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Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe: Movie Analysis

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Identifying Information
  3. Presenting Problem/Diagnostic Formulation
  4. Treatment Plan and Recommendations
  5. Accuracies/Inaccuracies
  6. Conclusion
  7. References


The 2015 film, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, portrays Marilyn Monroe’s family, work, social, and everyday life. The movie does a great job portraying the struggles she faced. It tells her story as it shows her growing up and how she got the jobs she did. During the entirety of the film, Marilyn is talking to her therapist about what her life has been like. The movie begins by showing young Marilyn talking about how she wants to be in pictures someday. This sets the stage for what the rest of the movie will look like; her making her way to stardom. She did it all on her own with the lack of parental guidance and few friends. She became a sex symbol during her era. She was a star desperate for approval from others, especially from men. The film shows the real, behind-the-scenes, Marilyn Monroe, not the person she pretends to be in front of the camera or when around others. When it comes down to it, Marilyn Monroe made a name for herself all on her own and did it while facing many hardships along the way. In the film, Marilyn Monroe is played by Kelli Garner, who does a fantastic job filling the role.

It is very apparent within the movie that Marilyn Monroe’s mental state is not the best. There are several psychological, social, and physiological factors that stuck out to me while watching her behavioral patterns within the film. Due to the lack of background information on the individual, it would be difficult for me to accurately diagnose Marilyn with a specific disorder. However, there are several accuracies and inaccuracies I noticed between the information I have learned about mental disorders thus far and Marilyn Monroe’s behavior in this film.

Identifying Information

The film did not go into many specific details about her birthdate, time period, or her education. However, it was partially during the time of President Kennedy’s term between 1961 and 1963. Marilyn Monroe was born with the name Norma Jeane Mortenson, but she changed it because the new name was easier to remember. Marilyn grew up poor. She did not know who her father was, and her mother had given her up for adoption when she was only two weeks old. Marilyn moved from home to home and lived in an orphanage for a lot of her early life. Her aunt Grace came to visit her often and served as a mother to Marilyn. Later her real mother did come back around and became closer to Marilyn. When she turned 16, she got married so that she could leave the orphanage. At age 18, she got one of her first gigs modeling. She posed nude for the photographer as she thought the images would only be put into magazines overseas. The pictures got leaked and everyone saw them. She began becoming very well-known in modeling. She began to appear in movies as well. Later she got married again to an abusive man named Joe Miller. She was very overworked, and it was a major cause for all of her marriages ending in divorce. Her studio thought it was best to say that her mother had died, however, her mother was alive, and she took care of her as her mental health was not in good condition. Her mother being alive was a secret Marilyn kept from the world, which was troublesome at times. Marilyn was a very lonely person. She hated being alone but did not have many friends. She did not have a lot of families to be there for her either, as her mother was in and out of a mental asylum throughout the years, her aunt’s passing, and no present father figure. While she did marry a few times, she still felt lonely as she was always at work. Her marriages were not healthy. As the film progressed, Marilyn’s mental state only got worse and she was admitted to a mental institute. She later died at the age of 36 in August 1962 due to an overdose.

Presenting Problem/Diagnostic Formulation

Our textbook, Abnormal Psychology, discusses a lot of mental disorders. Several of them stand out to me that I think may pertain to Marilyn. There are quite a few factors that might have had an effect on her psychological state. Her family life could be one potential cause. Her mother struggled with mental illness all her life. Marilyn suffered from the same illness, seeing things and hearing voices. The lack of a father figure was no help either. Her father neglected Marilyn and her mother before she was born. She never met him. She was constantly seeking approval from everyone, especially men, and this could be due to not having a father to be proud of her while growing up. Her mother was admitted into several mental institutions because of depression and schizophrenic tendencies, the same tendencies that Marilyn experienced. Due to her mother being in and out of mental institutions, Marilyn spent most of her early life in orphanages and several different foster homes. She married several times, but they all failed due to her overworking herself.

