When we dig up the corpse of a beautiful dead woman, it’s often to correct the record of revisionist history, or to hold her up with new reverence. But that’s not at all what Blonde director Andrew Dominik sought to do in his fictionalized film about Marilyn Monroe, which he admitted to Christina Newland in a BFI interview published Tuesday.
The film, based on Joyce Carol Oates’ novel of the same name, has been panned by critics for its self-aggrandizing brutality, including a scarring abortion scene. Gawker found the movie to be contemptuous, “full of…the masculine urge to save women from themselves,” and Jezebel’s own Blonde correspondent said, “I’m not sure a movie purported to make you think critically about the life of Marilyn Monroe has done its job when the audience leaves the theater just wishing her dead.” That’s because Dominik’s take on Monroe is one of aestheticized pain devoid of feminine joy. When Newland asked Dominik about the potential harm in his fetishization of Marilyn’s tragic aesthetics, he replied, “I’m not interested in reality, I’m interested in the images.”
Throughout the contentious interview, Newland takes Dominik to task on his thoughtlessness around the film’s point of view. She points to decades of young women who have idolized Monroe, and wonders why the actor isn’t shown to have any close female friendships, like former co-star Jane Russell. He responded: “Well, that’s the way the book is…I think Marilyn was a guy’s girl. I don’t think she was a woman who had a lot of female friends. But then I think she was a woman who didn’t have a lot of friends.”
While Newland agrees it’s irresponsible to “transpose” the ethics of modern women onto Monroe, she questioned the “cultural repercussions” of erasing positive elements of Monroe’s life—for example, forming a production company; opposing anti-communist witch hunts in the 1950s; fighting against segregation on behalf of Ella Fitzgerald. Again, Dominik leans on the crutch of Oates’ novel, which isn’t about Monroe as a martyr or Monroe as a feminist but about Monroe as a tragically doomed damsel who was complicit in her own death.
“It’s not looking at her lasting legacy. ...If you look at Marilyn Monroe, she’s got everything that society tells us is desirable. She’s famous. She’s beautiful. She’s rich. If you look at the Instagram version of her life, she’s got it all. And she killed herself. Now, to me, that’s the most important thing. It’s not the rest. It’s not the moments of strength. OK, she wrested control away from the men at the studio, because, you know, women are just as powerful as men. But that’s really looking at it through a lens that’s not so interesting to me.”
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Rather than committing to revealing Monroe’s emotional life, Dominik, instead, seems hellbent on using Monroe’s childhood and demise as a vessel to unpack his own trauma—something Newland picks up on. “I don’t see the film as essentially female. I see it as being about an unloved child. I relate to it,” he tells her.
For generations, men, women, and children have projected their interior lives and emotions onto Monroe—longing, desire, jealousy, misogyny. But Dominik doesn’t (or refuses to) understand that he’s sentenced Monroe to the same death the studios and tabloids once did. He’s taken her images and placed them in an order that fits his own needs: recreating his own psychological duress rather than unpacking her humanity.
If art is only spectacle, something to be looked at, consumed, chewed on for a bit, and spit back out, well then, Monroe already exists as that. As its director readily admitted, Blonde is not going to show you anything new.