Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me turned thirty this year – and incidentally, so did I. David Lynch’s film, an examination of the life of murdered teen Laura Palmer that arrived after the cancellation of Twin Peaks in the years preceding, was initially dismissed, if not outright loathed, by a swathe of critics and audiences expecting a continuation or solution to the many cliffhangers the Peaks finale wrought. With time it has seen an enormous re-evaluation. To me, it is one of the greatest films ever made, an astonishingly powerful evocation of pain, horror and transcendence. Laura Palmer, the dead girl at the centre of Twin Peaks, famously was at least partially inspired by Marilyn Monroe, another figure of ethereal beauty, soulfulness and tragedy who lived endless lives in the eyes of those who adored her, but contained an unknowability that was key to her appeal. Who was Norma Jean Baker, the person who would come to embody perhaps the single most iconic figure of the twentieth century?

The controversial and much-discussed three-hour biopic from New Zealand-Australian auteur Andrew Dominik arrives on Netflix this week. Adapted from the Joyce Carol Oates novel of the same name, it is a bleak, wearisome alternative history of an unknowable pillar of pop culture, that inadvertently reveals as much about its creator as the woman at its centre. 

Watching Blonde, Andrew Dominik’s adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ immense novel that weaved a compelling alternative history of the life of Marilyn Monroe, it’s not difficult to see the influence of Lynch, particularly Fire Walk With Me, in the execution of this story – from the flashes of surreal horror, to the wonderful, soaring score from regular collaborators Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. It’s a peculiar self-fulfilling prophecy, the idea that Marilyn might feed into the creation of Laura Palmer, and in turn Laura Palmer might feed back into an understanding of Marilyn. Dominik, who has a bona fide great film under his belt in 2007’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and another intriguing misfire in the evocative but odiously smug nihilism of Killing Them Softly, is a deft image-maker and craftsman, undeniably. Dominik’s film is a retelling of a life, but it is even more so an expressionistic, surreal and frightening examination of an unravelling psyche. It is here, naturally, that the Lynch comparisons abound too, as Dominik’s Marilyn (and though she is portrayed with grit and passion from a committed Ana De Armas, there is no mistaking the fact that this is Dominik’s Marilyn) suffers injustice after injustice, her doe-eyed, childlike innocence an all too-easy target for a vicious and warped Hollywood. But Dominik is no Lynch, and Blonde certainly is no Fire Walk With Me.


That is not to say that the film is absent of great craftsmanship. Indeed, there is barely a moment that passes in Blonde in which the viewer is not greeted with a new aesthetic delight. One ravishingly beautiful image follows the next, many carefully curated to replicate famous photographs of Marilyn Monroe throughout her life. So many of today’s auteurs lean so heavily on capturing perfect images, at the expense of making good films. In Dominik’s case, he has revealed he has the capacity to achieve both. In Jesse James, a remarkable alchemy was conjured in the pairing of its dreamy cinematography with its perceptive and mythic script. This proves not to be the case with Blonde, a film that has purportedly been a passion-project of Dominik’s for years but which finds him hopelessly in thrall to the accessorising pleasures of a well-crafted image, but fundamentally unable to conjure a compelling reason – or even justification – for telling this particular story. 


Much has been made in recent days about Dominik’s comments about Monroe – including his broad dismissals of her career and her many achievements. On Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the brilliant Howard Hawks film that signalled the true arrival of Monroe the megastar, Dominik controversially claimed that the film was simply a vehicle for ‘romanticised whoredom’. Indeed, Blonde seems to take a rather puritanical viewpoint on the life of Monroe, a relentlessly sexualised figure, certainly, but one that – according to Blonde – had very little agency of her own in the creation and maintaining of the Monroe persona and mythos. Dominik is invasive, even taking the point of view of Monroe’s cervix during an abortion scene that has already caused controversy broadly across social media, and his subjecting of Monroe to a three-hour cavalcade of rape, beatings, forced abortions, abuse and suicide, purporting to place viewers in the shoes of Monroe to allow us to empathise with her completely while also exalting her as a divine figure of suffering who gains transcendence in her death, as with Laura Palmer before her. But Dominik lacks the subtlety and yes, love for his character, to achieve the transcendence Lynch did in Fire. There is an icky feeling of judgement that ripples through Blonde, a revictimising and repeat theft of agency masquerading as feminism because gee, aren’t the men around her just awful

At the centre is De Armas, an actress who has given intriguing turns in two messy, conflicted films this year – this and Adrian Lyne’s Deep Water – and her creation of Monroe is both picturesque and eerily alienating. The Cuban De Armas cannot ultimately hide her accent entirely, and though she often looks very similar to Monroe, her characterisation often seems to heighten the performativity of anyone trying to truly inhabit Monroe/Baker. This seems to be a conscious, and fascinating, choice – but this distance is never fully engaged with or given the means to be successful. Indeed, it seems at odds with Dominik’s obsessive attention to detail in the recreation of Monroe’s most famous moments through meticulous recreation and even deepfake technology. If Blonde were to be a commentary on the ultimate unknowability of Monroe, a persona as constructed by the fantasies of those around her as by the person within, then of what use is the as-real recreations? In this frame, they seem likely to be simple flexing from Dominik, who has welcomed confrontation against his work in the lead-up to the film’s release. Blonde has an in-built defensiveness, and a numbing willingness to really go there in the name of cinematic purity. After three hours of empty subjection and suffering though, there is little else to feel come the rolling of credits than relief that we are no longer forced to view Marilyn Monroe through the eyes of someone who doesn’t seem to particularly care for her at all – begging the question, for what reason was this the story Dominik so desperately wanted to tell for so very long?

Streaming now on Netflix.



Movie title: Blonde (Dominik, 2022)

Movie description: The controversial and much-discussed three-hour biopic from New Zealand-Australian auteur Andrew Dominik arrives on Netflix this week. Adapted from the Joyce Carol Oates novel of the same name, it is a bleak, wearisome alternative history of an unknowable pillar of pop culture, that inadvertently reveals as much about its creator as the woman at its centre.

Date published: September 30, 2022

Country: U.S.

Author: Andrew Dominik

Director(s): Andrew Dominik

Actor(s): Ana De Armas, Lily Fisher, Julianne Nicholson

Genre: Biography, Drama, Romance

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