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Joyce Carol Oates: What Really Happened to Marilyn Monroe Is ‘Much Worse’ Than Anything in ‘Blonde’

"I had to stop watching it, go away for a couple of hours, and come back."

Blonde, Ana de Armas



Joyce Carol Oates is crediting the #MeToo movement for giving “Blonde” ambition to get made.

The author told The New Yorker how it took decades for Andrew Dominik to adapt her 2000 novel inspired by the life of Marilyn Monroe in part due to actresses like Naomi Watts “aging out” of the role, as well as the “brutal” assaults conveyed. “Blonde” stars Ana de Armas as Monroe and is currently in theaters before premiering on Netflix September 28.

“Because of the MeToo movement, there’s much more latitude in listening to or paying respect to women who have been victimized,” Oates said of the subject matter today. “Before Harvey Weinstein, there wouldn’t have been as much sympathy. People would say, ‘Oh, you’re exaggerating,’ ‘It wasn’t that bad,’ or ‘You’re just saying that,’ or ‘He didn’t really rape you; you’re making it up.’ But now, since MeToo, people are more respectful of how women are exploited.”

Oates continued, “It’s not a feel-good movie. Many films about Marilyn Monroe are kind of upbeat and have a lot of music and singing. She’s very beautiful and sweet. This one is probably closer to what she actually experienced. The last few days of her life were brutal.”

Oates previously shared her reaction to the film after watching a rough cut in August 2020, tweeting that “Blonde” is a “startling, brilliant, very disturbing and perhaps most surprisingly an utterly ‘feminist’ interpretation” of her novel. “Not sure that any male director has ever achieved anything [like] this.”

She later called the film “an exquisite portrait of Marilyn Monroe by Ana de Armas & director Andrew Dominic[k]; one without the other could perhaps not have worked this magic. The tone of the film is hard to classify, not surreal but not totally realistic, not ‘horror’ but suffused with the dread of horror.”

To The New Yorker, Oates clarified that she “had very little to do with” the film adaptation of her novel.

“I saw the almost-final cut, they sent a kind of embargoed film, and I had to see it within forty-eight hours. They’re so afraid of these films being pirated,” Oates reflected. “I had to stop watching about midway through. The film is emotionally exhausting.”

She added, “All the parts are quite fascinating. It’s grueling, though. It’s almost three hours long. I had to stop watching it, go away for a couple of hours, and come back. It’s demanding of the viewer. The last quarter is very hallucinatory…It’s not a movie that you’re watching so much as being immersed in. Not for the faint of heart.”

When asked about her reaction to the controversial NC-17 rating for the film, Oates said she doesn’t “have any particular feelings” about the MPA rating system. “The real things that happened to Marilyn Monroe are much worse than anything in the movie,” Oates concluded.

Writer-director Dominik previously echoed Oates’ sentiment on the #MeToo movement leading to the adaptation of “Blonde.” Dominik revealed to Screen Daily (via Collider) that the film “wouldn’t have got done” without the #MeToo movement “because nobody was interested in that sort of shit, what it’s like to be an unloved girl, or what it’s like to go through the Hollywood meat-grinder.”

For all the details on “Blonde,” click here.

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