Marilyn Monroe unfortunately lived a very difficult life. One that has been explored in film time and time again. Blonde does things a little differently, however. Based on a book that looks at points in Marilyn’s life through a fictitious lens, Blonde is a trippy, disturbing, and perplexing film that had me leaving the theatre speechless. It’s hard to pinpoint the last time a film has left me so confused not just about what I had just watched, but how I felt about it.
As mentioned, Blonde cannot technically be considered a biopic considering its fictitious storytelling. What does remain very real, however, is her trauma and how the film communicates it to the audience. And that is what Blonde is all about. It’s about all the awful and challenging moments in her life and how she descended down a spiral which ultimately led to her death. If it’s not obvious, this is by no means a pleasant film, nor is it easy viewing. It deters from the glitz and glamour and paints a character portrait of significant mental health decline akin to the likes of The Shining or, to refer to a more recent film, Pearl, without the murderous rampages of course. Comparing this to horror is not what I expected going in. At times it also reminded me a lot of Bojack Horseman.
Blonde is a gutsy – and I’d go as far as to say bold – endeavour in depicting the subject matter that it tackles. Upon viewing the film, it’s no secret why it wound up with an extremely rare NC-17 rating. But it’s this boldness that makes me wish that this film were a fully realized and accurate biopic instead. At the same time, however, I feel like it is the fictitious nature of this film that keeps it from going “too far”. Once you understand that this isn’t an accurate telling of Marilyn’s life, the suspension of disbelief flicks on in your head, making the disturbing content that is shown on screen more forgivable.
Ana de Armas gives a stunning performance. Her resemblance to Marilyn Monroe alone is uncanny. Her mannerisms, her voice, her overall performance is no different. She is the spitting image of Ms. Monroe. I’m calling it right here: she’s going to get a Best Actress nomination at the Oscars next year. She may even have a shot at winning. Her performance ranges from trying to hold onto reality despite trauma to completely losing touch. She shifts from one to the other with such subtlety, like a natural regression of the character. She becomes Marilyn and loses herself in the role. It’s incredible to see.
Visually the film is both striking and strange. Though there is not exactly any thematic significance of the different aspect ratio and colour changes throughout the film, rather being a more stylistic choice based on many well known images and portraits of Marilyn, all the pieces culminate into a sight to behold. The camera depicts Marilyn’s trauma, and thus we are seeing it through her own lens, as if we are experiencing it with her. And yes, it’s frightening, and it gets very difficult to watch. But to use the visuals to place us in her psyche is very daring as the film lets moments in her life, real or fabricated, unfold before us, unfiltered and unbridled. I’m glad I was able to view this film in a theatre. And while I know that most theatres won’t be able to show this, if you have a theatre in your area that is screening this film, I would suggest seeing it that way, rather than on your smaller TV screen.
Yes, Blonde is quite the downer. There’s no semblance of hope woven into the script, no “maybe it will get better” moments. Just one terrible moment after another as Marilyn slowly loses her mind. Surely it’s enough to make you feel rather depressed after watching it. But that means it’s doing what it set out to do. That said, if you don’t like watching anything that isn’t fun and easy to watch, I’d steer clear of this film. I’m very aware of the controversy this film is conjuring up, the likes of which I haven’t seen from a film in a long time. A lot of people hate this film, and I understand why. It’s definitely not meant for everyone. Honestly, I find it very exciting to be part of the conversation surrounding a film that’s so divisive. What we’re seeing online is something of an anomaly that we don’t see much of in movies. A very fitting response to this enigma of a film.
Blonde is a well-made, albeit disturbing film that makes for quite a surprise. I can’t say I enjoyed the film, it’s not meant to be enjoyed. But it is a good, well-made film with a lot of thematic truth to come from the fictitious storytelling. This is not a film that honours her legacy in any way. Rather, it paints a picture of her from a very real point of view that many other films seem to glance over, despite its mostly fictitious nature. It’s pretentious at times and suffers from some very slow pacing, but so long as you are aware of it’s disturbing subject matter and don’t mind what you’re getting into, I’d still recommend it.
Film Grade: B-