its impressively lavish and often spot-on visual recreations of the makings of Monroe classics such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Some Like it Hot, we are party to her well-documented increasing turmoil.  In the context of everything else surrounding these scenes, they play as grotesque distortions.  The whole of Blonde is a couture, fevered nightmare, and the familiar showbiz bits are no exception.  Dominik goes well beyond fly-on-the-wall objectivity, instead implicating us, the viewers, for ever having taken pleasure in those movies.  To him, they’re nothing but crass exploitation machines, and shame on us for ever enabling them in any way.  

What this does, ultimately, is gut the very thing that Marilyn was working so hard to bring us: a quality performance- her great presence– in what would hopefully be quality films, quite often by top filmmakers such as Billy Wilder and Howard Hawks.  Blonde, in its unrelenting barrage of one peak-level tragedy after another, is actively assaulting her legacy films- films that she so valiantly and difficultly struggled around her pain just long enough to get through (even when the roles weren’t what she wanted for herself).  Our current moment wherein the veneration of prematurely dead celebrities hinges on their terrible struggles with mental illness far more than their driving struggles to bring what they could to their life and work (see: Robin Williams) poses a probable danger of the opportunistic Blonde becoming venerated for all the wrong reasons.  

I don’t think that Joshua Ray, my colleague in the St. Louis Film Critics Association, has gone too far in his Letterboxd reaction to Dominik’s Blonde motives: “JAIL. Dominik uses Monroe’s corpse… for his morbid pleasure, and I’m not just saying that because we get not one but two shots from inside her vagina looking out. Shallow, bloated, hollow, arty junk. Poor Ana de Armas.”  Poor Ana de Armas, indeed.  At times, the Cuban actress is a gob-smacked spitting image of the icon.  Other times, not quite.  But now, she is not only faced with an awards season haul of continued focus on this decent into bio-fiction miserabilism (complete with a sickly fabricated plot leading to Marilyn’s death), but probable future therapy for herself as a result of the role.  

Many have played Marilyn Monroe in numerous tragic biopics- but never like this.  Dominik uses de Armas’ willingness to put her whole self- body and soul- out there for his sadistic explorations gussied up as prestige Netflix NC-17-rated ‘Play’ clicking.  Rape, abortion, miscarriage, assault, abuse, and chronic belittling abound as we’re made to helplessly endure his nearly three-hour dissolution of a woman whom we all know is doomed.  Dominik seems to be lording over his audience with a proclamation of “Do you want to help her?   You can’t!  Because no one would.”  

Besides how excellent de Armas truly is in Blonde, there’s another compliment that must be given.  That is to cinematographer Chayse Irvin.  Irvin manages recreate the mood and feel of Monroe’s world, but also of the shared experiences of her image.  While he is Dominik’s partner in crime in the director’s Oliver Stone-esque untethered, baffling frequent shifts from different color and monotone palates, film stocks, and aspect ratios, Irvin and his crew nail it where it matters most.  For what it’s worth, Blondeeffectively transports us back in time.  Why, then, the usually compelling musicians Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who scored Dominik’s sublime The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), opt for music that sounds like minimalist electronica, remains a mystery.

Yes, Marilyn was found in the nude.  If that’s why you’re coming to Blonde, you’ll see it.  That’s where this whole sexualized morbidity this is heading.  Chronic daddy issues punctuated by unfulfilling dalliances with John F. Kennedy, Charles Chaplin Jr., and Edward G. Robinson Jr. (her and the two juniors share a kind of Jules et Jim relationship), as well as bad marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller (Bobby Cannavale and Adrien Brody, “credited respectively as “The Ex-Athlete” and “The Playwright”), usher her to Dominik’s take on her immortal mortality.  As a warped #MeToo tragedy, it fails to take us inside Norma Jeane Mortenson (i.e. Norma Jeane Baker) in any meaningful, illuminating way.  Instead, we’re plunged into an interminable, arms-length inferno fueled by ongoing hardship-mongering and catastrophe gazing.  Andrew Dominik is both better than this and now, added to the list of untrustworthy directors until further notice.  Ana, Marilyn, Norma Jeane… I don’t know who among you can hear this or needs to at this point, but we love you.