Blonde ★★★

Disclaimer: My knowledge of Marilyn Monroe only encompasses the immediate iconography that made her who she is in the public eye. I know the skirt moment in The Seven Year Itch, the "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, bits and pieces of Some Like It Hot, and various photographs that have been replicated and parodied for decades. In regards to how Blonde depicts Monroe, my understanding of it being wildly fictional and sensationalized is adequate at best, so I'm well aware that, as a cis white man, I'm walking on hot coals in order to talk about it. That being said, I think my limited perspective lends itself to an unbiased dissection here.

Firstly, I want to get the obvious out of the way. The discourse surrounding this is being blown way out of proportion. All the heated, passionate dialogue going to great lengths to label this as nothing but "misery porn" is incredibly hyperbolic. Blonde certainly isn't a walk in the park, but I never got the sense it was beating me over the head with Monroe's pain and suffering every ten minutes or so. And the NC-17 rating? Ridiculous! Yes, there is nudity, and there are two rape scenes, but neither of them are as graphic as what's depicted in films like Cannibal Holocaust, Irréversible, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Everyone made it sound like Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me by way of Lars von Trier, but this never really earns any of the lofty/cynical distinctions being hurled at it.

For me, Blonde amounts to little more than an overlong exercise in aesthetics. This would be a negative if the aesthetics weren't so beautifully composed. For all its dark intentions, this is undoubtedly one of the best-looking films of the year, successfully re-creating the 50s and 60s as historical entities, if not authentic time periods. I'm not entirely sure shifting between color, black-and-white photography, and multiple aspect ratios supports whatever thematic ambitions this has, but it's a strong, evocative choice that I couldn't help but get swept up in. And of course, there's Ana de Armas at the center of it all, disappearing so completely into her role as Norma Jean in a way that rivals Austin Butler's turn as Elvis earlier this year.

Now, as for what actually transpires within its sterling frames... this is where it obviously gets messy. I'm fine with movies taking varying degrees of artistic license in order to convey the emotional truth about their real-life subjects. I'm also not opposed to difficult and challenging portrayals of people who are practically deified by the masses; I think we need to see art that brings celebrity, not necessarily down to the level of the common-folk, but to a level of humanity and empathy that we all can recognize. I mentioned earlier that my knowledge of Marilyn Monroe, as well as how far this depiction deviates from reality, is minimal, but even while watching Blonde, I never got the sense I was actually experiencing *her* truth. I certainly saw *a* truth about how women who rise to the status of sex symbol in America are tossed around, abused, chewed up and spit out by the men who run the show for which she is the centerpiece. This would be truly provocative and emotional if there were any semblance of who Norma Jean was to herself, not just to her friends, family, colleagues, and the eyes of everyone who adored her.

Supposedly this was a passion project for Andrew Dominik, and while that passion certainly translates to its images, there's little to suggest that he and the rest of the filmmakers understood how to communicate Norma Jean's story beyond an artsy, post-Weinstein depiction of the trials and tribulations of what young women endure within the entertainment industry. It's also just too long and too scattershot for it to have a real emotional through-line to latch onto. So yeah, it's not great, but it's also not the egregious, misrerabilist snuff film that some reviews have warned.

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