Blonde was already a controversial film even before it’s Netflix release. The alarm bells first began to ring when the movie presented at the Venice Film Festival; some praising the performance by Ana de Armas, who – in the humble opinion of yours truly and I’ll get this out of the way now, is sublime in her role as Marilyn Monroe – while others were shocked by some of the scenes: nudes, sexual encounters, scenes depicting the abortions Marilyn had… You could feel the profound love for the Spanish-Cuban actor’s work in the air, while at the same time, critics were asking whether all the violence was necessary; whether perhaps the director, Andrew Dominik, based on Joyce Carol Oates’ bestseller, had subjected the character to an excessive dose of torture and sadism. The movie opens and soon after we see how her mother, played by Julianne Nicholson, mistreats her, and the lack of a father figure, the man she spends her life in search of and a fact that undoubtedly left an indelible mark on her throughout her life. You can sense the terrifying drama in the air during those opening minutes, and you wouldn’t be wrong, as that’s what the film delivers.
Everyone knows Marilyn Monroe was a sexual icon of her time. Men desired her wherever she went and mistreated her in equal measure. They took advantage of her naivety and innocence to do with her as they wished. For many, she was no more than a piece of meat; the reincarnation of sensuality and sexuality, an erotic myth. A dumb blonde with a hole between her legs and that comes across in no uncertain terms throughout the film. But was it necessary to see Ana de Armas beaten ad nauseam? Her mother beats her as a child, she spends her childhood in an orphanage, one of her husbands, played by Bobby Cannavale, mistreats her, the president of the United States humiliates and rapes her, and the three abortions where we see the fetus grow and then, the abortion procedure itself, in a cold room, filled with male professionals. But her pain doesn’t end there: she soon begins drinking heavily and becomes addicted to pills. She has a grueling life, raw, cruel. The director is merciless with her and only allows her to be truly happy, once: when we see her playing like a child on a beach next to Adrien Brody, who plays playwright Arthur Miller. The rest is pain, and all too much pain.
The most likely reason why a section of the general public dislike the film – which, by the way, was directly and incomprehensibly released on the platform without having a big screen debut, given the quality of the final product, with majestic cinematography and excellent play between color and black and white. And there’s no question that Ana de Armas’ performance is second to none. Those huge eyes staring into the camera as she delivers an almost supernatural interpretation that impresses even the most inexperienced cinemagoer. The actress suffers the most unfair blows and setbacks in life and the audience suffers along with her, while all the while – in spite of everything she endures – we see a smiling Norma Jeane who hides behind a product created to satisfy man. But so much torture, so many tears, so much pain is overwhelming, and by the end of the film, it’s undeniable. We’re broken. We feel an overwhelming urge to just hug that little girl and that woman who has weathered bad times and the worst of storms. I wish she had had another life, another family, other men who treated her for what she was: a great actress, a prolific reader. But above all a woman. If only she had been born in another era, far from the 50’s and 60’s.
One of the reflections we’re left with after seeing the movie is whether we’ve really changed as a society? Have we really moved on that much from those scenes of gender-based violence repeated so often in the production? When her husband rips off his belt to hit her, we’re not shocked. We see it coming, after everything we’ve experienced alongside the actress, after everything we’ve already seen. But, above all, we see it coming because it isn’t as distant from us as we’d like to think. Nor are we surprised when the president of the United States uses her purely as a source of pleasure and then just tosses her away like a cigarette butt. Just read the news today. Society is still living with this scourge every day. We hear or read stories of gender-based violence almost daily. Today, there are still men who continue crossing every imaginable line with women, still so many cases of the abuse of power. Men, in many situations, continues to position themselves above the woman. So, with all the pain we see here, isn’t Andrew Dominik trying to send a message?