Watching Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like It Hot” in an outdoor film fest, I was struck by more than the star’s beauty. In the cool summer night, amid the laughs of my fellow audience at the film’s superb comedic timing and dialogue, I saw Monroe as icon of human yearning and feminist ideals.
I am not alone in this. Feminists from Gloria Steinem to third wave feminist Erin Johansen have claimed Marilyn as their own, citing her life and roles as an example of why women need feminism. As feminist author Nancy Friday has said, Marilyn Monroe’s life sends a message to women – when the world forms young women into sex objects, the women lose themselves and, ultimately, their life.
St John Paul II echoed this warning in his work “Love and Responsibility”. He wrote that ‘A person must not be merely the means to an end for another person’, adding ‘Anyone who treats a person as the means to an end does violence to the very essence of the other’. Feminist writers have argued that the Hollywood film industry and 1950s American culture destroyed the essence of Marilyn Monroe, in highlighting her sexuality as every man’s desire yet neglecting to see the essence of Marilyn as person.
It was this essence that enthralled in the movie “Some Like It Hot.” Having been introduced to Monroe as a comedic actress of high calibre, with august timing and exaggerated facial expressions in “How To Marry A Millionaire”, I was intrigued to catch a glimpse of a deeper quality in her work. While Monroe remains an object for the desires of others in this film, she skilfully hints at yearnings of her own, and thus at yearnings of humanity. We yearn for acknowledgement and acceptance. We yearn for a better life. We want hope in the suffering that we often experience in our every day, perhaps mundane or arduous, tasks and roles. Marilyn, as long-suffering ever hopeful Sugar, expresses these yearnings with a gaze, a pout, a glance of eyes brimming with sorrow. Indeed, the irony of the scene wherein Marilyn sings ‘I’m Through With Love’, while the club’s audience dances in oblivion to her suffering, is sublime. How often is humanity’s suffering experienced in a sea of oblivion and apathy?
It is apathy to suffering that can cost lives. Indeed, the suffering portrayed by Monroe on the screen reflected the suffering of her life. It seems that apathy to her off-screen image, in contrast to obsession with her on-screen objectification, cost Marilyn her life.
Heavy thoughts for a summer film festival. Yet, as Coppelia Kahn reminds us, comedies will mirror aspects of the human condition. And feminist authors are right in holding Marilyn as a feminist icon, suggesting that Marilyn’s life and movies encourage discussion on humanity and equality. It is such discussion that reminds us of respect for human dignity and essence while recognizing the truth of the final lines of “Some Like It Hot” – “Nobody’s perfect”.