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The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes Review - Discovering Marilyn through her death

Emma Cooper's documentary beats around the bush and offers nothing new, neither with Marilyn Monroe's life nor her death

  • Srivathsan Nadadhur

Last Updated: 05.28 AM, Apr 28, 2022

The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes Review - Discovering Marilyn through her death
Marilyn Monroe

'The true things rarely get into circulation. It's usually the false things,' Marilyn Monroe's popular quote is reiterated through this latest Netflix documentary that tries hard to convince us that it breaks new ground while discovering various facets of her personality through her life and death. The documentary-maker Emma Cooper treats this material like an underplayed thriller while trying to put together several pieces of the jigsaw puzzle in her life and uncover the supposed mystery behind her death.

The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe is a culmination of footage and photographs from Marilyn Monroe's life, juxtaposed with various audio recordings of friends, allies and journalists who knew her life from close quarters. Despite these efforts, there's very little about the documentary that captures your imagination. The idea to dig deep into Marilyn through her death may be an intriguing idea to explore but it does nothing to explain her enigma, and charisma beyond the material that's already available in the public light.

More than Marilyn's death, the most captivating segment of the documentary establishes the link between various decisions in her life and her problematic, dysfunctional childhood. Beneath the facade of fame, here's a shy, innocent woman who always wanted to feel belonged, have a family of her own, and be a mother. The idea of being a freebird didn't quite appeal to her and strangely, the men in her life weren't prepared to handle her vices.

In the segment that traces her younger years, Marilyn is depicted as a girl who watched movies every Saturday and was so enamoured by the celluloid that she didn't want to exit the cinema hall even after the film ended. She was keen to know what it meant to be an actress and enjoy the limelight, was a natural in front of the camera but wasn't quite prepared to handle what showbiz had to offer her beyond its glitz.

The revelations in the documentary about the underbelly of the industry aren't exactly startling or new - be it the casting couch, the socialising with the right people to land the right roles or the idea of a woman as a sex object. Beyond the money, the documentary suggests that not much about the entertainment industry across the globe has changed over the years. Marilyn lost her way while trying to juggle two aspects that mattered most to her - family and cinema.

It's a travesty that just when the time was ripe for Marilyn to tap into the sensitive performer in her, the drug overdose had consumed her. Both her husbands couldn't accept her for what she was and one could sense it broke her psychologically. In addition to her failed marriages, Marilyn could never come to terms with her abusive childhood and find happiness within ; not all wounds heal well. And yet, the documentary is busier digging up facts about her death than trying to understand her mind. 

The entire segment about Marilyn's relationship with the Kennedys and their connection with her death is overlong and pointlessly sensationalised. All that we get to know is that Marilyn knew more about them than what was necessary and certain links to their dirty secrets were stolen from Marilyn's house at the time of her death. The documentary does one thing well - it tells us that she was a woman of many hues and it's not easy to slot her merely as a woman-child.

Every time, you read Marilyn's story and watch a new documentary on her, it's inevitable to feel that she deserved better. What if someone was around to lend her a shoulder at her weakest moments? What if she rediscovered herself as an actress after her emotional lows? What if she found a man who embraced her with her wounds and imperfections? 


The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes is an underwhelming, unidimensional attempt to understand Marily's mind. It is too obsessed with fact-exploration and focuses less on emotional impact. The documentary is overlong by at least a good half-an-hour.

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