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"Blonde” Shows Atomic Brutality, as It Forces a Fire Walk From Marilyn
Ana de Armas and Andrew Dominik go for the gut, and never let go.
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Reminiscent of the tortured life of Twin Peaks central character Laura Palmer, Blonde too takes its focused female lead - Marilyn Monroe - on an unforgiving ride through a nightmare-scape. It’s a punishing movie, a pulverizing movie, and a powerful movie. Sheryl Lee’s pained screams (as Laura Palmer) sounded, so Ana de Armas’s calls for “Daddy” (as Marilyn Monroe) could echo - so to speak. Sheryl Lee’s performance was and remains timeless, but what about Armas’s? Certainly, Marilyn herself was for the ages, but in Blonde?
Getting this out of the way now, Blonde has an unfortunate staying power. Unfortunate in that the film’s ugly moments - which is to say almost every moment - toss and turn in one’s mind, not unlike numbered balls in a lottery tumbler. Which number is your lucky one? More like which scene horrifies you the most. For this critic, it’s the one that takes place with a certain President. He’s never officially named (neither are most of the main men in Marilyn’s life), but all know exactly who he is. Duh. This may be the sequence that gave Blonde an NC-17 rating, in fact. Throughout the bulk of it, there’s a phone call happening and a news report on a television set, both in sync. We hear of an emergency, and see missiles rising and firing, all while Marilyn tries not to displease. After being, rather shockingly, slapped down from center frame to right of camera, she goes to the restroom. Here, in an intimate moment, she is interrupted by an outside voice. In response, she goes “Please don’t come inside.”
Which number is your lucky one? More like which scene horrifies you the most.
I shudder at the thought of fully explaining what happened - though maybe I did just that. It’s not subtle, though how could it be? The suggestiveness on top of the obvious is so heavy, that it’s almost if not fully comical from a conceptual and a literal point of view. Did director Andrew Dominik interpret this from the fictionalized book this was based on or was it an original bit? I don’t know, but if the story weren’t downright darkly disturbing, I’d be laughing at the choices made by the filmmaker. It’s a caricature and it’s cartoonish, both at worst and best. Instead of joking (I’m not here, and wasn’t then), I applaud. Mostly. Kind of. With an asterisk.
By and large, Blonde is a great film. I may never watch it again, but it is great. Much like that lottery tumbler, with each and every scene that moves forward, the movie forces a horrible thought of expectation: How much worse can this get for Marilyn? For Armas? She is this Marilyn, almost possessed by her, but left without an exorcism. I doubt the production was a tormenting experience, but it feels as though Armas must’ve been put through such a ringer, as everything hinges on her. She’s game and absolutely throws herself into this vat of terror with courage and curiosity. I’m not sure if it’ll land her an award - hesitance may happen due to the film’s rating and graphic nature - but it should.
Folks, it has the whole of history on its side, from past to future. It knows, and so does the Universe.
Stars recur as a common image throughout, from the sky to the microcosmos. For me, it represents what the ending of The Assassination of Richard Nixon represented - that these painful events mean nothing to the Universe. That nature is evil, and space wouldn’t blink about losing the Earth.
Huh. Thanks, Blonde.
In Sam Fuller’s I Shot Jesse James, there’s a scene where Jesse is in a tub, bathing. His friend is standing behind with a gun, contemplating shooting him. Without knowing what’s going on, Jesse says “What are you waiting for? There’s my back.” He means for his back to be scrubbed. It’s a pretty clever moment and one that I like to revisit time and time again. Blonde has this same cleverness, but instead, I was the one needing a bath by the end. There’s no question as to Blonde’s technical and performance prowesses, as it’s bar none one of 2022’s best films.
Timeless? Perhaps for reasons it shouldn’t be. Will the grime of Blonde’s story live far past the excellence of Ana de Armas’s talented turn? Eww, if so. If the dirt overshadows the performances of the actress and crew, then something is wrong. With the film? No, though it does raise many eyebrows. Why is it so good at depicting such horrors? Folks, it has the whole of history on its side, from past to future. It knows, and so does the Universe. Still, I shudder. 5/5
Blonde is currently in limited theatrical release and will debut on Netflix on September 28.
Sincerely Yours in Moviegoing,
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