The world's most iconic blonde was in fact not a blonde. The mega movie star of the 50s Marilyn Monreo actually dyed her hair to the iconic platinum blonde we all know and love. But that is the title – 'Blonde' – of this year's biographical film based on the life and career of the American actress.
Writer and director Andrew Dominik's adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates' fictional novel is a voyeuristic reinvention of Marilyn Monroe, taking us through the journey of Norma Jean who grows up to become the world famous pin-up model Marilyn Monroe.
Unfortunately, 'Blonde' ends up in the very traps it tries to avoid. Although it means to examine Marilyn Monroe's life and the source of her enduring legend, it instead ends up focusing on the actress's physical attributes, and the many men who took advantage of her.
Apart from her vulnerabilities and glam, Monroe was also a strong and intelligent woman. Although there are passing mentions of Monroe having read Dostoyevsky and Chekhov, and arguing for better pay in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, there is no mention of her standing up to the studio and launching her own production company. The film fails to portray her genius, keeping it all about her physical beauty.
Of course, the iconic flying skirt scene was recreated. 'Blonde' also delves into the agony of abortion, miscarriage, and being indirectly exploited to death, as well as the frequent visits to her ailing mother and a series of tumultuous relationships, ranging from polyamorous to married and separated from two other men.
Set in 1933 Los Angeles, the story begins with the traumatic childhood of Norma Jean Mortenson, the actress's birth name. We see a young, mentally unstable mother trying to drown her seven-year-old daughter Norma in a bathtub. With more suffering awaiting her in the future, Norma does not die, and later gets admitted to an orphanage. This doom and gloom only continues to intensify.
While Dominick scales the rise of a Hollywood superstar, at the core of it he continues to highlight a little girl who is in constant search of her 'daddy'.
The film flits between scenes in colour and black and white, inserting real with invented ones. It's a deceptively sophisticated portrayal, playing a person who is always playing a role. The director blurs the line between her life and acting.
During the runtime of almost three hours, Ana de Armas, who plays Monroe, was asked to cry. A lot. Other times she was shown naked; sometimes both – naked and crying. She is so isolated a figure that we don't get a sense of her dizzying celebrity, her trajectory, her impact on the public, or vice versa. The story jumps from her difficult childhood straight into the life of a full-fledged star.
The film includes the affair with American president JFK in a brief, dark and devastating way, which must have been an extraordinary and audacious moment of filmmaking.
The last half hour leads, step by step, to Monroe's death by a depressive drug overdose, and there's a groggy inevitability to it. Monreo died just as she'd lived: as a supreme victim of the image culture.
Despite being degrading, exploitative and misogynist, Blonde has been criticised mostly because it is boring, pleased with itself and doesn't have a clue what it is trying to say.
Released on 28 September on Netflix, the film does leave the poignant realisation for the viewers that when the world saw a goddess, Monroe saw a life where no one was ever there for her.