Actress must have no mouth,” Marilyn Monroe once wrote in her journal, about the workings of 1950s’ Hollywood. The astuteness of the observation would surprise anyone who knows of her only through Blonde, Andrew Dominik’s recent biopic. One of the most controversial films of the year, Blonde keeps an obsessive focus on the abuse that Monroe endured — at the hands of her mother, studio executives and politicians, colleagues and lovers — and creates a portrait of a woman defined by trauma. It leaves little room, as the film’s many critics point out, for the actor’s talent and ambition, the sense of humour and perspicacity that are so evident in her interviews and writings.
In the furore that it has generated, Blonde has raised, again, the questions and choices inherent in bringing to screen the lives of real people, especially when abuse and trauma are part of their stories. For the purposes of storytelling, a streamlined narrative may make more sense than one that is spread thin over all the complexities that make up a human being’s life. This is the view that Dominik himself has taken, saying in an interview, that the film is “about a person who is going to be killing themselves”. But it must be asked who is served by films in which the texture of a real human being’s life is replaced by flattened ideas about victimhood and justice.
In her last taped interview, published in LIFE magazine a few days before she died, Monroe said, “Please don’t make me a joke. End the interview with what I believe. I don’t mind making jokes, but I don’t want to look like one…” At the core of Dominik’s monochromatic portrayal of the actor as victim, are questions that will return to haunt.