“Blonde” brutalizes Marilyn Monroe all over again

This exploitative film, based on fiction, depicts the icon’s life in the most revolting way

TW: Sexual assault, abortion
“Blonde” is a 2022 psychological drama from writer-director Andrew Dominik (“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”), who adapted Joyce Carol Oates’ novel of the same name. The film is a fictional take on the life and career of actress Marilyn Monroe (as portrayed by Ana de Armas) before her tragic overdose/possible suicide. The film also stars Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale and Julianne Nicholson.

“Blonde” is one of the most exploitative films that I have ever seen. While the film is technically well-made, its very existence feels like a slap in the face.
As far as positives go, the performances from de Armas, Brody and Cannavale were pretty solid. Their characters were poorly written, but they’re clearly doing their best. I also liked the haunting score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, although it was admittedly overused.

And that’s about it. I hated everything else about this movie.

One of the film’s most controversial aspects is its NC-17 rating. Most films with the rating earn it through explicit sexual content and nudity, as well as the taboos associated with them. NC-17 movies are also given limited theatrical releases, and theaters aren’t allowed to let anybody under the age of 18 watches the film; granted, “Blonde” is a Netflix original, so this wasn’t really an issue.

Depending on the director, such sexually explicit content in films could either be to their benefit (Steve McQueen’s “Shame”) or to their detriment (Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Blue is the Warmest Color”). “Blonde” definitely falls in the latter camp. I appreciate when films take risks, but this depiction of Monroe’s life feels dehumanizing and exploitative. So much of the film lingers on Monroe’s often naked body, to the point where it feels like Dominik has dropped the pretense of treating the character like an actual human being. Not only this, but the rating allowed him to make some unique decisions that felt inappropriate and invasive, specifically in one scene less than halfway through the movie. I can’t discuss this disturbing sequence, but I will say that it leads to my next criticism.

“Blonde” has a lot of pro-life propaganda, which doesn’t really make sense. Regardless of how you feel about abortion, it is a terrible idea to take the life of a real person and try to twist it into an argument against abortion. Not only that, but this movie’s execution is particularly disturbing. There are sequences where we see a CGI fetus inside of Monroe, and there’s even a scene where she hallucinates talking to it. This would have been cheesy in a pro-life TV commercial, but it’s even more offensive in a story regarding a film about a real person.

If that wasn’t enough, the film is also very pretentious in terms of its creative decisions. The movie’s presentation alternates between black-and-white and color, but it never felt like there was a reason for this. The aspect ratio also changed numerous times throughout the film. While the film is mostly in widescreen, some sequences use square, Academy and anamorphic widescreen aspect ratios. There are some fantastic films that use this technique to great effect, but they use these changes at very specific moments with clear intent. “Blonde” makes these changes seemingly at random. As it turns out, Dominik only changed the color and aspect ratios to match the reference photos that he was using for the film. So basically, these choices were only superficial in nature, like everything else in this movie.

Another problem I had with the film was the fact that it was based on a fictional novel, which made me wonder why the movie was made in the first place if its content was made up anyway. Not only that, but the film’s lack of authenticity makes its 166 minutes’ worth of horrible sequences feel even worse. What’s the point of graphically depicting Monroe being sexually assaulted, even when there’s little to no historical evidence of this happening? It makes the entire film feel like mere shock value, which isn’t a good way to depict the life of a real-life figure like Marilyn Monroe.

“Blonde” is admittedly not the worst movie I’ve seen. The film is technically competent, and the actors are trying their best. The problem is that the film’s script was awful, and Dominik’s execution was even worse. While this isn’t the worst film of the year, I think it’s safe to say that it will be very difficult for another film from this year to be as exploitative as “Blonde.”
RATING: 1/10