At the end of September, the long-awaited Netflix film starring Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe was released.
Directed by Australian Andrew Dominik, Blonde is based on the monumental novel by Joyce Carol Oates and presents Marilyn’s tragedy by breaking the myth of ‘blonde ambition’.
The popular culture icon is presented with a vulnerability and sadness, shyness and insecurity that seem a far cry from the frivolous, cheerful and radiant star her contemporaries knew.
“You know the way to where I’m going,” Pastor AJ Soldan read in a low, trembling voice. In his hands he not only held the Bible, but also the inevitable question on everyone’s lips: Why?
On that noon day in August 1962 in the Westwood Village mortuary, those gathering to say their last goodbyes to Norma Jean—her real name—glanced at her ex-husband, baseball champion Joe DiMaggio, and her acting coach Lee Strasberg, while Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony blared from golden speakers…
When Reverend Soldan finished reading, DiMaggio walked over to the satin-finished bronze coffin and snapped the lid shut. Marilyn was no longer inside. All that remained was a body that vaguely resembled her.
They had given her a wig and used a lot of make-up to cover a face – revealed by mug shots – destroyed by the autopsy. She was covered in a bouquet of tea roses and her favorite green scarf.
Much ink has spilled over Marilyn. She is known for her addiction to tranquilizers, her relationship with the Kennedys, her marriage to DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller, her slow-wittedness, unhappy childhood, and insecurity on camera.
She was anxious and neurotic, she loved to read, and she loved Miller, to whom there was no way she wanted to be a “dumb blonde”.
Marilyn first married at age 16 — legal marriage age in California — to a sailor much older than her to avoid state custody after being raised in separate families — her father is unknown and yours Mother was considered mentally unstable.
DiMaggio, to whom she had only been married for a few months, was getting older again. And Arthur Miller was older too, though not by as much as it seemed!
Shortly after her marriage to Miller, she went to London to film scenes for the film The Prince and the Showgirl. One day while they were still in England she found Miller’s diary and read an entry in which he said he was disappointed in her and ashamed of her behavior and doubted whether he was really in love with her.
This was an extremely disturbing discovery and she suffered a miscarriage that summer.
Marilyn’s grandmother was baptized by Aimee Semple McPherson, founder of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. Marilyn spent seven years of her childhood in Hawthorne near Los Angeles with the Bolenders, her grandmother’s neighbors.
She once recalled how everyone there spoke to her about God and told her not to mess with him.
The Bolenders went to United Pentecostal Church and Marilyn accompanied them, attended Sunday school on Sunday mornings and another meeting on Wednesday evenings.
Her mother was a Christian Scientist – the religion founded by Mary Baker Eddy in the nineteenth century, and which many mix up with scientology – as was her aunt, with whom she lived as a teenager. However, Marilyn converted to Judaism when she married Miller.
In 1953, while filming Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, she had a conversation about religion with actress Jane Russell: “Jane tried to convert me and I tried to introduce her to Freud,” she recalls.
The 1940s sex symbol who had appeared in Howard Hughes’ The Outlaw had founded the Hollywood Christian Group, a weekly Bible study at her home attended by many film industry believers. However, Marilyn had embraced psychoanalysis as her religion.
In order to get into the Actors Studio in New York and learn about the peculiar “method” of acting they followed, Strasberg told her that she should undergo psychoanalysis.
From the spring of 1955 Marilyn went three to five times a week to the practice of Margaret Hohenberger, a Jewish analyst of Slovak origin who had come over from Vienna. She’s the one who called her when her marriage fell through after discovering Miller’s doubts shortly after their wedding.
When she and Miller divorced in 1961, she entered Payne Whitney’s psychiatric hospital because of a growing addiction to alcohol and pills. A series of misunderstandings led to her being placed in an isolation cell.
From there, she called Joe DiMaggio, who transferred her to Columbia University Medical Center. Her “nightmare” was ending up in a psychiatric hospital like her grandmother and mother with some form of congenital insanity – according to her analyst Dr. Greenson, who discovered her lifeless body a little later. Psychoanalysis could not save her.
Marilyn was looking for love in the wrong place. Without her, life has no meaning. In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis says that “if most people had really learned to look into their own hearts, they would know that they wanted something, and badly, that this world could not have,” provided that that “there are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise”.
We can therefore blame ourselves and think we’re a failure – like Marilyn – or, like others do, we can decide that the world around us is responsible for all the frustration we feel.
We can become hardened, cynical, and empty, or, like Lewis, seek life in God. He justifies that “[i]When I discover desires within me that nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for “another world”, a supernatural and eternal one.
If, like Marilyn, we base our identity and worth on our work or our relationships, we will be constantly frustrated.
Christians do not achieve everything they desire in this life, but look forward to achieving it “when Christ appears” because “then [they] will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4).
The only arms that can grant your heart’s desire are those of Christ crucified. His sacrifice offers us a love that will never disappoint. That was the hope Marilyn needed and we still have: the love of Christ, forever satisfying “the hope of glory” (1:27).