‘Every baby needs a da-da-daddy’: Andrew Dominik’s Blonde  

Written by Georgia Smith

Blonde is an objectification, an iconoclasm, an image, and a charade. The three-hour film based on the 1999 novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates is an imagining of the life of Marilyn Monroe from her infancy to her death. Oates establishes a mythos of Monroe, one which is to be sustained seductively by director Andrew Dominik. In the character of this mythos, the relationship between the masculine and feminine can be noted as the infantile feminine seeking the complete, paternal masculine. Positing that the viewer becomes a voyeuristic extension of Dominik’s male directorial perspective–a function of patriarchy through creative power—this article will explore how that voyeurism combines with the film’s logic of masculinity and femininity to explore the representation of both female body and experience as object, substitute, and fetish. 

Monroe is sexual but subdued. The gender logic of Blonde is dejecting: the model of relation which characterises the interactions between Marilyn and the men she encounters is a form of dominance which extends perversely into the domain of the paternal. Dominik proposes a binary of the perpetually absent father and insufficient mother. To lean on bell hooks, childhood is ‘the original school of love’. Marilyn never moves beyond the moment in infancy in which she is presented with the image of her father, a potent imagining of the classic Hollywood heartthrob, through a talking picture. From this moment, the idea of masculinity is fixed for Marilyn, and she consequently confuses the paternal and the amorous in a perpetual frustration for her audience. Her constant verbal plea of ‘daddy’ is an attempt to assert herself into an order of value in which she sees no inherent place for herself as the occupier of a female body. Therefore, not only does paternal masculinity exist as a reification of standard patriarchal oppression, but it defines also value, as the domination of masculinity is extended to the degree that self-identification becomes reliant upon it.  

A moral and biological essentialism is central to Dominik’s view of the sexes. The film’s mythos fabricates several abortions and Marilyn only ever shows emotional complexity as it relates to motherhood. Her first husband, too, is the image of the essentially masculine, based on baseball player Joe DiMaggio. The masculine body is important, since as a retired sports star DiMaggio is an exemplar of the male body–metaphorically and physically, he symbolises strength and, as such, protection and truth. As he remarks with his hand gripping Monroe’s throat, ‘I just want to protect you from these jackals’. Perhaps this degree of sexual dichotomy which is produced through the film’s images is what leads to its apparent striking visual quality. It is supplemented, of course, by an excellent score and cinematography calculated to the point of perfection. Alternative masculinities play off the image of both Monroe and DiMaggio. The young men with whom Marilyn has an affair, Cass and Eddy, are depicted as over-sexual, vain, fickle. The depiction of Arthur Miller, Monroe’s third husband, introduces a new image of dominant masculinity as paternal in the form of the teacher, yet he, too, is deceptive. He promises not to write about her, but he does. The culmination of the lesser masculine as deceptive comes with the representation of John F. Kennedy. He is the epitome of masculinity as conquest. As Monroe is delivered to him and forced to perform an oral sex act, there are repeated visual and audio references to his sexual infidelity. 

Marilyn has only one relationship with another woman on-screen– her mother. Introducing Bonnie Burstow’s reading of the father-daughter relationship as one of complicity is salient here. To invert Burstow, the relationship between father and daughter as related to the mother becomes not about complicity but competition. Marilyn’s mother attempts to drown her daughter in the bath, insisting that she is the reason she was left by Marilyn’s father. As such, she suggests that femininity is also the condition of perpetually wanting, itself a form of lack, to restate the idea of value. 

Blonde’s cinematography exists in the realm of the sublime. However, it has a marked focus. The opening scene centers on the iconic image of Monroe as she filmed The Seven Year Itch. Silent and intentionally slowed, the repetition of the billowing white skirt is a realisation of what Roland Barthes suggests to be the ‘delicious terror’ with which we anticipate the partially clothed body. To Barthes, nakedness is desexualisation; to continually see Monroe’s briefs is to be teased. Dominik’s repetition is intentional – as he dictates, the audience are beholden to this ‘delicious terror’. Laura Mulvey’s conceptualisation of gaze theory is revealing here. In viewing Dominik’s directorship as a realisation of the ‘male gaze’ and the dynamics of empowerment-objectification on which it relies, the relation between the feminine and masculine can be regarded furthermore as a relation of object and beholder. Marilyn not only does not have the right to self-definition, she also does not have the right to an unmediated embodiment of self.  

