“Please don’t make me a joke,” Marilyn Monroe pleaded to a journalist shortly before she died. All she wanted was for people to respect and love her. The new film Blonde reduces her to a lewd and unfunny punch line. It goes to fictitious extremes to degrade and humiliate her. In fairness, both director Andrew Dominik and Joyce Carol Oates, who wrote the novel he adapted, have been up front about Blonde being a complete fiction. The locations, clothes and hairdos look right. With skill, cinematographer Chayse Irvin visually re-creates iconic moments in her life. But there isn’t a line uttered in the film that Marilyn actually said.
The film might make you think Marilyn was a bewildered nitwit too stupid to protest her vile violations, a chessboard piece moved around by loathsome, violent, perverted, lecherous men. She did have enormous problems and was a tragic figure. She grew up in an abusive foster care system and suffered from chronic depression and insomnia. But she was passionately determined to improve herself, to overcome her demons, to dare herself to climb higher, to be great. Blonde strips her of her well-known wit, charm and intelligence. She loved children and was one of the first celebrities to speak out about child abuse. Politically savvy, she challenged the House Un-American Activities Committee and had the guts to demand better scripts and director approval. The movie omits that she was one of the first women to defy the studio system and form her own production company.
She was sensitive and vulnerable, but could be determined and strong-willed. She was used, but she was also a master user, scoping out the people who could help her. From the start, photographers, journalists and acting coaches saw her special quality and did their best to promote her. In Blonde, Marilyn is viewed only as a sexual freak degraded by every man she meets, never looked at with a morsel of appreciation or admiration.
Let’s break down some of the scenes, separating fact from fiction, and score each one from 0 to 10 on our Marilyn fact-o-meter scale.
Marilyn’s mother, Gladys, attempts to drown her in the bathtub
What happens in the movie: Gladys holds the 8-year-old underwater, screaming that it’s Marilyn’s fault that her father left without marrying Gladys.
What happened in real life: Her maternal grandmother, Della Monroe, broke into the house and tried to smother the infant with a pillow, raving about the sin of being born out of wedlock. Later her mother, Gladys, went mad in front of her, brandishing a knife, then spent most of her life in a mental hospital. But there were no bathtub scenes, and Gladys did not blame Marilyn for her dad’s desertion.
Marilyn fact-o-meter score: 5 out of 10
Marilyn has a ménage à trois
What happens in the movie: During the making of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1952, Marilyn gets pregnant via a three-way affair with creepy, sinister, pretentious, vacuous Charles Chaplin Jr. and Edward G. Robinson Jr. She desperately wants to keep the baby, but does as she’s told and has an abortion.