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The new Netflix Marilyn Monroe biopic Blonde is as tawdry as you might imagine. At least when it’s not being absolutely brutal.
But “biopic” might be stretching it. The new, nearly three-hour movie out now on the streamer and in theaters, stars Ana de Armas as Monroe, and is based on the 2000 highly fictionalized novel by Joyce Carol Oates. By director Andrew Dominik’s own admission, it’s a “dream film” as much about Monroe’s image as her actual life. It’s structured around a series of cascading traumas suffered by Monroe that circle back on each other in a dizzying, sometimes powerful, sometimes mind-numbing cycle. Monroe (real name: Norma Jeane Mortenson) struggles and fails to get out from under the character the rest of the world has set for her. She wants agency—she just can’t seem to get it.
Monroe’s sex life is a frequent plot point. Among her conflicted moments and perhaps serving as a glimmer of potential happiness is a three-way romance involving Monroe; Charles “Cass” Chaplin Jr., the son of Charlie Chaplin (played in Blonde by an almost miraculously handsome, jewel-eyed Xavier Samuel); and another junior of a famous actor, Edward “Eddy” G. Robinson Jr. (Evan Williams). That’s on top of her humiliating romances we see with Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale), Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody), and President John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson).
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. What’s true in the so-called “throuple” Monroe did or did not have with Chaplin Jr. and Robinson Jr.? We have a tidy explainer for you below.
Were Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin Jr., and Edward G. Robinson Jr. really in a ‘Throuple’ like Blonde depicts?
Everything in Blonde comes at you hard, fast, and mostly depressing. Especially sexual affairs. One of the sweeter chapters (at least to start) is a dalliance with two actors bearing the names of their more famous fathers: Charles “Cass” Chaplin Jr. and Edward G. Robinson Jr.
Cass and Edward enter the frame in an acting class Monroe (de Armas) attends. The men are alarmingly styled in identical or very similar looks across the movie. A little dancing and flirting leads to a threesome sexual encounter with Monroe. It’s sadly one of the few times Monroe is adamantly saying “yes” to what’s happening to her.
Cass, who openly despises his absent father Chaplin Sr., connects to Monroe’s discomfort with Hollywood. As he disrobes Monroe, he encourages her: “The human body is meant to be seen, admired, and desired. Not hidden away like some ugly festering wound.” He, she, and Edward Jr. get it on. The sex as depicted in Blonde, which got a controversial NC-17 rating, is not quite hardcore porn, but it leaves little to the imagination. At least Monroe is having some fun in her “throuple,” as the arrangement is being called online. In a later scene, however, this romantic entanglement is explicitly referred to as a “threesome” in a fictional Confidential magazine gossip article. Which seems about right: She’s definitely banging both men in the movie, but her heart tugs toward Cass.
What Did Monroe Actually Do with Cass and Edward?
Charles “Cass” Chaplin Jr. and Edward G. Robinson Jr. are characters in Blonde based on real people. They both had to reckon with the long shadows of beloved fathers. But there’s no evidence that Monroe had a threesome with both men at the same time.
Still, we can link Monroe to both Cass and Edward Jr. Even romantically.
Monroe dated Cass Chaplin Jr. for a short period of time, as he wrote about in his 1960 biography My Father, Charlie Chaplin. While the relationship with both Cass and Robinson Jr. turns poisonous in Blonde (the duo wields nude photos of her as blackmail after she marries DiMaggio), Monroe and Cass reportedly remained lifelong friends.
The Gentlemen Prefer Blondes bombshell also had a tryst with Robinson Jr., at least according to her longtime friend Arthur James. E! News reports that Monroe met Robinson Jr. through Chaplin Jr. (Close IMDb scanners will notice that Robinson Jr. had a small role in the Monroe-starring Some Like It Hot.)
“They were all depressive, Marilyn, Charlie, and Eddy, and they would hunt each other down when things were bad...But Charlie and Eddy were suicidal, more so than Marilyn,” James told Anthony Summers, author of the 1985 book Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, per E! News.
What Does the Rest of Monroe’s Romantic Life Look Like in Blonde?
Well, nothing ends well for Monroe in Blonde. (Major spoiler alert ahead!) Cass ends up playing with her heartstrings, having written letters to her pretending to be her long-lost father, which is partly what leads to her untimely death via overdose. But somehow Monroe’s relationship with JFK, including a forced blowjob, comes off worse in the movie.
Monroe’s failure to find her own path, and the dangling hope of meeting her unknown father, provide the undeniable narrative pull in Blonde, difficult as it can be to watch (and it can be excruciating!). The director Dominik (Killing Them Softly) throws just about every technique at the screen in order to draw you into Monroe’s victimization, including rapidly switching between color and black-and-white shots as well as employing different aspect ratios, POV shots, cameras attached to actors, and speeding up and slowing down the film. The result is weird, bold, even goofy (as when Monroe’s unborn fetus is rendered with digital effects).
Blonde may not be deserving of the fascinating public life and misunderstood spectacle of Monroe herself, but there’s something mesmerizing at the core.
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