My Week With Marilyn: The Myth of the Irresistible Woman and the Destruction of the Belief in Men’s Innocence. Part 3
5.Marilyn is not a good actress… nor is she as bad as she pretends. She’s just using these “elements of meaning” as tools to manipulate people.
Marilyn Monroe has her own production company that which is supposed to give her more artistic freedom (Power). The truth is she created this company with Milton Greene who will easily confess to have been seduced, rejected and who still clearly is motivated by his feelings for her. Marilyn’s production company rests upon seducing a man.
She’s followed everywhere by an acting coach who is in complete selfless awe of her. She will kneel before Marilyn to have her accept a compliment (Sign of complete submission).
In both cases, we can immediately jump on excuses. Marilyn shouldn’t be held responsible for these two persons’ choices, behaviours and opinions. If Milton Greene believes in her and wants to work with her, why should she reject his help ? Should she avoid working with men simply because there’s a risk they might be guided by their desire for her ? Should she refuse the help of a coach who supports her and help her strive for perfection ?
As I said, the manipulation rests upon our desire to give her the benefit of the doubt. Not only because she’s beautiful, or because of her aura, but also simply because she perfectly knows which strings she should pull in order to trigger people’s sympathy or derail their ability to judge her.
It’s not that hard to see that the whole fight around her desire to use method acting is a ridiculous joke. There isn’t one scene in which we’re given the opportunity to see Marilyn give an impressive acting performance.
In Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, Tarantino questions his main character’s skills as an actor. However, when the movie ends, we know that Rick Dalton is very capable of acting superbly because we’ve witnessed him do it. There’s no such thing in My Week with Marilyn. Every movie shot that we’re given to see shows her act like a stupid drunk idiot, a crass vulgar girl who’s trying to get attention by being stupid, clumsy, laugh loud or shout for no reason. She is what women should avoid being. She is absence of dignity and self-respect, the promise that she will smile, laugh and fancy you whatever you say, as long as you submit to her desires. She’s even showed promising a man (The prince) that she is going to fall in love with him, because that’s always what happens. What kind of a declaration is that ? “I’m not in love with you… but I’m sure I soon will be.” It’s manipulation, even though it’s her character talking, not Marilyn. But that’s the point, during the whole movie, she pretends that there’s a difference between Marilyn Monroe and her true deep self, when truly, there’s no deeper self to be found here, she is Marilyn Monroe, and she is the Showgirl from the movie. She has no real deeper self (and the reasons for that are well known and really sad).
Sure, her acting skills are acknowledged by nearly all characters (Colin, Laura, Vivien, Laurence, Milton), but these compliments are always uttered in a very specific context, by very specific people, for very specific reasons, formulated in a very specific way that always nuances the remarks. For example, when they are watching rushs, Milton Greene whispers to Laurence Olivier: “When Marilyn gets it right, you just don’t want to look at anyone else.”
So, Marilyn is a bad actress but she’s beautiful and charismatic therefore she should be given as many tries as she needs to get it right. She is a construct, an illusion. When she is good, it’s by accident, one attempt among tens… Also, in this compliment you can see how her “talent” essentially is hostile to others. “When she gets it right, you just don’t want to look at anyone else.” So, when she’s good the other actors disappear. Is it really a compliment ? Doesn’t that make her a vampire ? Or is it that the other actors are so bored of redoing the scene that their own performances become poor ? Marilyn's greatness rests upon how much she makes the other actors feel how unimportant they are compared to her.
At 35min20s Marilyn confesses her incapacity to play her role, Laurence Olivier answers: “You have her precisely. You understand her inside out. I’m in awe of your gift.” Clearly, he doesn’t believe a word of what he’s saying and what motivates his complimenting her is his desire not to see her not make things even more difficult.
Another example of how dubious the compliments made to Marilyn’s acting skills is Paula’s monologue after a first horrible day of shooting:
Paula : You were wonderful, Marilyn. The most gifted actress I have ever known.
Marilyn : No.
Paula : You were superb, Marilyn. You were divine. Have faith in your talent.
