The Next Person to Call ‘Blonde’ a ‘Biopic’ Is Getting Slapped—With Knowledge
Blonde is being eviscerated by critics and the public due to its explorative and sexist storytelling surrounding the film depicts Marilyn Monroe, and it is time to discuss the root of the issue. The novel by Joyce Carol Oates is the root of this mess, because Blonde is not a biopic; it is a fictionalized concept novel about the idea of Marilyn Monroe.
Between director Andrew Dominik calling Gentlemen Prefer Blondes a film about “well-dressed whores” while dismissing the woman’s talent as an actress, and the reviews—Blonde is a failure of the worst kind. It’s cruel, misinformed, and takes Marilyn Monroe’s public traumas and thinks that is all she is.
Some of the reviews, just as a reminder:
“Given all the indignities and horrors that Marilyn Monroe endured during her 36 years, it is a relief that she didn’t have to suffer through the vulgarities of ‘Blonde,’ the latest necrophiliac entertainment to exploit her.” — The New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis.
“I had the extreme misfortune of watching ‘Blonde’ on Netflix last night and let me tell you that movie is so anti-abortion, so sexist, so exploitative. Cannot recommend it LESS. Do not watch. The abortion scenes in particular are terrible, but so is the whole entire movie.” — Steph Herold, a researcher about abortion in film and television at the University of California, San Francisco.
“Blonde is riddled with scenes of great trauma — rapes, forced abortions, near-death experiences — treated with all the care of a seven-car crash; the camera gawks before rolling up its window and driving away. This is a woman with little agency, who is defined by her relations with men, the horrors she has experienced, and her ragged past.” — Vulture film critic Angelica Jade Bastién.
These are very horrifying. Blonde is, as Bastién puts it, a “fictionalization of a functionalization.” The 700+ page novel written by Oates was a huge success following its publication in 2000. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Oates told her biographer that she was inspired to write about Monroe after seeing a picture of young Norma Jeane. “I felt an immediate sense of something like recognition; this young, hopefully smiling girl, so very American, reminded me powerfully of girls of my childhood, some of them from broken homes.”
Oates did say that the idea grew from a novella to a full epic due to discovering more about Monroe and watching her movies. So, in that sense, there is respect for Monroe underlying the trauma written in Blonde, but it is, in the end, more concerned with the tragedy of the figure. With the mythology. And that is why it can not be a biopic. Norma Jeane was a real person, no matter what name she used. It is that which matters, the talent behind Marilyn Monroe. If you can’t see that, you can’t capture the truth.
Much like last year’s Spencer, this is a historical drama about a person, not a deeper examination of that figure. And that comes from the source material—a novel about a picture of a girl, not the whole woman.
(featured image: Netflix)
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