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Blonde Movie Review: Ana De Armas shines in this meditation on pain and trauma- Cinema express

Blonde Movie Review: Ana De Armas shines in this meditation on pain and trauma

Though the film is somewhat a fictitious take on the life of a real character, the palpable despair due to abuse and the darkest secrets that ushered the rise of Marilyn seem real

Published: 30th September 2022

They say pain is inevitable and suffering is optional. But not in all cases. Suffering due to the unhealed pain of childhood trauma is ineludible as it adversely impacts one forever. In Blonde, filmmaker Andrew Dominik introduces us to the searing pain and its scarring effects on one Ms Norma Jeane, who is better known to the world as... Marilyn Monroe.

Director: Andrew Dominik
Cast: Ana de Armas, Xavier Samuel, Evan Williams and Adrien Brody
Streamer: Netflix

The story opens in 1933 in Los Angeles as we see a young mentally unstable mother trying to drown her seven-year-old daughter Norma in a bathtub because she enquired about her father, the daddy that she has only seen in a photo. With destiny burdening her with more suffering in the future, Norma does not die, and later gets admitted to an orphanage.

From there on, Blonde takes us through the journey of Norma (a consummate Ana De Armas) who grows up to become the iconic pin-up model Marilyn Monroe. We see how Marilyn expands her horizons with a successful acting career and becomes a sex symbol in the 50s and 60s. Blonde also delves into some heart-wrenching events in her life, including repetitive visits to her ailing mother, a series of strained relationships  — from polyamorous ones to marriage and separation with two other men — the torments of abortion, miscarriage, and being obliquely exploited to death.

Though the film is somewhat a fictitious take on the life of a real character, the palpable despair due to abuse and the darkest secrets that ushered the rise of Marilyn seem real. Her horrendous experiences seem to have an uncanny resemblance to the stories of many women. At the core, Marilyn's poignant yearning is to have a father. All her romantic endeavours are attempts to fill in the void left by her father. She, in fact, calls them 'Daddy' and it lays bare her identity crisis due to the lingering consequence of a dysfunctional family. Even as the world celebrates her as a Hollywood star, Marilyn wants to be Norma Jene and lead a simple life far away from stardom in New York.

Interestingly, the filmmaker aces the staging of Marilyn's inner conflict by establishing her disinterest in her celebrity status. For instance, there is a scene where her room is overflowing with flower bouquets from fans and well-wishers, and Marilyn's first thought is to equate herself to a corpse, and her room to a funeral home. In moments of expressing inner conflict that translate into unpredictable and erratic behaviour, Ana shines as Marilyn. 

Even after establishing a successful career, Marilyn has no respite to heal her inner wounds. Sadly, more miseries accentuate the pain. As the impact of trauma deepens, Blonde also shows how Marilyn inadvertently relives some gruelling moments of her life. One of the most unforgettable and deeply disturbing stretches of the film has Marilyn facing an abortion scare and imagining a foetus talking to her.

Of course, we also see Marilyn's connection with former US President John F Kennedy, even if there are no factual pieces of evidence. Despite several lows in her personal life, Marilyn's flourishing acting career is well-documented in the film, and we see the hindrances she faced before churning out hits like Don't Bother to Knock, Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and The Seven Year Itch. And, there is the recreation of the iconic flying skirt scene accentuated by an exuberant background score. 

As she climbs up the ladder in her career, Marilyn distressfully looks back at the road taken only to realise that she did everything to become someone she never wanted to be. The film also intriguingly reflects on the critical and vulnerable phases of the actor's love life, and her final days when she resorts to alcohol and drugs.

Andrew's creative choices of not restricting to the rule book, experimenting with capricious transitions from black and white to colour, and deliberate tonal incoherence offer a new viewing experience. However, the abrupt shifts and ambiguous establishments hardly do justice to the supporting characters and their motives. Similarly, the set pieces, costumes and makeovers convincingly transport us to the Marilyn era, but the staging, especially the long pauses and grave silence suffocate us.

This unsettling film is a meditation on Marilyn's tragic and painful life. Ana gets into each layer of Marilyn's skin and takes us through trauma that we can't even endure in our wildest imagination. But that's the thing... There once lived an enigma like Marilyn Monroe, and we wish she could have just found the strength and means to become Norma Jeane... again.

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