Marilyn : He was disappointed in me.
Paula : You are a great, great actress. All my life, I have prayed for a great actress I could help and guide.
Marilyn : Oh !
Paula : Like this, I prayed to God, on my knees, and he has given me you. You are that great actress, Marilyn.
Paula is undoubtedly complimenting Marilyn on her acting skills but is she truly reliable on the matter ? Isn’t she just a mad desperate woman ? She is. Marilyn’s performance was horrendous on that first day and a realistic supporting coach would have found her excuses, or would have put the blame on Sybil or Laurence or the context... and made her learn her lines. Instead Paula just showers Marilyn with bluntly meaningless compliments.
More precisely, when it comes to The Method, we’re showed that Marilyn uses the Stanislavsky system as an excuse to impair the shooting of the movie and do whatever she wants.
Marilyn (acting, visiting a house for the first time) — Well, we're still the first ones, aren't we? Gee, this is all right, isn't it?
Laurence — Cut. Uh, the line is, "Gee, this is all right, too, isn't it?" It's a tiny word, my darling, but it does matter. So we'll... We'll do it again. Once more, please, straight away.[…]
Marilyn (acting) — Well, we're still the first ones, aren't we? Gee, this is all right, isn't it?
Laurence — Cut.
Marilyn — Can't we just drop it?
Laurence — Well, the thing is, darling, you've already admired the downstairs hall in the earlier scene, and now you're admiring this room as well. If you see what I mean?
Marilyn — Oh, sure.
Laurence — Thank you. […]
Marilyn — Paula?
Laurence — Christ.
Marilyn — I don't get it. He's such a strange man, I think she's already figured out that he only invited her here to sleep with him.
Laurence — I... What... So, what is the...?
Laura — The reason Marilyn can't remember the line is because she doesn't believe the situation her character is in.
Laurence — Then she should pretend to believe it.
I’m ready to accept the idea that there’s a deeper reason for Marilyn’s incapacity to act in this scene. Still, we’re supposed to believe that it’s her acting approach that prevents her from remembering a simple logical word. She’s made more than twenty movies at this point of her career, and she was already shown ruining a day of shooting because she couldn’t remember her lines earlier in the movie. What do you make of an actor who can’t remember their lines ?
This incapacity to remember the word “too” represents the final nail in the coffin of the idea that Marilyn’s presence on a shooting set is justified, this for many reasons.
First, it’s a small word, not a sentence, not a paragraph. It is something that doesn’t require further learning because it can be handled by short term memory. Still, she’s incapable of correcting herself.
Then, there’s the fact that this single little word actually makes a connection with a prior scene that which should make it very easy to remember… if Marilyn knew anything about her role that which she doesn’t.
When she utters “Well, we're still the first ones, aren't we? Gee, this is all right, isn't it?” not only does she forget a word, she says her line as if her character was entering the house. Her mistake creates a problem of continuity that would make the final cut of the movie clearly awkward.
As I was saying, not being able to understand the importance of the word, underlines the fact that Marilyn doesn’t know the story of the movie. If she had done her job, she would have asked questions like “Laurence, I can’t remember where this scene takes place, are we before or after …” But she doesn’t interact with the director, or with Paula on that matter.
Fourth thing, when she eventually manages to pronounce the fateful word, she turns towards Laurence Olivier with a desperate look of “are you satisfied with me now ?” on her face and forgets to carry on with the scene. That’s preposterous. Marilyn managed to create a narrative in which she is the victim of the director of the movie who bullies her into shooting the movie.
Also, a second before, Laurence Olivier asked her “to [simply] be sexy” if she couldn’t find any coherence in her character, a remark that outraged Marilyn. My Week with Marilyn starts and ends on the woman giving a sexy performance as a showgirl. When Olivier argues “isn’t this what you do ?” his remark isn’t crudely sexist, it doesn’t rest upon the idea that what a woman can best bring to a screen is her sex-appeal, it rests upon the realisation that Marilyn is a mediocre actress and that the best thing he can obtain from her is the usual sexy number that she’s accustomed to play. Her following movie, and most famous one, is Some Like it Hot. In it, she plays a sexy showgirl who’s a sexy showgirl.
