B.london, the new Netflix movie from Andrew Dominik, adds as much nuance to the idea of Marilyn Monroe as one gynecological exam can tell. The explosive movie star has long established herself as a tragic figure, a woman who was abused by Hollywood studios, her husband Joe DiMaggio and, as a child, her sick mother. Rather than defy conventional narrative, director Dominik’s nightmarish film, adapted from the fictional 2000 novel by Joyce Carol Oates, takes it to an even darker and more invasive place. If you want to understand Marilyn Monroe, he suggests, you first have to get inside her womb.
This somber drama takes us into the previously uncharted depths of Marilyn Monroe’s vagina multiple times throughout its staggering 2 hours and 45 minutes. I’m not going to “spoil” them all, but in the first hour of the film, we see Monroe, played with agonizing fragility by Ana de Armas, excitedly clutching her womb as the camera cuts to her glowing womb, complete with a fetus. spectrally illuminated. A few scenes later, we follow Marilyn to the operating table, where the doctors perform an abortion that she has not consented to. “Please, do you want to listen? I’ve changed my mind,” she pleads, as her doctor inserts the speculum, a procedure horrifyingly depicted head-on, from the point of view of Marilyn’s own cervix.
Dominik insists on the animating principle of his film, which itself feels derived from that famous line by Rita Hayworth about her most iconic and compelling film role: “Men sleep with Gilda and wake up with me.” In Blond, sycophants and bigwigs hoping to get a piece of the Hollywood star instead find a more timid and desperate woman named Norma Jeane, who turns out to be identical to Marilyn Monroe. That may be interesting as a passing observation, but the movie makes this point over and over again. “She’s pretty, but she’s not me,” says Norma Jeane, looking at a glamorous photo of herself in a magazine. “F*** Marilyn,” Norma Jeane yells later on the phone. “She is not here.”
If Dominik’s point is that Marilyn is an invention, “baby’s first toy,” one of her lovers cryptically notes, then perhaps these excruciating body horror scenes are the director’s sadistic means of reminding us that she is more than her two-dimensional projection. If you subject Marilyn Monroe to the duress of an unwanted abortion, doesn’t she scream herself in speechless agony? And if Norma Jeane becomes pregnant again years later, doesn’t her unborn fetus acquire the ability of human speech?
I promise you, you read right. In one of the film’s most disturbing body sequences, Marilyn’s surprisingly talkative fetus, who somehow also possesses knowledge of her previous miscarriage, pleads with her host to allow this pregnancy to continue. It is not only “alive” in the eyes of Blond, has will. Marilyn can hear it. She replies out loud as if they were having a conversation. I had to watch this scene several times to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating, but no, right in the middle of Blondthere is a madman look who’s talking prequel
Politically, these scenes of a woman burdened with years of regret over abortion are highly controversial. As a narrative mode, they are totally alienating. Marilyn Monroe never seems less real for me than when she is joyfully conversing with the unborn child in her fantastically radiant womb. Am I to believe that all movie stars are lit from within?
Marilyn never feels more like a Hollywood plaything than when Dominik subjects her to bloody sexual and medical violence, literally probing her and barbarously describing what it feels like to be one of the most famous women of the 20th century from the inside out. Blond it’s not a movie on The exploitation of Marilyn Monroe, but a new high water mark in Hollywood’s treatment of her: a sexual object reduced to a sexual organ.