by Aya

Though it’s been five decades since her passing, ask anyone above the age of 30 who “blonde bombshell” brings to mind, and they’ll likely tell you Marilyn Monroe. Unapologetically glamorous and feminine, the actress’ hourglass figure was as on point as her womanly ways, and she knew how to stay on top of the game as a sex symbol. Just think about the shimmering nude-coloured mesh dress she wore when she sang a birthday song to President John F. Kennedy – the performance lasted less than half a minute but is still the most famous version of the song. And surely her solitary, sexy figure in the spotlight, brimming with desire, has everything to do with it.

Love, Marilyn

Much has been written about Monroe and, given her rough childhood, she means different things to different people. Despite the “dumb blonde” image she built to bolster her career, she’s been seen as smart, strong and a survivalist. She epitomised the Cinderella figure who grew up to be a beautiful princess. But what was she really about? Even though her troubled private life received much attention, no one could say for sure what she wanted for herself. Why was the legendary pop icon struggling with substance abuse, depression and anxiety? Why did her three marriages fail? And, perhaps the most important question of all, why did she kill herself? Assuming she actually did, of course.

It wasn’t until recent years that two boxes of her personal papers were uncovered in the home of her acting coach, Lee Strasberg. So enlightening was this discovery that the writings were compiled into a book titled Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters, which later became the skeleton of the 2012 HBO documentary, Love, Marilyn. The film features dramatic readings of Monroe’s journals by actors, film critics, journalists and authors, and also screens archival footage of Hollywood insiders who knew her. As with most documentaries, this one sheds light while adding to the mystery of who she really was, and the mystery of how she died. As one commentator says in the film, “It’s perfectly reasonable to say we don’t know. We don’t know what happened that night, and we never will.” 

Born Norma Jeane Mortenson, Monroe grew up in a series of foster homes and orphanages in Southern California. The film tells us very early on that she had always wanted to be a star, and that dream very easily materialised given her stunning good looks. In an old interview, Ben Lyon, Head of Casting for 20th Century Fox and the man who gave Monroe her first big break, had called her “the most gorgeous young girl you’ve ever seen in your life.” He emphasised that the would-be pop culture icon was diligent from the start, as she wanted to be prepared when opportunities came knocking on her door. As the documentary unfolds missing pieces of her backstory, we come to know a woman who was willing to do anything to pursue her great ambitions.  

The film delves into the Marilyn Monroe character Mortenson created to become a “sex symbol for the nation”. It juxtaposes the vivaciousness of her persona against her melancholic private writings, and we see an individual who, while seemingly wanted by every man and envied by every woman, was more than anything else very lonely. It also tracks the turning point in her marriage to Joe DiMaggio, and how she felt that her looks played against her. She was sick of being typecast, and following her divorce from the screen star, she wanted badly to develop as an actress of significant depth and talent. She also wanted to be paid a fairer share for the amount of effort she put into her work, and the film shows us  how she went about achieving just that. 

No real look into Monroe’s life can be carried out without scrutinising her third marriage to the intellectual Arthur Miller, whom she once said was the only man she could trust as much as herself. The film explores their relationship and features an old interview with Miller where he acknowledged that the very “inappropriateness” of the relationship was what made it appropriate. Their marriage eventually spiralled into a vessel of animosity, and we see Monroe spending her last days, whether she knew it or not at that time, battling insomnia and relying on a psychiatrist. 

Love, Marilyn shines the light on many intimate details of Marilyn Monroe’s life from her own perspective. It doesn’t answer all the questions, and at times presents new ones, but it nonetheless lets you meet a woman who was certainly much more than her acting roles or who her sexpot image allowed her to be. It’s a worthwhile watch, and just might get you thinking about how you could better let your life unravel.