The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe Movie Review The Unheard Tapes: Netflix Movie’s Goofy Conspiracy Theories Will Only Please SSRians

Let the dead lie, they say. And that’s a great rule to follow. Unless you’re Netflix, you’re looking to make another true crime documentary to satiate the Shondaland crowd while making up for the lack of truly good films on your service. The salacious title The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes argues for being the most useless cloud storage waste ever created, in that it spends its entire length selling a goofy conspiracy theory, for the demystify morose itself. In the final moments of the film, I half-expected someone to pop up from behind the end credits and shout, “Gotcha!

The formula for those fragile films is now almost hilariously predictable – they seem to be glued together by slick visuals, ominous voiceovers, and a great hook. In the case of The Unheard Tapes, it’s this: What if everything you knew about Marilyn’s death was wrong, and her death was, in fact, murder. Cue the gasps.

This is a particularly problematic rumor to feed, considering what happened in our own country just a few years ago. In June 2020, actor Sushant Singh Rajput was found dead in the bedroom of his Mumbai home, after hanging himself in an apparent suicide. At 34, he was only two years younger than Marilyn when she was found dead in her Hollywood home, after overdosing on barbiturates.

In the weeks and months following Rajput’s death, the youth of our country united not against growing intolerance and the emerging pandemic, but in support of a conspiracy theory that suggested, based on nothing, that he had been murdered. It was a sickly symptom of the collective boredom of millions of people trapped in their own homes, desperate to stimulate their decaying minds while being fed internet drivel as a distraction from the real issues.

Marilyn died decades before the news could have spread so quickly, but in many ways the reaction to her passing was very similar, at least in fringe circles. And the fact that it continues to attract gossip today is not only disturbing, but also quite disturbing. Is our appetite for scandal as great? Have we really dehumanized celebrities to such a dangerous degree?

Marilyn had mental illnesses. The documentary quotes the psychiatrist who treated her in her later years as saying she had a “tendency to paranoid reactions”. And despite this, The Unheard Tapes chooses to pursue the conspiratorial angle. In the case of Marilyn, the documentary strongly suggests, the figure of Rhea Chakraborty was none other than Bobby Kennedy.

Surprisingly, this film is directed by Emma Cooper, who has many documentaries about Louis Theroux under her belt. The subjects of these films were sometimes unsavory – child abuse, religious fanaticism – but the films themselves were always empathetic and endlessly curious. Which makes The Unheard Tapes’ conspiratorial tone, ostensibly about another victim of child abuse, all the more disappointing. He doesn’t dig himself and relies entirely on writer Anthony Summers’ stock of phone interviews, which he conducted for his book, Goddess, some three decades ago. Foreshadowing some of the methods prime-time presenters would apply in their reporting on Rajput’s death, Summers pursued ambulance drivers and casual acquaintances, former directors and personal assistants, as he gathered all the information he could find. He even spoke to a person who is loosely described as “a law enforcement informant.” What is this thing?

Part of me would have admired an invasive Nic Broomfield-esque narrative. The controversial documentarian “investigated” a similar story in 1998, when he suggested that Kurt Cobain didn’t kill himself, but that his wife Courtney Love had him murdered (!). Like The Unheard Tapes, Kurt and Courtney also backtracked on their own premise in its final moments, leaving you to twiddle your thumbs at how shamelessly duped you had been. I understand this is a fool-me-twice situation now…

It may surprise you, as it does me, that the “tapes” this movie refers to in its title aren’t of Marilyn, but of others that talk about her. Cooper recreates these recordings with blurry footage that looks like it was shot in a seedy motel and slapped with an Instagram filter. It’s not as ethically dubious as director Morgan Neville’s decision to recreate Anthony Bourdain’s words using artificial intelligence, but it’s close.

I’m inclined to compare The Unheard Tapes to Searching for Sheela, a directorless 50-minute “documentary” about Ma Anand Sheela that was little more than a cheesy course for Netflix to recommend to viewers who had just feasted on Wild Wild Country; or potentially, director Shakun Batra’s now shelved biopic of the controversial figure. With the already legendary Blonde on the way later this year – its director, the elusive Andrew Dominik, preemptively declared it a “masterpiece” and a “coup de grace” – don’t be surprised if you find The Unheard Tapes fidgeting in your suggestions once you’re done.

The Marilyn Monroe Mystery: Unreleased Tapes
Director -Emma Cooper
Evaluation – 2/5

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