Joyce Carol Oates writes in the opening pages of “Life Is Meaningless No Matter What The Story Of The Film”BlondeThere is no movie story except the dark cinema. If Oates’ novel about Marilyn Monroe is inevitable, it’s also ironic that this movie is a Netflix production – suffice it to say that few who watch “Blonde” will do so in dark cinemas. It’s impossible to say how many potential viewers there are. Who dread its 167-minute runtime, but there’s a good reason it’s so long: The book similarly commands 738 pages. It made it to the finalists for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and Blonde was released in 2000 and adapted once before — not that a CBS series starring Poppy. Montgomery has received as much attention as this new version.
Read more: Best Marilyn Monroe Books to Read by “Blond”
Directed by Andrew Dominic starring Ana de Armas Like Monroe (née Norma Jeane Baker), “Blonde” is one of those films that makes headlines, stirs controversy and inspires long before anyone sees a single frame. How not? Marilyn Monroe is one of the most enduring icons of the 20th century, generating strong opinions for the better part of a century, and like other tragic characters – including one of her reported lovers – her early death made her even more famous.
Talking fetus? Yes or no?
If you’re wondering how faithful Dominic is to Oates’ novel, the answer lies somewhere between “quiet” and “intense.” If you are wondering if the book also contains a talking fetus, the answer is no. Yes, you read that right – there are actually several scenes where Monroe talks to her unborn child and the CGI fetus talks again, and it’s one of many apparent attempts at intimacy that feel instead energized (not least because the fetus Sometime he asks “Why did you kill me last time?”)
Despite its runtime and talking embryos, the film is in some ways more accessible than its source. Oates’ book is a powerful book, often on purpose and self-awareness. Most are told from an omniscient third-person perspective, with some clips read as if they were coming from Monroe herself while others are narrated by unnamed members of the production crew on her various films. (One of these clips: “Yeah sure we hated Monroe by the time we knew her but then we saw the movie we fell in love with”). From the perspective of the exact person we get – Oates works so hard to keep us so alert that trying to orient ourselves almost does the trick.
Nicknames and initials
Then there are the nicknames. Whether it is for legal reasons or a simple creative license, a few of the celebrities mentioned in the book are referred to by their real names. Monroe’s three husbands—James Dougherty, Joe Dimaggio, and Arthur Miller—are called Bucky Glazer, The Ex-Athlete, and The Playwright, respectively, while actors and studio executives usually go by one letter. Tony Curtis is C, Billy Wilder is W and so on and so forth. This can be a lot at times, especially when they are grouped together as in this clip regarding Monroe’s efforts to play in the 1952 movie Don’t Care About the Roads: “W had the right to choose his fellow stars. You’ll hear Norma Jeane from Producer D.” , if W liked it. He would have passed it to D in that case. Or maybe not? Of course there was the director N, but he was in the D designation, so maybe N wouldn’t be a factor. There was the director of studio B. What you heard about B made you want to not Hear more.”
Father’s problems less
The movie eschews these pseudonyms away from the credits, opting instead to make the main characters nameless – don’t think about anyone who doesn’t already know about Monroe’s marriage, as they’ll just have a vague sense of who Bobby Cannavale and Adrien Brody are. Play. (Not even the final credits reveal them as DiMaggio and Miller.) One improvement in the movie: Marilyn refers to these significant others as “Daddy” a little less often than she does in the book, which may be surprising given how often it happens in the movie. It’s almost constant in the novel, that you can’t help wishing that Oates would stop bumping this aspect of Monroe’s relationships and moving on to another point; Searching for the Kindle version shows 170 instances of “father,” the vast majority of which are in the same vein as lines like page 593 “Ohhh, Daddy. Are you mad at me?”
Norma Jean vs Marilyn
Dominic also makes a lesser distinction between Norma Jean and Marilyn, whom Oates treats roughly as distinct entities. Oates usually refers to the actual person as Norma Jean, while everything from “Marilyn Monroe” in quotes to the blonde actress (not blonde, for whatever reason) to actress Marilyn Monroe is used when referring to her dealings with others, indicating She indicated that she was playing a role even when she wasn’t shooting a movie. (“Marilyn Monroe is this foam rubber sex doll that I’m supposed to be on. They want to use it until it wears out; then they throw it in the trash.”)
Marilyn’s teenage years
Oates also devotes more time to Norma Jeane’s formative years, especially the orphanage and nursery where she spent several years, not playing with time as the movie does. Dominic goes right from her arrival at the orphanage to the start of her acting career, throwing away her time in foster care, her first marriage at just 16, and the adoption of her stage name, among other significant life events. Time constraints are what they are, especially when the movie is already approaching three hours, but that context added a lot to the novel missing in the edit.
The longer “Blonde” is, another modern film about a beautiful, talented actress whose life ended tragically: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” comes to mind. Sharon Tate was no less a victim than Marilyn Monroe, however Quentin Tarantino chose not to portray her that way. Instead, show her full of life and joy sneaking into the cinema to see her own movie, looking at the audience who don’t recognize her and smiling every time they laugh. Tarantino played with history to achieve its happy ending, sure, but neither Oates nor Dominic was shy about it — they went in the opposite direction with him. For wit, they both depict the sudden death of Monroe’s ex-lover Charlie Chaplin Jr as a traumatic event immediately preceding her death despite the fact that he died six years after her death.
The filmmakers’ intentions to portray Monroe as a victim many times may have been noble, but in doing so, the film – inspired by Oates’ novel – often catches her as a child and takes down her agency. Neither the book nor the movie features a single scene of Monroe nailing a scene and smiling at him afterward, and the fact that she won a Golden Globe for Some Like It Hot is not mentioned. (The novel was even derailed to falsely claim that it had “never received any award for acting in the United States”).
Of course Marilyn Monroe was treated harshly by Hollywood, the public and the world. But by focusing exclusively on the more miserable aspects of her life, Dominic is doing the same thing he is supposedly criticizing. Monroe was a victim, but she was also so much more than that—that the Golden Globes deserved her in abundance, and she was just as attractive in everything from “Niagara” to “Monkey Business,” stealing every scene she was in. If the artists portraying her don’t care about a whole bunch of her life, they probably shouldn’t portray her at all.