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More than a victim

In the introduction to the book, the critic Elaine Showalter writes that Oates used Monroe as “an emblem of twentieth-century America.” A woman, Showalter later adds without much conviction, “who was much more than a victim.”

The writer-director of “Blonde,” Andrew Dominik, doesn’t seem to have read that part about Monroe. His Norma Jeane — and her glamorous, vexed creation, Marilyn Monroe — is almost nothing more than a victim: As the years passed and even as her fame grows, she is mistreated again and again, even by those who claim to love her. Prey for leering men and a curiosity for smirking women (unlike Monroe, this Marilyn has no women friends), she is aware of her effect on others but also helpless to do, well, anything. With her tremulous smile, she drifts and stumbles through a life that never feels like her own. (Manohla Dargis, The New York Times)

Funny, replace Marilyn Monroe with Elvis Presley and you got the same movie. The only difference I can see is that “reducing to one’s image”—as Dargis says critically of “Blonde”—appears to be used satirically or cynically by director Andrew Dominik, while this reduction for Presley is meant to maintain a legendary cultural status for the victim. Whereas Baz Luhrmann can only make a legend out of one’s supposed cleanliness, can one turn dirtiness and grit into something larger than life?