Based on the 2000 novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates, Blonde a historical psychological drama which tells a fictionalized version of American pop-culture icon Marilyn Monroe’s life – and it’s also the first film of the 2020s to be rated NC-17.
The first feature length film from writer and director Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford, Killing Them Softly) in ten years, Blonde chronicles the life of Norma Jeane Mortenson (Ana de Armas) from her time as a young girl in 1933 to her drug-dependent death in 1962.
The opening of the film sees Norma being raised by her alcoholic and mentally unsound mother, Gladys Pearl Baker (Julianne Nicholson), during which time she regularly tells her daughter that her father was a famous actor.
Barred by her mother from saying his name aloud, a black and white picture taped to the wall is all Norma has of the parent she never met.
It is this lack of a father that serves as a catalyst for and subsequently fuels Norma’s drive for success, as despite achieving a near-unprecedented level of fame, she constantly feels like something is missing from her massively flawed existence.
In the film, Norma lives a king of ‘Humpty Dumpty’-esque existence.
Emotionally shattered at a young age and subsequently put through absolute Hell, she never really has the opportunity over the course of the Blonde’s run time to feel whole.
This is particularly emphasized in how Norma not only separates herself from Marilyn, but is also adamant about them being two different people.
Marilyn is portrayed as achieving sex by making use of her physical appearance and the animalistic sexual desires of her mostly male audience. Norma, on the other hand, wants to live a normal life replete with a loving husband and children, but recognizes that she needs ‘Marilyn”s status as a sex symbol to make ends meet.
Blonde pushes the boundaries of the drama genre, at times essentially becoming a horror film with how psychologically traumatizing Norma’s life becomes.
Manhandled during auditions, forced into sexual situations she doesn’t want to be a part of, and tortured during abortions despite vocally protesting that she wants to keep her unborn child, Norma ends up hating the version of herself she sees on screen as her premieres leave her feeling like nothing more than a piece of meat surrounded by horny dogs, foaming at the mouth.
Her second abortion, which comes about after she’s uncomfortably pressured into unwanted sexual acts with JFK, is one of the most nightmarish sequences of the entire film.
Torn between her two identities and faced with the reality that her make-believe persona is far more popular than her compassion-deprived actual self, Norma eventually leans on drugs and booze, eventually devolving into even more erratic behavior and finding herself doing absolutely irreparable damage to her own reputation.
What’s even more heartbreaking for Norma is how every woman who interacts with her gushes about how any woman would kill to be in her spotlight.
Bouncing from a threesome to an abusive marriage to a loving one she eventually destroys with her constant use of drugs and alcohol, every moment of happiness that she chases ends up crumbling around her into pure and utter misery.
This contrast between her actual life and her dreams is only made all the more jarring by Blonde‘s constant and unannounced jumping-back-and-forth between being presented in color or black-and-white.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Blonde is that while many will likely go into the film expecting a biopic centered on the life of one of America’s most well-known celebrities filled with sex and hardship, de Armas instead presents audiences with an undeniably anguished portrayal of Norma Jeane.
Her depiction is one who desires nothing more than the love and approval of everyone from her partners, to her mother, and even to her absent father, only to have it pulled away whenever it’s within her grasp.
In regards to Blonde’s NC-17 rating, the argument can be made that it isn’t entirely earned.
While it does feature depictions of rape, uncomfortable scenes involving her abortions, and countless topless shots of de Armas, the films’ sexual encounters, both positive and negative, are tripper than they are graphic.
For example, in depicting the aforementioned forced sexual acts, Blonde tends to shy away from showing full-frontal nudity or outright sex acts in favor of focusing on the situation’s unsettling ambiance.
Likewise, the threesome Norma partakes in involving Cass (Xavier Samuel) and Eddy (Evan Williams) is presented as more of a sensual odyssey than a hedonistic act, even going so far as to include an incredible editing transition between the edge of the bed and a gushing waterfall.
Meanwhile, the film’s on-edge atmosphere is masterfully heightened thanks to gloriously disturbing cinematography from Chayse Irvin, impeccable editing by Adam Robinson, and a magnificently haunting score provided by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.
Blonde is an adult film, but it absolutely shouldn’t be written off as sex-crazed trash.
Throughout its story, de Armas delivers a beautiful and conflicted mess of a performance that is both heartbreaking and mesmerizing in its portrayal of Norma Jane’s unbelievable downward spiral into constant disappointment, regret, sorrow, and insanity.
For anyone seeking out a film that is so depressingly cruel yet significantly brilliant in its execution, Blonde is not to be missed.
- Ana de Armas' performance
- Traumatically mesmerizing
- Beautifully basks in how bleak it is
- At 166 mins, it's very long
- The film can feel disorganized, albeit purposely
- It's an experience that is as exhausting as it is satisfying