Joyce Carol Oates: Andrew Dominik’s ‘Blonde’ Lacks ‘Male Gaze,’ and Ana de Armas Is ‘Wonderful’

The reimagining of Marilyn Monroe's life, streaming on Netflix September 23, captures Monroe's death from "extreme despair," according to author Oates.
Blonde, Ana de Armas

Blonde” explores the life (and death) of Marilyn Monroe behind the iconography of the late bombshell.

Written and directed by Andrew Dominik, the film premieres September 23 on Netflix, with Ana de Armas starring as Norma Jeane Baker, who later uses the stage name of Monroe. “Blonde” is based on Joyce Carol Oates’ 2000 novel of the same name, which reimagined Monroe’s tragically short life, culminating in her death at age 36.

While at the 21st Neuchâtel Intl. Fantastic Film Festival in Switzerland, Oates confirmed that she has seen a final cut of the NC-17 rated film.

“Andrew Dominik is a very brilliant director,” Oates said, via Variety. “I think he succeeded in showing the experience of Norma Jeane Baker from her perspective, rather than see it from the outside, the male gaze looking at a woman. He immersed himself in her perspective.”

De Armas’ performance also proved to be a standout for Oates, adding, “Transforming into Marilyn always took [Baker] hours. Ana de Armas, the wonderful actress who plays her, I think it took her like four hours of makeup. So when you see them on screen, they don’t really exist. It’s like a fantastic image, but to make it a livelihood is to endure a good deal of anguish.”

Oates continued, “As Marilyn got older, she was still being given these roles a young starlet would play, and she was feeling humiliated. You can’t keep playing this dumb blonde nearing the age of 40. Some people say she committed suicide. I don’t necessarily think that. I think she may have died of something like extreme despair.”

The prize-winning novelist summed up, “She gained a fame in the world, but that’s not an identity you can live with. It is one that made a lot of money for a lot of men, but not much for herself. When she died, at 36, she didn’t own enough money for a proper funeral.”

Lead actress de Armas previously revealed that she wore a bald cap to conceal her natural brunette shade while starring as Monroe. “[Marilyn] went through different shades of blonde from golden to really platinum, so for these wigs that are beautifully made, you can’t have anything dark underneath, so we had to make a bald cap every single day from my forehead to [around] my whole head,” de Armas said. “I think I actually cried the first time I saw [the wigs] on. Probably because I was terrified. But I’m so proud.”

The “Deep Water” star later admitted that she trained for nine months with a dialect coach to perfect Monroe’s signature voice. “It was a big torture, so exhausting,” de Armas added. “My brain was fried.”

This is not Oates’ first time sharing her reaction to the film. Oates previously watched a rough cut of the rumored three-plus hour epic in August 2020, calling it a “startling, brilliant, very disturbing and perhaps most surprisingly an utterly ‘feminist’ interpretation” of Monroe’s life. Oates tweeted, “Not sure that any male director has ever achieved anything [like] this.”

By September 2021, Oates again tweeted that the presumably final film is “an exquisite portrait of Marilyn Monroe by Ana de Armas & director Andrew Dominic; 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.”

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

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