Published on October 6th, 2022 | by Craig Silliphant0
Blonde is either the most feminist movie of the year — or the most misogynist. One thing’s for sure, it’s a feat of brilliant filmmaking.
DISCLAIMER: Before we launch in here, I should point out this movie, about the inner turmoil of a woman, was made by a man. And that I am a man writing about it. You can decide for yourself if you’d rather not have either of us take up space in your mind with this movie/conversation.
Blonde is not a movie about Marilyn Monroe. It’s about the lonely, lost, and abused. It’s about how childhood trauma shapes an adult’s view of the world.
Blonde is not a biopic of the iconic and doomed actress. It’s a fictionalized story about her life, based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Joyce Carol Oates. It’s an imagining of an inner monologue we could never be privy to, the confluence of Norma Jeane Mortenson and her alter ego Marilyn Monroe.
Blonde is not for everyone.
The film is about an abused little girl who grows up to be one of the biggest stars in Hollywood history, where she finds a modicum of glamour and love, but that mostly becomes a thin veneer, behind which is a life of more abuse, some visited on her by herself, some institutionally, but most of it by the men in her orbit.
The movie has been controversial, but let’s talk about the film itself before we dig into the controversy.
Director Andrew Dominik has made several good films (Chopper, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), and at least one that was flawed but also underappreciated (Killing Them Softly). Blonde is a huge leap forward.
Even if you hate the content of the film, your opinion is instantly suspect if you can’t agree that the filmmaking is amazing. Blonde is a hair away from Terrance Malick’s Tree of Life, a sprawling, existential, surreal, impressionistic hunk of cinema. Blonde has story shades of David Lynch’s Fire Walk With Me and even the crude body horror of Cronenberg. There are so many scenes of dazzling technical skill on display. Blonde ambition, indeed.
The players are all aligned as well; Ana de Armas is spellbinding as Monroe (though her Cuban accent shines through here and there). Adrien Brody and Bobby Cannavale inhabit Monroe’s famous husbands well. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis present a sweeping score that helps usher us along the path of a life through time and space. Cave and Dominik, both Australian, have worked together several times.
But now that I’ve blown up the movie’s skirt like a whoosh of air from a subway grate, let’s unpack the controversies and hate the film is getting.
Just like Marilyn and Norma Jeane herself, the movie has an inescapable duality. It’s either one of the most feminist movies ever made or one of the most misogynist. I think the true answer lies with the beholder. For the record, Joyce Carol Oates herself called it, “remarkably feminist.”
I thought Blonde was indeed feminist in its approach. Though, I don’t staunchly defend that thought; as I said, it’s in the eye of the beholder. It’s fair for any viewer to feel like they’re watching a violent exploitation of Monroe. It’s also not lost on me that she was ground down by her iconic status in life and we just won’t let her rest in peace in death. That said, this movie is hardly the first to use her image for its own purposes. That’s part of being an icon, like it or not.
And zooming out a bit to talk about controversial art in general; often, ideas that don’t sit well with everyone are what make for art worth absorbing and thinking/talking about. An individual doesn’t have to be part of that conversation if they don’t want to, but to say that a piece of art has no reason to exist is folly.
They said the same about filmmakers like John Waters, calling him crude, ugly, and filthy. A lot of people wanted to wipe him from existence. But without his contribution to film, his constant pushing of the envelope, you certainly wouldn’t be going to drag shows or seeing other great LGTBQ+ art and film today. To borrow a cliché, he walked so others could run. And sometimes things don’t have to be clean and pure for them to make a good point about the nature of our world — because our world usually isn’t clean and pure.
Even if you want to treat Blonde as a biopic of sorts, it’s worth noting that movies like Bohemian Rhapsody tout themselves as ‘based on a true story,’ but they’re the biggest liars of all. That movie smiled a big toothy Freddie Mercury grin and sold you falsehoods about harrowing things like AIDs. Even though Blonde is fictional, there’s more truth in the film than in 10,000 Bohemian Rhapsodies.
Though allow me to reiterate that I can’t condemn someone for watching this movie and hating it or feeling like it is exploitive. That’s your truth and I respect it immensely. Put plainly, this movie is not for everyone. But love it or hate it, good art should inspire these kinds of deep feelings and conversations about the world. And Blonde is unquestionable filmmaking with an uncompromising story that will move you, one way or the other.
Blonde is one of the best movies of the year, if not the best so far, even if we won’t realize or acknowledge that for another 20 or 30 years.