6.Marilyn is manipulative, unscrupulous and narcissistic and she addictively seeks to experience her power over people over and over, including by destroying them.
As early as the end of the first day of shooting, Laurence Olivier will bitterly state “She's impossible. I should've cast Vivien.” (24min)
I was surprised that there weren’t more details given about Vivien Leigh in the movie because her story works perfectly with its problematic. Vivien Leigh was a woman easily praised for her beauty who worked hard to be acknowledged as a good actress and eventually managed to be. In the movie, Vivien is simply a famous great actress.
Nevertheless, the message is still the same: Marilyn managed to steal the part from Vivien Leigh/Scarlett O’Hara, great actress and wife of the director, it will mean that she’s definitely a great actress herself in the eyes of the public, not only a hotty, because Laurence Olivier would never have cast a mediocre actress to replace Vivien Leigh and certainly not for her physical appearance.
And so, just like with Paula (her coach), and Milton (producer), Marilyn seduced Laurence Olivier and is now going to enjoy obtaining something that she doesn’t deserve through ruthless manipulation.
When I say that she is a psychopath, it’s because I do not believe that she cares about being a great actress. What she cares about is being given Vivien Leigh’s head from the hand of Laurence Olivier. Nice trophy. And being considered, perceived as, a great actress.
She also cares about allowing herself to be late and have the whole crew wait for her, every day, and be ready on time, every day, knowing perfectly that miss Marilyn won’t be and that they’re just her toys and that she’s having so much fun making them feel how much more important she is than them. If you want to make a good movie, you don’t make people who work on it feel useless and irrelevant. (so that they do a poor job and you're given the opportunity to shine by comparison.)
What’s also quite fun is forgetting her lines in order to annoy dame Sybil, attract all the attention away from that old, respected, benevolent and self-effaced actress. See how far she can go without having her lose her cool. Dame Sybil will humbly propose Marilyn to learn their lines together.
- Sybil: I wonder, could we practice our lines together later? You'd be doing me such a kindness. At my great age, it's just so hard to make them stick. Why don't you come for tea tomorrow.
- Marilyn: Can I?
- Sybil: Sure.
Marilyn’s hypocrisy is perfectly encapsulated in her “Can I ?” She looks grateful, humbled, distressed and then relieved. Will she ever visit Sybil ? It’s not even talked about again.
When Laurence shows Vivien Marilyn’s rushs (the ones in which she looks completely drunk), his wife has to acknowledge that she “didn’t think [Marilyn] would be so wonderful.” At this moment, the Marilyn on screen seemingly reacts by shouting “disgraceful.” And indeed, the fact that Vivien Leigh should be brought to acknowledge Marilyn’s so called superiority is disgraceful. Laurence tries to cheer his wife up and correct the damage that Marilyn’s hiring is causing in his marriage, but Vivien simply states “I hope she makes your life hell” and Marilyn utters an evil laugh. Of course, this is not a coincidence. Marilyn is just having fun destroying everybody on her path.
Another example of her destructive influence is her husband’s flight away from her. He states that he cannot read or write, that she is devouring him. She’s read notes that he took and they upset her. (at 43min11s) He naively explains: “She took them the wrong way.” She did not, she perfectly knows he loves her and didn’t mean anything wrong. She is twisting his words exactly like with Colin's “it drives you crazy.” “Do you think I’m crazy ?” (I’ll talk about this in the next chapter). Arthur could very well have written: “Laurence Olivier is driving her nuts” and Marilyn would have reproached him “You’re writing about the fact that I’m becoming crazy !?!”
This fake misunderstanding gives her more power over him. It allows her to pretend that he’s hurt her badly and she obtains what she wants: he leaves, he runs away and she can now take a bite at Colin. More, she is aware of Colin’s presence when she has her argument with her husband. On the next day, she doesn’t show up to the studio and decides to spend the week-end with Colin, because why not ?