My mother's illness, are you. . .are you born with it in your blood?

One of the earliest images within the collage of glossy magazine clippings, promotional photos, and film clips replicated by Andrew Dominik and cinematographer Chayse Irvin's patchwork assembly of Marilyn Monroe iconography barely demands a notice. In the film's first nightmarish recreation of the subway grate scene from The Seven Year Itch - inarguably the singular visual representation of Monroe's star persona - the camera pushes in on the blinding bulb of a production light, its glow blown out to pure white, only to rack focus onto the mechanisms, gears, and wiring of the light. How do we read this?

If that shot is a mission statement for Blonde, a claim that the film will engage with the actress' wiring - her psychology - rather than the intense wattage of her star power, then it does not fulfill that promise. However, if the shot implies that Blonde will concern itself with the behind-the-scenes machinations of an industry, a culture, a patriarchy that bleaches the humanity out of women until they are acrylic sex dolls and empty images, then it seems closer to the mark. There's a reason the film is not called Marilyn, Monroe, or even Norma Jeane; despite her talent, complex psyche, and critical mind, all the industry wants from Norma Jeane is for her to be the epitome of the blonde fantasy. "Look at the ass on that little girl," a nameless director mutters after Monroe proverbially spills her own blood in a raw, personal audition; he's blind to the wiring after glutting himself on the spotlight of the image.

Oppressively within the film, anytime Norma Jeane/Marilyn starts to raise a question, concern, or opinion, she is shutdown, interrupted, insulted, laughed at, disregarded. We only see three hours of it - and it feels like more - but what does a lifetime of belittling do to a person? It worms its way into your blood, into your brain, reshapes your sense of self, your self-image. Understandably controversial, Blonde's depiction of Monroe's post-abortion guilt as conversations with the unborn fetus have been read as pro-life propaganda. But how might those conversations be seen as Norma Jeane internalizing the condemnations she faces daily? Her original choice to forestall the abortion fell on deaf ears, like every other time she speaks up; abortion advocacy is about the ability to choose, yet Monroe has that agency stripped from her to the point that she personifies it within her own consciousness.

In real life and the film, Norma Jeane's mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Whether circulating in Norma Jeane's blood or not (another of her questions that goes unanswered), it does manifest in her disassociation from the image that's been molded out of her body. Monroe, the patriarchal industry she existed within, and the audiences salivating for what they were being fed, all exist within a culture that trains us to prioritize superficiality over interiority from an early age. Norma Jeane's mother does share that mentality with her daughter, teaching her to admire the portrait of her avatar daddy while ignoring the fissures lining the wall behind it. That's an illness pumping through everyone's blood.

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