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My Week with Marilyn: A Portrait of Mental Illness

A look into the controversial life of a legendary icon

I had never seen Marilyn Monroe on screen until I took a film class entitled Stardom in college. Admittedly, I was drawn to the course more so than anything because of its name. The idea that the words "stardom" would forever be on my transcripts was one I found to be highly amusing. That said, the course was phenomenal and one that introduced me to many film icons from James Dean to Audrey Hepburn in a way that took them from unfamiliar cultural staple to glowing legends. I recall learning about the Hollywood studio system and how stars were unlike what they are today -- celebrities. They were essentially owned by the studios, with their aura, meaning, and reputations determined for them. As we are fully aware, the designation that Marilyn Monroe received was that of sexy blonde bombshell. She was the seductress and the flirty girl all in one. Who hasn't seen the iconic photo of her pushing down her wind-blown white dress? It is for these reasons that I was eager to see My Week with Marilyn, as I felt this was the type of film that my professors may have discussed. It was the other side of Marilyn.

As I was born well after her passing, I was only aware of her legacy, devoid of the details of her personal life. Hence, my discussion rests primarily on what is shared in this film and its overall themes. What is most intriguing about this story is that it is one that could be told about so many well-known actors and actresses. It is the private side we are unaware of, when consequently amplifying and focusing on terms such as "scandal" when referencing stars.

In the film, we learn that Marilyn's mother was mentally ill, the whereabouts of her father unknown, and that she grew up in the foster system. Her multiple marriages are discussed, as well as her addiction to prescription drugs. She is shown to be depressed, and plagued by anxiety, self-doubt, and low self-esteem. She discusses her desire to be loved, and inability to find this. To the men that are drawn to her she is no more than an object, and later a disappointment when they find she is not Marilyn the temptress, but Marilyn, an ordinary person filled with doubts and misgivings like so many others. We find it so clear that behind the image, is someone who is in many ways broken and lost. We can't help but feel empathy for a star who doesn't see how brightly she shines. In a telling part of the film, when Marilyn has a day off with the young Colin Clark, they run into fans at a castle. She whispers to him, "shall I be her?" before she begins dancing about and blowing kisses into the crowd.

The film, My Week with Marilyn, is most meaningful perhaps because it illustrates the deepest layers of human authenticity that are so often shielded from the world. In working with clients in therapy, I am often enmeshed in the private details that are withheld from others. Those who we see on the outside to have it all, rarely do. And yet almost ironically, they are also the ones who bear the greatest critiques. What My Week with Marilyn teaches us is that where others may see beauty in a shooting star, the star itself may only have the sense of falling blindingly fast into the darkness.

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