siwave, the new Netflix film from Andrew Dominik, adds as much nuance to the idea of Marilyn Monroe as can be gleaned from a gynecological exam. The movie star has long been established as a tragic figure, a woman abused by the Hollywood studios, her husband Joe DiMaggio and, as a child, her mother’s illness. Instead of challenging the conventional narrative, director Dominik’s nightmarish film, adapted from Joyce Carol Oates’ 2000 novel, takes it somewhere even darker and even more invasive. If you want to understand Marilyn Monroe, he suggests, you must first step inside her womb.
This dark drama takes us to the hitherto unexplored depths of Marilyn Monroe’s bay several times during its astonishing 2-hour-45-minute running time. I won’t spoil it all, but in the first hour of the film, we watch Monroe, played with disturbing frailty by Ana de Armas, clutch her belly excitedly as the camera cuts to her glowing womb—with a fetus with spectral backlighting. A few scenes later, we follow Marilyn on the operating table, where the doctors are performing an abortion to which she has not consented. “Please, won’t you listen? I changed my mind,” she pleads, as the doctor inserts the speculum into her – a procedure gruesomely depicted from the point of view of Marilyn’s own cervix.
Dominic insists on his film’s animated premise, which seems to be a derivative of that famous line by Rita Hayworth about her most iconic and alluring film role: “Men go to bed with Gilda and wake up with me ». In Blonde, sycophants and bigots hoping to get a piece of the Hollywood starlet instead find a more timid, desperate woman named Norma Jeane, who happens to look identical to Marilyn Monroe. This may be interesting as a passing observation, but the film makes this point over and over again. “She’s beautiful, but I’m not me,” says Norma Jeane, looking at a glamorous photo of herself in a magazine. “F*** Marilyn,” Norma Jean later screams into the phone. “It is not here.”
If Dominik’s point is that Marilyn is an invention – “the baby’s first toy,” one of her lovers cryptically notes – then perhaps these scenes of excruciating body horror are the director’s sadistic means of reminding us that she something more than its two-dimensional projection. If you put Marilyn Monroe under the pressure of an unwanted abortion, doesn’t she scream in speechless agony? And if Norma Jeane becomes pregnant again years later, doesn’t her unborn fetus acquire the capacity for human speech?
I promise, you read it right. In one of the film’s most disturbing physical sequences, Marilyn’s unexpectedly chatty fetus – which somehow also has knowledge of her previous abortion – pleads with its host to let this pregnancy go ahead. It’s not just “alive” in his eyes Blonde, has a will. Marilyn can hear it. She answers him loudly as if they are having a conversation. I had to watch this scene several times to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating, but no – right in the middle of Blondethere is a disturbed Look who is talking prequel.
Politically, these scenes of a woman burdened with years of grief over an abortion are particularly controversial. As a mode of storytelling, they are completely alienating. Marilyn Monroe never looks less real to me than when she happily converses with the unborn child in her fantastically glowing womb. Am I to believe that all movie stars are lit from within?
Also, Marilyn never feels more like a Hollywood sport than when Dominic subjects her to gruesome sexual and medical violence, literally examining her and brutally depicting what it’s like to be one of the most famous women of the 20th century from the inside out . Blonde it’s not a movie about The exploitation of Marilyn Monroe, but a new low watermark in Hollywood’s treatment of her – a sex object turned sex organ.