‘Blonde’ Hijacks Marilyn Monroe to Make an Anti-Choice Statement (Opinion)

Andrew Dominik's Marilyn Monroe portrait is a traumatizing anti-abortion statement in post-Roe v. Wade America.
Blonde, Ana de Armas

[Editor’s note: The following article contains spoilers for “Blonde.”] 

Update: In a new piece from The Wrap, “Blonde” writer/director Andrew Dominik has responded to claims that the Marilyn Monroe portrait was an anti-choice platform, especially being released after the Supreme Court overturn of Roe v. Wade. Our original essay published September 17 is below Dominik’s interview, published September 28.

“I don’t think the movie is anti-pro choice. I don’t think it is at all,” Dominik told The Wrap. “And I’m not convinced that she actually wants to have a baby. I think she has feelings about not having a baby, but I’m not convinced that what she’s doing – I mean, she doesn’t end up having one. […] There’s a wish for baby but there’s a fear of baby, and I think that’s kind of the central stressor on her.”

Dominik continued, “I think sort of this desire to look at ‘Blonde’ through this Roe v. Wade lens is everybody else doing the same thing. They’ve got a certain agenda where they feel like the freedoms of women are being compromised, and they look at ‘Blonde’ and they see a demon, but it’s not really about that. I think it’s very difficult for people to step outside of the stories they carry inside themselves and see things of their own volition. And I think that’s really what the movie is about: the dangers of that.”

The filmmaker concluded, “I actually see that as a measure of the film’s success, that it inspires that kind of reaction. […] I think the movie is pretty nuanced actually, and I think it’s very complex, but that doesn’t fit — people are obviously concerned with losses of freedoms, obviously they are. But, I mean, no one would have given a shit about that if I’d made the movie in 2008, and probably no one’s going to care about it in four years’ time. And the movie won’t have changed. It’s just what sort of going on.”

Earlier: Andrew Dominik warned us that his NC-17 portrait of Marilyn Monroe would “offend everyone.” Or rather, he boasted.

The writer-director helmed a three-hour epic adapted from Joyce Carol Oates’ novel of the same name, cast Cuban actress Ana de Armas to play the blonde bombshell, and credited the #MeToo movement for finally leading to the film getting financed. Oates called Dominik’s film “most surprisingly an utterly ‘feminist’ interpretation” of her novel, tweeting that the “disturbing” feature makes a first for a male director to “achieve something [like] this.”

Well, that’s one way of putting it.

Another would be to say that “Blonde” is a horrific, tone-deaf reminder of why a female perspective should be included, or at least asked for, when writing about abortion. Yes, while “Blonde” made headlines on gossip sites like DeuxMoi for months ahead of its release for disturbing rape sequences (one such rumor that Dominik dispelled included de Armas as Monroe being assaulted while on her period), the real trigger warning is for a trio of CGI fetuses asking why Monroe murdered them.

This is our “feminist” statement in post-Roe v. Wade America, according to Oates, according to Dominik, and, presumably, according to Brad Pitt’s Plan B Productions?

Dominik’s saga of Monroe being an “unwanted child who becomes the most wanted person in the world” didn’t have to include three wanted children of her own. Dominik relies on the waking nightmare surrealist sensation of Monroe’s body not belonging to herself: She is raped by a studio head, forced to give JFK a blowjob while high, and kidnapped and held down twice by doctors as she begs to keep her babies. The other fetus —  the one who actually speaks to Monroe while she is gardening and asks if she will “do the same” to it as she did to the other, i.e. terminate her pregnancy — results in a violently bloody miscarriage after Monroe trips over a rock at the beach and collapses in sand.

Monroe, whose body is simply being invoked here for shock value, frequently disassociates from her flesh to survive fame. Dominik categorized his film as capturing “what it’s like to go through the Hollywood meat-grinder” and bragged that his magnum opus is like “‘Citizen Kane’ and ‘Raging Bull’ had a baby daughter“… one who seems to have grown up to be Amy Coney Barrett.

