Marilyn Monroe “was never a victim, honey,” according to her friend, Amy Greene. “Not in a million years.” You wouldn’t know it by watching Blonde, Netflix’s new juggernaut charting the star’s life. Based on the fictional 2000 novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates, each of the film’s 166 minutes is more depressing than the last, depicting Monroe as a drunken, stoned plaything for a conveyor belt of men all too willing to abuse. her
Her career is a barely visible backdrop to the doomed relationships she jumps from, some imaginary, some real, including a throupe with Charlie Chaplin Jr, her marriages to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, and a tryst with President John F. Kennedy. He calls most of them ‘dad’; each mention is a reminder, lest the viewer forget for five seconds, of the father figure whose abandonment fueled his lifelong yearning for men.
The haunting vision painted by director Andrew Dominik is at odds with the Monroe described by many who knew her; a woman who went from foster care to grossing $200 million (equivalent to $2 billion today) at the box office in the space of two decades, creating her own production company (responsible for The Prince and the 1957 showgirl, starring Laurence Olivier). For Greene, with whom the actress moved in after her marriage to DiMaggio broke down in 1954, Monroe was, as she told Vanity Fair, “a vital young woman who loved life, loved parties and had a great time.” right”.
Earlier this year, a CNN docuseries recast the Some Like it Hot and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes star as a shrewd operator, with her executive producer Sam Starbuck describing her as “so much more interesting, smart and funny than I thought she was.” I could have done it.” imagined she was a full power broker and a trailblazer.”
There’s a glimpse of that in Blonde, where we see Monroe, played by the Cuban actress – choose her stage name. Leaving aside Norma Jeane Mortenson, who had grown up in the shadow of her mother’s psychiatric problems, and recasting herself as Marilyn Monroe was no accident. “I wanted my mother’s maiden name [Monroe] because I felt like that was my real name,” she later explained. “And the real stuff rarely gets into circulation.”
That edict feels prescient given the Netflix movie. Oates’s book, later turned into a miniseries, sought to blur the lines between fame and fiction, but there is no such warning before the Blonde movie, which seems to present itself as truth. Like expecting The Crown to faithfully depict royal goings-on behind closed doors, Blonde is a window into a world that only half existed; one that criticizes Monroe’s sexualization and shoddy treatment while she does the exact same thing.
De Armas is often naked or referred to as “meat”; there are shots with a point of view through his legs, or upside down on the presidential genitals (the film is rated NC-17, the US equivalent of 18, the highest level). Blonde wobbles from lurid to downright grotesque, particularly the CGI fetuses that rotate to represent Monroe’s miscarriages, despite Dominik’s earlier assessment that his film would be “one of the ten greatest films ever made.” She can’t bear to think of the other nine on his list.
De Armas’ shaky, flirtatious Monroe does not portray a woman well-versed at the movie-making machine; someone who knew that the right PR, angles and men would put her on the career path she longed for. That started when Monroe, then Norma Jeane Dogherty, a 19-year-old homemaker, was working in a California munitions factory during World War II and was spotted by an assigned photographer. She began modeling for snapper David Conover and his friends, and signed with a modeling agency the following year.
That quickly ended her first marriage: Her Marine husband, James, didn’t want a career wife, and her pin-up shots ultimately ended in contracts with Columbia Pictures and 20th Century Fox, the abandonment of her brown hair and name . “I can be smart when it’s important,” says Lorelei Lee of Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, seeming to echo the actress herself. “But most men don’t like it.”
That seemed to be the case for Harry Cohn, Columbia Pictures’ philandering boss and once the most powerful man in Hollywood. While Monroe was under contract there, he invited her on her yacht, to which she replied, “Will her wife be joining us?” Her contract was not renewed.
Still, there were plenty of other bigwigs with whom Monroe mixed the personal and the professional; her “intimate relationship” with executive Johnny Schenk was to thank for the Columbia contract, and Johnny Hyde, three decades her senior, served as her agent and lover. Monroe’s hard-fought seven-year contract with Twentieth Century Fox was rumored to have been underwritten by Hyde himself.
As Mira Sorvino, who played Monroe in 1996’s Norma Jean and Marilyn, once said: “I think Marilyn accepted that she was going to have to date people to get what she wanted. And I don’t think she should have ever had to choose that. But at least there was a decision on her part.”
When the lines were crossed, Monroe spoke. As her star rose, she co-authored a 1952 MeToo-esque essay titled The Wolves I’ve Known, condemning the predators of the Hollywood casting couch. One such wolf “should have been ashamed of himself, because he was trying to take advantage of a mere child,” he mused of an audition in which all poses “had to be reclined, even though the words he was reading didn’t seem to call for that.” .”
Learning that Frank Sinatra was to be paid triple his fee for The Girl in the Pink Stockings, Monroe stormed off the set and refused to return. (After scribbling the word “TRASH” on the script and throwing it in the trash.) She quickly donned a dark wig and glasses and took a plane to New York under the name Zelda Zonk, staying there until Twentieth Century Fox he agreed to give her more money and better papers.
After a year, she was cast in The Seven Year Itch with a salary of $100,000, received full script and director approval, and became the first actress since Mary Pickford to establish her own production company. “Actress Wins All Lawsuits,” read a headline the next day, and the story continued: “Marilyn Monroe, a six-foot-five blonde weighing a seductively distributed 118 pounds, brought Twentieth Century Fox to its knees.” Sinatra’s movie was never made.
“She knew what she had to do: shake her butt,” Greene said. “But she understood what she was doing when she did it.”
Politics didn’t pass her by either: She was vehemently against nuclear weapons and was converted to Judaism by Miller, her third husband, who had been subpoenaed for his former ties to the Communist Party. Of these things, Ella Blonde makes no mention, favoring shots of her White House denizens giving each other fellatio and passing out on airplanes in her place.
Monroe’s death from an overdose at age 36, like all those lost when she was young, blonde and beautiful, means that she will forever be in myth. Whether the feminist hero or the doomed femme fatale was closer to the mark, or how many times she might have veered between the two in the years that never followed, remain up for debate. Just like anything else: purpose movies like Dominik’s serve. If Hollywood was guilty of abusing Monroe then what excuse is there now?