The following goes in-depth about a scene from Andrew Dominik’s new Marilyn Monroe picture Blonde, so if you’d prefer to go into the provocative biopic unscathed, then back out now.
Based on a novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates, Blonde imagines experiences that silver screen icon Marilyn Monroe might have lived through during her tumultuous Hollywood career. Marked by fits of triumph and personal uncertainty, Monroe’s life is a hazy mystery clouded by drug and alcohol abuse, which have led to speculations and conspiracy theories involving the actress and several high-profile lovers. The book adaptation is coming to select theaters as well as to Netflix with Cuban star Ana De Armas in the lead role, though early buzz generated by Blonde had to do with its NC-17 rating. And now that I’ve seen the movie, I can likely guess which scene earned the controversial rating from the MPA.
The only reason that was provided by the MPA for the NC-17 rating being applied to Blonde was “some sexual content,” which alone doesn’t seem worthy of the cautionary grade. Blonde certainly does have more than enough sexual content as it documents Marilyn Monroe’s affairs with Charles Chaplin Jr. (Xavier Samuel), Edward G. Robinson Jr. (Evan Williams), Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale) and playwright Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody). And in previous interviews, director Andrew Dominik has expressed surprise over Blonde earning the rating. But one scene in particular, which arrives late in the movie, seems to push the envelope further than any of the explicit relationships captured in Blonde leading up to this point.
Marilyn Monroe was rumored to have had relations with President John F. Kennedy, who is portrayed in the movie by Caspar Phillipson. Though an affair never was confirmed, we do know that Monroe famously sang Happy Birthday to President Kennedy from the stage at Madison Square Garden in New York City, fueling rumors of their romance. You can watch footage of that performance here:
Blonde doesn’t cover this performance. The way that Andrew Dominik approaches the Kennedy-Monroe relationship is more forceful, more hurtful, and more humiliating. In a difficult sequence, Monroe (Ana De Armas) is escorted to Kennedy by a silent team of government agents. She’s dropped into a bathroom area where she’s told she can freshen up before seeing the President. And when she’s finally ushered into Kennedy’s room, he’s lying in bed, talking on the phone.
Any hope of a romantic encounter fades from Monroe’s eyes almost instantly as Kennedy motions to the starlet to start performing masturbation on him. Caspar Phillipson’s JFK can’t even be bothered to stop talking on the phone, pausing only long enough to encourage Monroe to keep going, or hurry up. Finally, fed up with how long it’s taking, Kennedy forces Monroe to perform oral sex on him, and Dominik leaves his camera up close on De Armas during the entire act. Monroe knows how humiliating the scenario is, and through voiceover narration, De Armas signifies that “Marilyn” is performing this, as if it were a scene. And that Norma Jean Baker, the real girl behind the Hollywood facade, wasn’t even there.
It’s an incredibly tough scene to watch. Even if the events didn’t play out the way that Andrew Dominik and Ana De Armas stage it, you can easily imagine some scenario like this happening to Monroe at the height of her popularity. If Monroe had an affair with JFK, this interaction could have taken place. It fits the narrative, and the message, that is being sold by the dark Blonde.
But does Andrew Dominik believe that this sex scene between Marilyn Monroe and President John F. Kennedy is the sequence that ultimately earned Blonde its NC-17 rating? The director appeared on CinemaBlend’s ReelBlend podcast to discuss the film, and when asked, he replied:
The NC-17 rating given to Blonde really is just the tip of the iceberg when you think about all of the rest of the content that is being covered by the movie, and its take on celebrity through the charting of Monroe’s career. Critics shared a lot of thoughts once the movie started to screen, but soon it will be your turn to check out Blonde and see if you agree with what Ana De Armas had to say about the rating, the insecurities she wrestled with while playing the famous starlet, and the handling of some of the more controversial moments in Monroe’s legendary career.
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