Let’s dissect the “Blonde” abortion scenes: Her first terminated pregnancy starts with Monroe requesting for the studio secretary to help her “handle” her pregnancy after realizing her mother’s mental health disorder is genetic. Monroe has wanted nothing more than to be a parent, but with fears of her own abusive mother, she makes the tough decision to terminate her pregnancy, complete with a funeral procession of wearing black Ray-Ban sunglasses and being driven off in a Hearst-like limo. It’s in that very car in which Monroe has second thoughts, sees a literal stop sign, and decides she wants to keep the baby instead. Yet the driver doesn’t turn around or even flinch when she starts screaming. Her screams echo through the halls of a hospital as her feet are forced onto stirrups, and the camera follows a DNC tube gliding through her vaginal walls. The audience is trapped watching this sequence, much like Monroe is held down on the table by the aforementioned tube, and it’s clear Dominik’s comments on offensive content are not about sexual assault but rather surgical assault on the “Some Like It Hot” star.

In the real world, the one that Dominik’s twisted fantasy has no desire to acknowledge, one in three women has admitted to receiving abortions. But right-wing politics have argued that a high percentage of those are forced abortions, instead demanding forced births for pregnant women, even those with health risks or victims of rape. According to Dominik, which is more traumatic?

This type of abortion sequence does not happen once, but twice: It is years later, when Monroe is implied to have been impregnated by the philandering president John F. Kennedy. His goons kidnap and drug Monroe in the middle of the night; she is convinced the procedure is a horrible dream, but as she wakes up covered in blood smeared all over her abdomen, it’s clear the nightmare is only just beginning. There would never be that much blood afterward, but that’s not the point: Dominik is determined to shock and disgust, but at what cost?

Sure, “Blonde” has been close to two decades in the making, 20 years when most Americans believed Roe v. Wade would be upheld. As of 2022, the landmark Supreme Court ruling supporting women’s healthcare and fundamental right to body autonomy was struck down, leaving more than half of American women living in anti-choice states in peril.

Unlike Dominik’s Monroe, more than 95 percent of women who have received abortions say that they do not regret the procedure five years later. Instead, dire consequences for women who have been denied abortions are proven by the University of California San Francisco’s decade-long report, The Turnaway Study. The concept for the study was a reaction to the 2007 Supreme Court abortion case Gonzales v. Carhart, in which Justice Anthony Kennedy (not related to Monroe’s Kennedy, to note) speculated that abortions led to “severe depression and loss of esteem” in women.

The Turnaway Study disproved that assumption. Turnaway Study demographer Diana Greene Foster called the overturn of Roe v. Wade unfathomable even in her “worst nightmares” in an interview with NPR.

And Hollywood has issued a call to action, with “Blonde” distributor Netflix among the companies supporting employee travel costs for out-of-state abortions. More than a thousand showrunners and filmmakers penned a letter for production companies to disclose if they were funding anti-abortion politicians and also to cease filming in anti-choice states.

Indie films like Eliza Hittman’s “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” and Venice winner “Happening” have also struck a chord with audiences, humanizing this essential surgery because, for so long, Hollywood and Americans as a whole have turned away from seeing specifics behind the necessity of abortion rights onscreen.

Even “Juno” writer-director Diablo Cody reflected on her 2007 dramedy featuring a teen pregnancy and adoption journey. “I am emphatically pro-choice and have been my entire life. And it is important to me to make that clear,” Cody told The Hollywood Reporter. “But, you know, I can understand why people would misunderstand the movie. Looking back at it, I can see how it could be perceived as anti-choice. And that horrifies me.”

Cody continued, “If somebody had said to me at the time — as a carefree, younger, third-wave feminist — that in 2022, Roe v. Wade would be overturned, I would have been horrified and I would have assumed we were hurtling toward some kind of inconceivable dystopia, and maybe I would have been right. But at the time, it just seemed impossible. I took Roe for granted, and many of us did. I was just creating; I never intended the movie as any kind of political statement at all. I can’t imagine being that innocent again.”

Is Dominik really that “innocent” or does he just not care?

“Unpregnant” writer Jennifer Kaityn Robinson made seeking an abortion a kind of road trip dramedy, one that felt relatable, honest, and without the stigmatized shame that is prescribed to women post-abortion. Robinson’s latest indie film, “Do Revenge,” is also streaming on Netflix, right alongside “Blonde.” It only takes a moment to wonder what a big budget “Blonde” would look like from Robinson instead.

“Blonde” shows us that Monroe’s body is not her own. Her famed curves and iconic smile belong to America as she’s slowly suffocated by Hollywood and her male admirers, both presumably stopping her from having a white picket fence and nuclear family. But because Roe was overturned, all women’s bodies are now at the mercy of the United States — and we can’t just lay down and take it.

“Blonde” is now in select theaters and will be streaming on Netflix on Wednesday, September 28. 

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