“Goodbye Norma Jeane, it seems to me you lived your life, Like a candle in the wind, Never knowing whom to cling to ,When the rain set in…” Elton John’s haunting ballad Candle In The Wind on Marilyn Monroe.
I expected Elton John’s song to pop up somewhere in Netflix’s monstrously ambitious masterpiece Blonde about the life and many death of Marilyn Monroe.
But no. In Blonde, director Andrew Dominik is determined to avoid all the clichés that have grown around Monroe’s magical mystical persona (except the dress billowing in the air which couldn’t be avoided) of the Doomed Hollywood Superstar, the candle in the wind who didn’t know whom to cling to when the rain set in. So she just clung to whoever offered her a shoulder, only to realize that the men in her life worshipped the illusory hallucinogenic image on the screen which the real Norma Jean got more and distanced from.
The more she ran away from her ritzy destructive image, the more it chased her.
And therein lies the secret to the conundrum that was Monroe, and by extension the blizzard of bizarre images , some in black-and-white others in colour sometimes in of tormented visual signposts of a mind on the brink. Blonde doesn’t spare us any of the sordid details from Joyce Carol Oates novel on which this sprawling monsterpiece is laid out.
Piece by piece, the mystique of Marilyn Monroe is unravelled in this joyless film. There is no sunshine or humour in Blonde. The only jokes that are cracked are directed at Marilyn, life being the cruelest possible joke played on a woman who thankfully died young before she was abused and exploited any more.
Very often, as I watched Blonde in dismayed wonder, I felt everyone around her was laughing at Monroe, even her two husbands, one baseball star Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale), the other eminent playwright Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody).One looks at her as though he were an unsolvable puzzle. The other looks with adoring glances that suggest a complete detachment from the real person , objectifying the object of adoration to the point of annihilating her real self.
But Norma Jeane, alias Marilyn Monroe, was not cut out for marriage. Forget marriage, she was not cut out for life. She craved for motherhood. And to prove it, the camera peers right into her womb through her vagina, as if to prove her eligibility for motherhood.
The men in showbusiness, and I include politicians in that group of sham merchants, treated her like trash. Specially contemptible is a lengthy savagely cruel sequence where a drugged and drunk Monroe is bodily dragged to the US President’s bedroom to perform oral sex and then after sex, she is signaled to leave.
Was the real Marilyn Monroe actually treated so shabbily by the men in her life? If so, shame on showbiz.
I remember sitting with a superstar at a shooting . He looked at his heroine who was getting her dance steps wrong.
“Actually she is good for only one thing,” he leaned over and whispered.
That’s showbiz and its chronic commodification of the women. Blonde records Marilyn Monroe’s degradation and humiliation in such graphic detail that it often feels gratuitous . Which, rest assured, is not the intention. The film desires to take us deep into the bowels of Hollywood’s lustful lascivious lair where beautiful women from shaky backgrounds are vulnerable to the worst kinds of attacks.
At one point, a producer simply throws Monroe on the table and has his way with her while she is auditioning. The look of resigned mortification on Monroe’s face will haunt me forever. As Monroe, Ana de Armas is absolutely first-rate .As she stumbles through one door to another through the a series of dark rooms in Monroe’s life, the gorgeous Armas hits not one false note.
I don’t know what the formidable Jessica Chastain who was the first choice, would have done to Monroe. What Ana has done is to underline Monroe’s sexuality with a vital vulnerability . This is a bombshell doomed to self-destruction.
I wonder what the real Marilyn Monroe would say if she saw Blonde?
“Is that really me?”
Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based film critic who has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out. He tweets at @SubhashK_Jha.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism