The Empty Spectacle of Marilyn Monroe’s Fantasy Fetus

“Blonde” pretends to imagine how Monroe would have felt about her pregnancies. Instead, it jarringly shoves a C.G.I. fetus into her midcentury mind.

Send any friend a story

As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month. Anyone can read what you share.


By Amanda Hess

In “Blonde,” the director Andrew Dominik’s fever-dream fictionalization of Marilyn Monroe’s life, Monroe (Ana de Armas) gets pregnant in a celestial fantasy sequence. As she swigs champagne on the beach with her two lovers, the stars above them realign into an expanse of wiggly sperm. Cue gestational montage! A clump of cells appears. A pulsating embryo sprouts, resembling a gelatinous crimson shrimp. Soon a beatific, photorealistic fetus is floating in a sparkling peach brine, its fully articulated form dappled in inexplicable rays of light.

Monroe is lured into aborting that pregnancy, but when she conceives a second time, her sentient fetus reappears. Now, it’s telepathic. “You won’t hurt me this time, will you?” the fetus asks Monroe. “You’re not the same baby,” she whispers toward her own belly. The fetus replies: “That was me. It’s always me.”

Marilyn Monroe’s chatty, regenerating fetus — she calls it “Baby” — has emerged as a scene-stealing sensation. Critics have called it “goofy,” “despicable” and “cruel.” Some have even pegged it as inadvertently propagandistic — this mode of fetal puppetry is a familiar anti-abortion gimmick. But Monroe’s dialogue with her pregnancy, which originated in the 2000 Joyce Carol Oates novel on which the film is based, is also a product of the star’s troubled self-conception, and in that context, the fetus’s corny, sanctimonious message makes a kind of sense. What is jarring is the contemporary look of the fetus: a schlocky, seemingly computer-generated figure that recalls pop-culture fantasy images invented long after Monroe’s death. It’s a rendering so lazy, it suggests a stubborn incuriosity about how Monroe would have actually experienced her pregnancies, even as the film presents them as character-defining events.

Pregnancy can inspire profound acts of projection. The fetus, an unseen body inside of a body, suspended between nonexistence and existence, is defined by parental expectation and cultural imagination. It is the personification of a mother’s desires and fears, her sublimated anxieties and internalized judgments. And the Monroe of “Blonde” has plenty of issues to cast onto a prospective baby. Abandoned by her father and abused by her mother in childhood, she has become world famous as an infantilized sex object who calls all of her lovers “Daddy.” Her ventriloquized fetus is voiced by the child actor (Lily Fisher) who plays Monroe as a little girl, when she was still Norma Jeane. When Monroe communicates with her fetus, she is talking, with pity and loathing, to herself.

What I can’t understand is why the thing looks the way that it does. In putting the fetus on display, Dominik has made a tediously literal attempt to depict Monroe’s interior life. But why would Monroe, in the early 1950s, imagine her fetus in the form of a C.G.I. baby? Why would her visualization of pregnancy resemble the smooth-skinned, preternaturally glowing fetus that appears, 70 years later, in the pregnancy app on my iPhone?

Source: Read Full Article