Staff writer Ben Lewis discusses “Blonde” and the controversy the film has created.
Unless you are one of those lucky so-and-sos who can live above and ignore the frenetic madness of today’s world, you have, at the very least, heard of “Blonde”: Andrew Dominik’s fictionalised take on the life of one of Hollywood’s greatest tragedies, Marilyn Monroe. What I have scribbled here is not necessarily a review. Nor, as fascinated as I am by the film, am I going to reel off 500 words persuading you to watch it, and getting all snobby and defensive at those who understandably refuse. This is more of a look at “Blonde” – a fleeting study of the film’s controversial entry onto our international screens.
However, it is only fair that I come clean. “Blonde” seems to be a Marmite Movie – you either love it or hate it. I, with my hands above my head and my back to the wall, must confess that I got along with “Blonde”. I like Dominik’s films and was eagerly awaiting this release for several months, not only due to my excitement for an incoming Dominik film, but also because I am fascinated by the life of Marilyn Monroe, and have read and watched a fair amount on her. I scuttled to the Barbican on the Friday the film hit cinemas and, with an ardent grin on my innocent face, sat down and assumed the position. Nearly three hours later, I peeled myself from the chair, my face nearing a white not dissimilar to Monroe’s hair, and sombrely stumbled out, tight chest rattling with the thumps of my beating heart. Only after watching “Miss Violence and Climax” had I left a theatre in such a harrowed state. It was fantastic, simply because light beaming onto a screen had oppressed me so severely, and evoked not only mental distress, but physical distress too. It was so unpleasant it was pleasant. I was stupefied in the way that every lover of art wishes to feel; unable to gather their thoughts and process what they’ve just witnessed.
My argument for “Blonde” is unambiguous and, hopefully, acknowledgeable. For a (formally) well-made film, released on the grandest, most internationally successful streaming platform; to be so grotesquely oppressive, to garner such hate internationally; to upset and anger so many is brilliantly meritorious. No, I am not some sadist who giggles at the frustration of others, but I am a cinephile who loves to see his adored medium affecting so many people in so many ways. We only have to look at recent history to learn how sometimes the films that are hated the most are the ones returning to theatres every year, and gradually receiving the respect they deserved. (However, in light of Dominik’s idiotic comments in his interview with Christina Newland, I doubt we’ll see “Blonde” return to theatres. Ever.) I am not saying this is a model that fits every hated movie – where I am a fan of “Blonde”, there is a compelling argument condemning not only its narrative structure but also its aggressive, misogynistic bastardisation of Monroe. Where I can begrudgingly recognise and empathise with these criticisms, I wish to instead focus on the reaction the film as a whole has evoked, NOT on its content. In this piece, I am lauding the way in which this film has made people feel. I am simply in awe at the power of cinema. I am not disputing any arguments and criticisms against the film, nor advocating for its content and contexts. I feel as if my personal views on “Blonde” are somewhat extraneous and futile, simply because stories will always have lovers and haters. I merely wish to provide those haters with a hopefully interesting and optimistic argument for a film that has so far been battered by a storm of sheer, unremitting repulsion.
My true adoration for “Blonde” is due mainly to the fierce way in which it oppressed me, but also at its pure presence in today’s world. It is in our current, mundane, epochal nightmare of mainstream film and media so monotonous it is beyond laughable and just downright insulting to our intelligence. Films like “Blonde” should not only be welcome, but necessary. To evoke such controversy, to frustrate so severely, and to spark such interesting debates and discourse is, in my humble opinion, a remarkable quality of any piece of art.
Somewhat hypocritically, I do encourage you to watch “Blonde”. I pray that those who haven’t seen it yet do not merely follow suit and assume that the film is a detestable three hours of offensive, egregious schlock, as it is widely condemned as. Give the bloody thing a chance! And where you may watch it and despise it and throw a petrol bomb through my window with a note attached to it saying “that’s three hours I’ll never get back!”, you may also be able to look past “Blonde”s apparent flaws and discover a near-seamless, brutally beautiful piece of exciting cinema. Something that I feel, of late, audiences have been criminally deprived of.