Netflix’s original Marilyn Monroe biopic Blonde, based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates, has caused some controversy online. The complaints have that particular brand of group-think, their grievances being expressed in suspiciously similar terms.
Directed by Andrew Dominik, Blonde has an ominous musical score and a dreamlike sequence. It’s an artsy film. Yet the film is guilty on several fronts of crimes against feminism and glorifying babies.
So how did a seemingly solid biopic end up with a measly 43% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and nothing but backlash on social media?
Monroe, played by Ana De Armas, learns that she is pregnant and sobs joyfully. She describes a feeling of happiness:
“Oh God, I knew. I guess I knew. I’ve been feeling so swollen and so happy.”
Yet in the film Monroe feels that her hand is forced to get an abortion because she is about to be cast in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Whether Monroe ever actually had an abortion is a matter of dispute. She did have miscarriages. To portray an abortion in a fictionalized version of Monroe’s life, therefore, is at least a valid artistic choice.
The abortion (and/or miscarriage) may have contributed ultimately to her suicide. Photographer and Monroe contemporary Milton Greene explains in the The Mystery Of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes:
“She wanted a baby … she said when this was over she’s going to go home and have a baby…If you gave her a choice between children and stardom, it would have been children, without question.”
Throughout the film, the fetus in Marilyn’s womb is like a character of its own, with its own voice (literally). It floats tranquilly, an object of pure joy, contrasted with the emptiness and rage once the baby is aborted. One suspects this vivid imagery of the fetus is what has triggered such a negative response to the film, in that it invites us to imagine the fetus as a live entity.
Shortly after learning that she is pregnant, Monroe recounts to her mother the circumstances of her mother’s own pregnancy:
“Another girl would have, you know, gotten rid of it. Of me. And I wouldn’t be here at all. There wouldn’t be any Marilyn. And she’s getting so famous now. Fan letters, telegrams, flowers from strangers … but you were brave. You did the right thing. You had your baby. You had me.”
Yet the film isn’t pro-life propaganda. Instead, it merely portrays one woman’s sentiments around pregnancy and abortion.
Armas’ Monroe sees in her mother’s choice a validation for her own instinct to keep her child; an instinct which she ultimately betrays by getting an abortion. In doing so, she shatters her already fragile mental-state.
Monroe is somehow unable to stop the course of events, despite protesting to her chauffeur, “I’ve changed my mind!” and protesting to the doctor, “No, Wait! Wait! No!” In yet another dream-like sequence, she wanders into a room which is set ablaze. She opens a drawer, as if removing her baby from a furnace to hold it one last time. Surely this gut-wrenching scene does justice to the torment and regret inevitable in such a situation:
While this is all very moving, it is dubious that the director intended to enter any political debate, and my, what a surprise he was in for. It’s another example of politics stifling art.
In Blonde, Monroe is a victim of her own childhood and her own worst enemy. Her desire for fame stems from her own sense of emptiness. She isn’t quite sure where Marilyn Monroe the performer ends and she begins. Her unstable sense of identity foreshadows her personal dissolution.
Her abortion and grief for her lost baby hastens this demise. That an abortion might trigger a negative chain of events is not a message that some want to hear at the moment. Indeed, Blonde is a dark vision of Monroe which does not comport with leftist critics, who consider this treatment “disrespectful” and “distasteful.” They would prefer (and somehow demand) that Monroe is portrayed as a girl-boss who soldiered for liberal causes.
Seeing as that she succumbed to suicide, Monroe self-evidently had a dark interior life. Blonde merely takes this as a starting point. Feminists may want to reinvent her strictly as a go-getter entrepreneur. While that may be a convenient reinterpretation of Monroe, it doesn’t necessarily comport with the facts — and it is hardly the only valid interpretation of her life.
Peter Machera is a writer and English teacher living in Dallas. Follow him on twitter and visit his blog at michaelmacherablog.com
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.