Spoiler alert! This post contains plot details about Netflix’s Marilyn Monroe movie “Blonde” (streaming now).
Everyone’s talking about the talking fetus.
Since premiering last month at Venice Film Festival, “Blonde” has drummed up controversy for its mortifying depiction of Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe (Ana de Armas), who is forced to have two abortions and suffers a miscarriage. Planned Parenthood slammed the movie as “anti-abortion propaganda” in a statement to Variety, while IndieWire called it an “anti-choice statement” in post-Roe v. Wade America.
Here’s what historians and “Blonde” director Andrew Dominik have to say about the film’s depiction of abortion and what actually happened to Monroe:
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Early in the movie, which is based on Joyce Carol Oates’ historical fiction novel, Marilyn decides to get an abortion so she can star in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” When she gets to the appointment, she tells the doctors that she’s changed her mind and begs them not to proceed, but they go forward with the procedure anyway.
Later, when Marilyn is pregnant by her third husband Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody), she has a conversation with a computer-generated fetus inside her. “You won’t hurt me this time, will you?” the unborn baby says to her. “Not what you did the last time?” Marilyn insists she’ll keep the child, but soon winds up suffering a miscarriage.
Shortly before her death from an overdose at 36, Marilyn is shown getting kidnapped by Secret Service agents. Wanting to keep her affair with John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson) a secret, they force her to have a second abortion to get rid of the president’s baby. Afterward, she wakes up distraught and covered in blood.
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Did Monroe have a baby? Did she ever have an abortion or miscarriage?
There’s no evidence that Monroe ever had an abortion, let alone multiple or forced abortions, says historian Michelle Vogel, author of “Marilyn Monroe: Her Films, Her Life.”
“Any talk of pregnancy termination is an assumption on our part,” Vogel says. “Marilyn loved children and she was desperate to be a mother. Sadly, she never carried a baby to term.”
“Her miscarriages are incredibly well-documented,” Dominik says. According to Vogel, Monroe was pregnant three times during her marriage to Miller: She miscarried in 1956, lost an ectopic pregnancy in 1957, then miscarried again in 1958.
“Her fertility issues have long been attributed to endometriosis,” a gynecological condition that causes severe menstrual pain, Vogel says. “It was largely misunderstood during those times, so it often went untreated. Monroe’s well-known use of pills and alcohol was likely self-medication to deal with this medical condition, as well as countless other aspects of her complicated life. She blamed herself for her last miscarriage, which happened shortly after filming ‘Some Like It Hot.’ Her blossoming baby belly is clearly visible as the film progresses.”
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Did Monroe ever talk about motherhood?
According to Schreiner, “She did share with her friend, (poet) Norman Rosten, after her second pregnancy, ‘Should I do my next picture or stay at home and try to have a baby again? That’s what I want most of all, the baby, I guess. But maybe God is trying to tell me something, I mean with all the pregnancy problems.’ ”
On another occasion, Monroe was flipping through photos with her friend Danny Greenson when she came across a photo of herself with Miller’s father.
She told Greenson the photo was taken “during one of the most joyful times in her life, which caused Danny to inquire as to what the cause of her bliss was,” Vogel says. Monroe told him, “I was pregnant then.”
According to Vogel, Monroe’s confidante Milton Greene also once said, “If you gave her a choice between children and stardom, it would have been children. Without question.”
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How has ‘Blonde’ director Dominik responded to the backlash?
By showing her abortions as deeply traumatic, “Blonde” suggests that Monroe would have been better off had she become a mother. The movie has been labeled “irresponsible” and “dangerous” by Twitter users in light of Roe v. Wade being overturned this summer, with 17 states now banning or restricting abortion.
“Marilyn Monroe’s life needs no fictional embellishment,” Vogel says. “It was rags to riches, triumph and tragedy. … She was exploited in life, and far more so in death.”
Adds Schreiner: “It is fiction and unfortunately does not reveal the incredible spirit and drive that made Marilyn into one of the most memorable women of the 20th century. She was so far ahead of her time in so many ways, and her support of racial justice and women’s rights should be recognized.”
Speaking to USA TODAY before the film’s release, Dominik brushed off criticisms that “Blonde” is anti-abortion.
“It’s just people looking at the film through the lens of their own particular prejudices or whatever agenda that they want to advance,” he told USA TODAY. “I don’t think it has anything to say about Roe v. Wade. That’s just a happenstance. If the film would have come out in 2008, no one would be talking about that. And if were to come out in 10 years (from now), no one is going to care about it either. People are reacting to this idea that freedoms are being taken away.”
Dominik ultimately calls the movie “a cautionary tale.” He believes that part of the reason people have been so fascinated by Monroe for so long is that they want to save her.
“She’s a rescue fantasy,” Dominik says. “There’s this feeling of, ‘The people around her didn’t understand her. If only we’d been there, this tragedy could have been averted.’ And I think people’s reactions to the film underscore that idea – it’s almost like they want to rescue her from the movie.”
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