bShake, Andrew Dominic’s new Netflix film, adds as much nuance to Marilyn Monroe’s idea as can be gained from a gynecological exam. The bombastic movie star has long been established as a tragic figure, a woman who was abused by a Hollywood studio, her husband Joe DiMaggio and, as a child, her unwell mother. Rather than challenging the traditional narrative, director Dominic’s Nightmare film, adapted from Joyce’s Carol Oates fictional 2000 novel, takes it somewhere deeper and more aggressive. If you want to understand Marilyn Monroe, it suggests, first you have to go inside her uterus.
This serious drama takes us into the previously unexplained depths of Marilyn Monroe’s vagina at times during an astonishing 2-hour-45-minute runtime. I won’t “spoil” them all, but in the first hour of the film, we see Monroe, played with troubling vulnerabilities by Ana de Armas, who enthusiastically clutches her stomach as the camera stares at her glowing womb. Cuts – complete with a spectral backlit embryo. A few scenes later, we follow Marilyn to the operating table, where the doctor performs an abortion to which she has not consented. “Please, won’t you listen? I’ve changed my mind,” she pleads as her doctor inserts the speculum—a procedure portrayed gruesomely from Marilyn’s view of her cervix.
Dominic emphasizes the animating principle of his film, which feels itself derived from that famous Rita Hayworth line about her most iconic and lucrative film role: “Men go to bed with Gilda and wake up with me. ” In WhiteHoping to get a piece of the Hollywood starlet, sycophants and elders find a more timid, desperate woman named Norma Jean, who looks very similar to Marilyn Monroe. As a passing observation it may be interesting, but the film makes this point over and over again. “She’s beautiful, but that’s not me,” says Norma Jean, looking at a glamorous photo of herself in a magazine. “F*** Marilyn,” Norma Jean later yells into the phone. “He’s not here.”
If Dominic insists that Marilyn is an invention—”the child’s first play”, one of her lovers secretly notes—then maybe these scenes of painful body horror are the director’s tragic means of remembering. Prove that he is more than his two-dimensional projection. If you subject Marilyn Monroe to the pressure of an unwanted abortion, doesn’t she scream in wordless agony? And if Norma Jean becomes pregnant again years later, doesn’t her unborn fetus acquire the ability for human speech?
I promise you, you read that right. In one of the film’s most disturbing physical scenes, Marilyn’s surprisingly gossipy fetus—who somehow also has knowledge of her previous miscarriage—begs her host to allow this pregnancy to proceed. It’s not just “alive” in the eyes of White, it has a desire. Marilyn can hear it. She answers it out loud as if they are having a conversation. I had to watch this scene several times to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating, but didn’t – right in the middle Whiteone is insane look who’s Talking prequel
In terms of politics, these scenes of a woman burdened with the regret of abortion are highly controversial. As a mode of storytelling, they are completely isolated. Marilyn Monroe never looks less Real Compared to the time when she is happily conversing with her unborn child in her fantastically radiant womb. Do I believe that all film stars are spotless from inside?
Marilyn never feels like a Hollywood drama when Dominic subjectes her to horrific sexual and medical violence, verbally examines her, and savagely pretends it’s the 20th century’s most famous drama. One of the women who is inside out. White not a movie about Marilyn Monroe exploits, but a new low watermark in Hollywood behavior – a sexual object reduced to a sex organ.