For Michel Foucault, sadism in modern cinema is the act of the camera as it ‘knead[s] the body like dough out of which images are born, images of pleasure and images for pleasure’. The use of hyperfixation by Dominik, particularly as it relates to the distortion of bodies in surrealist sex scenes and the engorged mouths of men who watch Marilyn, is inherently tied to the use of the female body as object and fetish for the formulation of ‘images for pleasure’. It is an augmentation of masculine power as the act of creating idealised femininity. As Marilyn states, the director goes ‘chop, chop, chop’ – she screams, cries, and bleeds but only ever stylistically. To return to Barthes, he views the act of crying not only as emotional catharsis but also as a signifier. If we then take the single tear as symbolic, we can view the fetishisation of female pain as practiced by Dominik as an agent of the aesthetic function of the ‘male gaze’ in the film. The ‘male gaze’ is a process that relies upon viewers having internalised the masculine view in which the female body becomes object, substitute, and fetish, therefore marking the masculine power of creation as a factor both internal and external to the film. As the audience exists as an extension of the film’s internal voyeur, they become culpable in a large game of hide and seek. To borrow the metaphor of abduction from Candace West & Don H. Zimmerman, the audience, too, holds Marilyn ‘hostage’ to the standard of femininity she produces, subject to the system of reward and/or punishment which comes with the successes and failures of performing gender as something which is ‘done’. When Monroe explains to one of her lovers that she just wants to ‘hide’ in his ‘arms’, we are pursuing her as she flees from the demands of gender to the comfort of the paternal.  

As such, the motif of performance governs the film as a constant semantic and visual reference. The continued invocation of acting classes, film screenings, and movie sets mirrors the semantics of performance which come to dominate Marilyn’s speech. Her performance is as perpetual as it is piteous–she has found the safety denied to her by a father behind the theatre curtain. She remarks, ‘I’ll be any way you want me to be’. As such, Marilyn’s existence is dependent upon a contradiction: she consciously acts to abandon herself in pursuit of the ideal, displaying something curated not by but for her. As her agent retorts, ‘I invented you’. Marilyn’s performance of her gender is an act of self-annihilation, itself a return to the ignorance of the infantile. She is fated to constitute the other. Patriarchy is therefore a force for the eradication of the other, its target the unmediated or innately feminine.  

Before we come to an end, a comment on ethics is necessary. The continued fascination with the image of Monroe is the theme on which Blonde fixates. Charges of fetishisation and a perverse interest in female suffering are not only valid but constitute the substance of the film, revealing deeply interesting insights into how one is forced to view the female body. Accuracy or factual totality is and was not the film’s intention.  


Barthes, R., 1972. Striptease. In: Mythologies. London: Jonathan Cape, pp. 97-100. 

Barthes, R., 1978. In Praise of Tears. In: A Lover’s Discourse. London: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pp. 180-183. 

Blonde. 2022. [Film] Directed by Andrew Dominik. United States: Plan B Entertainment. 

Burstow, B., 1992. Radical Feminist Therapy: Working in the Context of Violence. 1st Edition ed. s.l.: Sage Publications, Inc. 

Connell, R., 1995. The Social Organization of Masculinity. In: Masculinities. s.l.: Polity Press, pp. 67-86. 

Foucault, M., 1998. Sade, Sergeant of Sex. In: Aesthetics: Essential Works 1954-84. London: Allen Lane, pp. 223-228. 

Goffman, E., 1976. Gender Display. In: Gender Advertisements. London: Palgrave, pp. 1-9. 

hooks, b., 2001. Justice: Childhood Love Lessons. In: All About Love. New York: HarperCollins, pp. 15-30. 

Lorber, J., 1994. “Night to His Day”: The Social Construction of Gender. In: Paradoxes of Gender. New York: Yale University Press, pp. 13-36. 

Mulvey, L., 1975. Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Screen, 16(3), pp. 6-18. 

West, C. & Zimmerman, D. H., 1987. Doing Gender. Gender and Society, 1(2), pp. 125-151. 

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

%d bloggers like this: