I am good, but not an angel. I do sin, but I am not the devil. I am just a small girl in a big world trying to find someone to love. –Marilyn Monroe
As I was watching My Week With Marilyn, two thoughts immediately popped into mind: Michelle Williams’ splendid performance in the role of Marilyn Monroe; the Madonna Whore Complex noted in the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud as well as other sources that the film evoked. The thrust of the film was not an examination and application of Freudian theory; although, there is some intimation that at least one or two of Marilyn’s spouses might have been aptly described by Freud’s theory. The Madonna Whore Complex supplied the lens or perspective through which the film was shot; sexual dysfunction as well as drug and alcohol abuse are undeniably present; however, those elements are not what draws the viewer in or provides the pinpoint clarity that our modern day camera obscura demands.
Throughout the film Michelle Williams surfaces by turns as Norma Jeane (Mortenson) Baker–Madonna–and as Marilyn Monroe–Whore, or perhaps a bit moderately put, the object of sexual desire. Certainly at the point in her life that is being depicted, Norma Jean/Marilyn is not simply one character pretending to be another; the twin aspects of her personality have become so intertwined that neither aspect has the strength or desire to become subservient to the other. Norma Jeane wants to be loved as Norma Jeane, the woman hidden from the limelight who is vulnerable and flawed in the same way all of us ordinary people are; yet, it is Marilyn who commands the field of suitors, overwhelms them with the raw sensuality she exudes and disarms them with understated but evocative repartee.
While based on the account of Colin Clarke who spent the week with Marilyn during the filming of the movie The Prince and The Showgirl in 1956, one feels short-changed by the shallow exploration of the relationship that emerged between Marilyn and her infatuated young escort. Nevertheless, one becomes convinced that Colin merges the polar twins, Norma Jeane/Marilyn into a more refined composite figure which does not preclude the presence of one from the other; he is smitten with both love and desire so that the goddess can appear in mortal clothes while retaining her Aphroditic Aura. The lure of both beauty and vulnerability is intoxicating; Colin would marry and therefore rescue Norma Jeane/Marilyn from her vacillating opposites falling into the trap that entangled DiMaggio and Miller. If Norma Jeane is the Inscape–Gerard Manly Hopkins’ philosophical concept of unique individual design–then Marilyn is most certainly its counterpart, Outscape, the outer world of reflection and illusion.
But Norma Jeane/Marilyn is unable to guarantee the exclusivity for which Norma Jeane hungers; Marilyn’s attraction obscures Norma Jeane’s vulnerability and her need for love that satisfies more than the recurring desires of the body; she doesn’t reject physical love; however, her mechanism for attraction serves to lure the opposite of that which she intended. In the end the presence of one almost always demands an appearance of the other.
Perhaps, the complex is less a description of dysfunction than it is an outline of the stages of love, particularly as it transitions from youth to maturity. Beauty and passion can lie in the eyes of the beholder; there is something striking and comely when we first notice the other, when we are indescribably and inexplicably smitten, when our blood surges and our heart pounds. Over time this phenomenon fades–but does not become extinct–the mechanics of our bodies are subject to the laws of chemistry and physics after all and we have yet to perfect a viable perpetual motion machine. Aphrodite becomes Athena; eros becomes agape.
Of course our theories often tend to be abstractions, extrapolated from personal incidents and observations. In reality the Madonna and whore do not live separate lives; they are not separate entities. What we see or seek in others often arises from an unfulfilled need in ourselves; and, if we cannot find that which we seek, we are able creators who excel at artifice. Norma Jean wanted to be loved and Marilyn provided an opportunity to achieve that; unfortunately, in an effort to find love, the division between the means and end became increasingly blurred over time; perhaps such an distinction was never possible except in theory, a sentiment captured in Elton John’s popular homage:
Goodbye Norma Jean
Though I never knew you at all
You had the grace to hold yourself
While those around you crawled
They crawled out of the woodwork
And they whispered into your brain
They set you on the treadmill
And they made you change your name
And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
Never knowing who to cling to
When the rain set in
And I would have liked to have known you
But I was just a kid
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did
Loneliness was tough
The toughest role you ever played
Hollywood created a superstar
And pain was the price you paid
Even when you died
Oh, the press still hounded you
All the papers had to say
Was that Marilyn was found in the nude
Goodbye Norma Jean
From the young man in the 22nd row
Who sees you as something as more than sexual
More than just our Marilyn Monroe