“Blonde”: how Marilyn consumed Norma Jean

During the first minutes of Blonde hair (VF), it is curiously not the work of Joyce Carol Oates, from which the film is nevertheless drawn, that one thinks of, but rather the novel The Day of the Locust (The Los Angeles Fire), by Nathanael West. In a sequence as virtuoso as it is frightening, little Norma Jeane Mortenson, future Marilyn Monroe, is led along the burning hills of Mulholland Drive by her mother in full psychosis. There’s the common context of the 1930s, but, more importantly, there’s the fact that, from the outset, filmmaker Andrew Dominik portrays Hollywood as hell on earth.Playing Friday, Blonde hair deconstructs the myth to better explore the painful journey of Norma Jeane/Marilyn: she escaped the blaze as a child, but was nevertheless consumed as an adult.

Obviously, such an undertaking cannot please everyone: several moviegoers want to preserve a certain image of Marilyn Monroe, emblematic figure of the 7e art. However, if it is fashionable to be sorry for the tragic fate of the idol and to reassess her talent as an actress upwards, the fact remains that, in general, we do not necessarily want to wonder about how and the why of said fate.

Already, when it was published in 2000, the “fictional biography” of Joyce Carol Oates had divided critics. This had not prevented the award-winning author from being a finalist for many prizes, including the Pulitzer. A similar mix of praise and protest for the adaptation of the all-too-rare Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford): even before its mixed reception at the Venice Film Festival, the film was the subject of various controversies, from the choice of the actress of Cuban origin Ana de Armas to play Marilyn to the explicit nature of certain scenes.

Impressionist Flood

There are indeed almost unbearable passages, like this rape by a studio manager of an aspiring actress Marilyn. Except that Andrew Dominik does not give into voyeurism or exploitation. If the monstrosity of the monk is fleetingly exhibited in all its erect horror, it is especially on the devastated face of the young woman that a camera lingers in phase with the pain, the humiliation and, in this precise moment, the resignation. heroin.

No wonder that no major studio wanted to finance the film, which Dominik had been trying to shoot since 2010: the august system and its pseudo-“golden age” were flamethrowered there. Ultimately, it was Netflix that extended the dollars and gave the filmmaker carte blanche.

Film-river, Blonde hair proves to be extremely stimulating, both visually and narratively. On both fronts, Andrew Dominik has the means — and the talent — of his ambitions. Always very fluidly, the film goes from black and white to color, alternating between documented biographical episodes and plausible speculations.

The result is an impressionist flow that seduces and attacks in equal measure: a paradox that allows the public to feel better what Marilyn herself felt.

Moreover, the notion of paradox is fundamental here. In that we see the protagonist torn between the perfect image created by the studios, then refined by herself, and the woman she tries to be in private, in an increasingly elusive “real life”. . The tension between Marilyn and Norma Jeane is constant, untenable: in what basically constitutes a double role, Ana de Armas (with whom we spoke last week) is sensational.

In this regard, without establishing a causal relationship, Blonde hair suggests fascinating parallels between the schizophrenia suffered by Gladys Monroe (remarkable Julianne Nicholson), the star’s mother, and the way her personality changes depending on whether she is Marilyn or Norma Jeane (Blonde hair and Mulholland Driveby David Lynch, would make a good doubleheader).

“Her problem was not that she was a stupid blonde, but rather that she was not a blonde and she was not stupid,” wrote Joyce Carol Oates.

ruthless observation

Obviously, it’s Marilyn who captivates and we tear each other apart. Unwanted child tossed from foster homes to orphanages, Norma Jeane is therefore rejected again, this time in favor of a chimera. Parade lovers and husbands: Joe DiMaggio, Arthur Miller and other JFK have nothing to do with Norma Jeane. A little girl who grew up without a father, she calls them all “ daddy »…

And all of this culminates in this inescapable conclusion which, however notorious, is no less shocking. It’s that upstream, the film succeeded in weaving a real bond of empathy with Norma Jeane/Marilyn.

More generally, here again, as in Nathanael West’s novel (brilliantly adapted by John Schlesinger in 1975), Blonde hair paints a ruthless portrait of an industry that was built by using and abusing women. Because, very often, the proverbial dream factory that is Hollywood fuels nightmares.

Blonde (VO and VF)


Drama by Andrew Dominik. With Ana de Armas, Julianne Nicholson, Xavier Samuel, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale. USA, 2022, 166 minutes. In theaters September 23 and on Netflix September 28.

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“Blonde”: how Marilyn consumed Norma Jean