“Blonde” is a fictionalized retelling of Marilyn Monroe/Norma Jeane’s (Ana de Armas) life story, starting from her abusive childhood to her untimely death. Writer-director Andrew Dominik does delve into her aspirations of being taken seriously as an actor instead of a sex symbol. But, more than that, he focuses on how the industry and the general audience perceive her, and how that impacts her personal and professional lives. The throughlines that tie all of this together are her relationships with Charles “Cass” Chaplin Jr. (Xavier Samuel) and Edward G. Robinson Jr. (Evan Williams), the Ex-Athlete (Bobby Cannavale), The Playwright (Adrien Brody), and The President (Caspar Phillipson), and the ups and downs she faces with them. Even though there’s not much fact in this fictionalization, I’ll do my best to find the middle-ground between the real and the reel.
How Did Norma’s Relationship With Cass And Ed End?
Although in real life, Norma Jean was married when she was 16 to a man named James Dougherty, “Blonde” skips over that part and goes from her childhood days to the time she worked as a pin-up model to her time at the L.A. Actors’ Circle. This is where she meets Cass and Edward. During a piano-playing session, we see Cass dancing with Norma while Edward continues to play. The scene then shifts to a bedroom where both Cass and Edward undress in front of Norma while talking about how they’ve done adult films. They admire Norma and her physicality and talk about how their bodies aren’t meant to be hidden away like ugly, festering wounds. Instead, they should be celebrated. Cass momentarily laments about his father, Charlie Chaplin’s prowess, and how it robbed him of his individuality. He says that he found it when he saw himself in the mirror, and he urges Norma to do the same to find her identity.
Soon after the three slept together, Norma, Cass, and Edward are seen attending a screening of “Niagara.” Due to that, the rumors of their three-way relationship are splattered across all the tabloids. So, she’s advised by her agent to not be seen with the two of them in public and to take precautions when they engage in private activities. It’s evident that she didn’t because she learns that she’s pregnant with Cass’s child. That said, she does express her desire to keep the baby. When Cass and Edward hear about Norma’s pregnancy, they share her happiness. But it seems like they are subliminally informing her that a baby is going to ruin the image of Marilyn Monroe. Later on, it’s made to look like Norma’s fear that her child will inherit her mother Gladys’s (Julianne Nicholson) illness pushes her to opt for adoption. However, I think it’s a combination of the two. We don’t exactly get to know if the abortion brings Norma, Cass, and Edward’s relationship to an end because the narrative shifts to her relationship with the ex-athlete.
Who Is The Ex-Athlete?
Although Cass and Edward are named pretty directly, Monroe’s second husband, Joseph Paul DiMaggio, is credited as The Ex-Athlete. The real-life DiMaggio was considered to be one of the all-time greats of baseball. Along with a 56-game hitting streak, he had also been awarded with the Most Valuable Player Award three times in his lifetime. DiMaggio was an All-Star in all the 13 seasons that he had played. He met actress Dorothy Arnold in 1937, married her in 1939, and divorced her in 1944. Then, in 1954, he eloped with Monroe at San Francisco City Hall on January 14, 1954. In her autobiography, which was ghostwritten by Ben Hecht, Monroe had apparently expressed her disinterest in meeting DiMaggio. But after their marriage, the two of them publicly stated that they wanted to start a family. All of this isn’t covered by “Blonde.” The movie begins with what looks to be their first meeting, where the two of them are getting to know each other.
After the premiere of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” DiMaggio shows up in Monroe’s hotel suite and goes down on one knee and asks her to marry him. After that, we see her trying to fit into DiMaggio’s “normal” life and severely failing because it’s not something that she’s used to. To make matters worse, Cass and Edward meet DiMaggio and show him Norma’s obscene photos from her modeling days. This completely changes DiMaggio and Norma’s relationship, as he begins to physically abuse her. He even starts to police what kind of movies she is and isn’t going to do. After she poses for the now iconic skirt-blowing scene, he goes to town on her. And, as per the movie, that’s where their relationship ends. Whereas in reality, Monroe filed for divorce in October 1954, and DiMaggio went to therapy. He apparently met her again in 1961 and wanted to remarry her. After Monroe’s death, he claimed Monroe’s body, arranged for her funeral, barred the Kennedy family from attending it, and delivered half-a-dozen red roses to her crypt for 20 years.
Who Is The Playwright?
Adrien Brody plays The Playwright, which is a reference to the American playwright, essayist, and screenwriter, Arthur Asher Miller. He wrote plays like “All My Sons”, “Death of a Salesman”, “The Crucible,” and many other notable works. He left his first wife, Mary Slattery, in 1956 to marry Monroe after their brief affair in 1951. This was the point where Monroe had thought about moving away from Hollywood to live quietly in the country with Miller. She even converted to Judaism to increase her proximity to Miller and his parents. Things apparently became normal for her. But when they started working on “The Misfits,” their relationship got rough. They went their separate ways after the film’s premiere in 1961. Miller married photographer Inge Morath in 1962, a photographer who had documented the production of “The Misfits”. Miller’s son-in-law is the one and only Daniel Day-Lewis, who acted in the feature-film adaptation of “The Crucible.”
The film version of Miller sees him searching for an actress to play the character of Magda, and that’s how he comes across Norma. Despite his aversion to her popularity, they hit it off almost immediately. They do move to the countryside to live a quaint lifestyle. But when she notices that he’s writing a character based on her, she starts to doubt the foundations of the relationship. Things go particularly sideways when Rudy (Tim Ransom) and Jean (Catherine Dent) arrive to meet the married couple, and Miller asks Norma to come down to the beach with them. While carrying a tray full of food, she trips over a rock and falls, thereby triggering her miscarriage. The timeline purposefully gets muddled after that (in order to show Norma’s mental state), but we do see Miller sticking around with Norma as she spirals out of control due to her drinking, consumption of drugs, and hectic filming schedules.
‘Blonde’ Ending Explained: Is “The President” Actually John F. Kennedy? Is He Responsible For Norma’s Death?
Yes, the President that we see in “Blonde” is, in fact, John F. Kennedy, who is one of the most revered figures in American history. Now, when there’s an overt amount of reverence for someone, you know that there’s something wrong there. But since it’s JFK we are talking about, a lot of the details are unclear. What we know is that Kennedy spent a weekend with Monroe back in March 1962. She made an appearance at the fundraiser, which was an early birthday celebration for Kennedy, and sang a song for him. A longtime friend of Frank Sinatra, Tony Oppedisano, said that things were obviously intimate between the two. But since Kennedy was a married man and the President of the United States of America, they couldn’t make things official. With all that said, the movie paints a vastly different picture of Kennedy and Monroe’s relationship.
We see Monroe barely keeping it together as she goes from one premiere to another while she’s on heavy medication. After landing in New York, she’s literally carried by two officials to the car. On their way, Monroe describes her relationship with Kennedy as a spiritual one instead of a sexual one. The officials hand her the ticket for the evening flight back to L.A. When Monroe wonders why this is such a short visit, they say that the President’s plans have changed. They proceed to shove her into a hotel room so that she can freshen up. Then she’s taken to Kennedy’s room so that she can be forced to have oral sex with him while he gets lectured by what sounds like J. Edgar Hoover regarding his indiscretions. When Monroe starts talking about how he doesn’t have to worry about their affair becoming public, it seems like Kennedy proceeds to sexually assault her.
After this incident, Monroe starts to get paranoid as she feels that she is being watched constantly. One night, she is even abducted by government officials so that they can forcibly abort what can only be her child with Kennedy. Soon after that, she receives yet another letter from her mysterious father, who tells her that he’s going to meet her. She gets a call from Eddy, who informs her that Cass has died and has left a memento for her. Turns out, Cass is the one who was pretending to be Norma’s long-lost father, thereby fueling her delusions about meeting her biological father. According to “Blonde”, this is the revelation that sends her over the edge, causing her to overdose on her meds and die. Joyce Carol Oates’s novel (the story on which the film is based) suggests that a “sharpshooter” from “the Agency” delivered an extra dose of Nembutal and removed all evidence that connected her to Kennedy and left her to die. But Dominik doesn’t go that far.
Unlike most biopics or fictionalized retellings of a real-life figure’s story, “Blonde” isn’t a cautionary tale about how you should stay away from exploitative men if you want to survive. That’s something you should do anyway. This movie is more of a mirror that’s asking us to look at it and wonder how we let such a talented individual waste away before our very eyes. And for what? For some spicy headlines or voyeuristic photographs or so that we could sexualize a living, breathing human being who had aspirations of being a long-lasting actor? Are we doing it again with the current crop of stars? Haven’t we done it to Ana de Armas herself? She has stated that the growing attention around her relationship with Ben Affleck forced her to call it quits and leave L.A. So, there’s that. How many more wake-up calls will we need before we understand that we need to treat our stars humanely so that they can do their job properly? Think. Introspect. Make amends.
“Blonde” is a 2022 Drama Mystery film directed by Andrew Dominik.