Abnormal Psychology goes very in-depth about schizophrenia. I think this could be a potential diagnosis for Marilyn. I believe she may have been schizophrenic because she often saw things that were not there. At one point in the film, she heard her mother’s voice and when she turned around, she saw her standing there, even though she was not. Another example is that she had lost her baby due to neglect. From time to time she thought it was still alive even though it had died 3 months prior and someone had to remind her. Along with seeing things, she also hears voices. The voices drove her crazy and sometimes interfered with her life. I also noticed that she would refer to her husband as Daddy, maybe this was her way of coping with not having a father to be proud of her while growing up. Depression seems to have been a side effect for Marilyn. She participated in substance abuse, from taking sleeping pills on a regular basis to drinking for the purpose of getting drunk. This affected her daily living and her functioning was impaired.

Another disorder that Marilyn seems to meet the criteria for is a histrionic personality disorder, which is when a person strives to be approved by everyone and is constantly seeking validation. Marilyn wanted nothing more than to be loved. Growing up, she felt like she was not lovable and unwanted. She wanted to prove that wrong. She wanted people to like her, so she changed pretty much everything about herself. She dyed her hair a platinum blonde shade. She worked out to keep the ideal figure. She learned how to do her own makeup so that she would always look good, no matter if she had somewhere to be or not. An example of this was at the beginning of the movie when she was getting ready for her therapy session. She was over an hour late trying to make herself look good, even though the session took place in her home. Aside from her appearance, Marilyn Monroe also changed her personality. She was intelligent but she pretended to be a “dumb blonde”. At one point in the film, she said “it takes a smart brunette to play a dumb blonde” (The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, 2015). I noticed throughout the movie she continuously messed with her hair making sure it still looked picture-perfect. Her obsession with always looking good caused her to be late for a lot of events, which affected other people along with herself. Another tendency of people with a histrionic personality disorder is that they are very sexual. Thanks to her beauty and the reputation she built for herself, she used her sex appeal to get what she wanted. Marilyn was known as a sex symbol in her era. She was constantly wanting to be approved by everyone, so she did whatever she needed to in order to be accepted.

With all of that said, I would diagnose Marilyn Monroe as having borderline personality disorder along with schizophrenic and histrionic personality disorder tendencies. I chose this because she is constantly changing herself in order to be whatever others want or need her to be. She feared being alone, so she constantly tried to have someone with her. This is why she would immediately get remarried after getting divorced. She had issues with being impulsive as well. She had a lot of sex, drank and popped a lot of pills, and spent large amounts of money on unnecessary items. She also had tendencies of seeing things and hearing voices, but not all the time. She is obsessed with others liking her and that is where histrionic personality disorder comes into play.

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Treatment Plan and Recommendations

In the film, it was stated that she underwent psychoanalysis for seven years and had a therapist for two. She was even hospitalized at one point. She hated discussing things from the past and said it made her feel miserable. The last thing she wanted was to end up like her mother, so she continued going to therapy. She took a lot of medications for different things, mainly to help her sleep. Based on the film, it did not seem that the treatments she underwent were very effective.

Today I think some possible treatments for Marilyn would be to prescribe her some SSRIs to provide more serotonin and nutrition. The antidepressants and antipsychotics would help with her depression and impulsiveness. Since she has addictive tendencies when it comes to medication, it may not be the best option for her.

The most effective treatment I can think of for Marilyn would be dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). This tends to be the treatment of choice for borderline personality disorder and helps with histrionic personality disorder as well. I think DBT would have been effective in helping her discover who she really was instead of always pretending to be someone else to make others happy. It may have also helped her impulsive behaviors. It would provide a validating environment for her to feel comfortable being herself. Psychotherapy is a very important method for treating those with personality disorders. The point of it is to allow the client to talk about what they feel. It helps the client learn how to manage emotions they aren’t a comfortable feeling.


Some accuracies I noticed was that in the book it says some disorders may overlap each other and stem from one another and I definitely noticed that within the film as she was depressed due to her other disorders. Borderline personality disorder ties in with histrionic personality disorder as well. The film also provided that the older she got and the more she went through, the worse her mental state got. Another accuracy I found was that Marilyn Monroe committed suicide and we learned in class that 10% of people with borderline personality disorder are suicidal.

An inaccuracy I noticed was that there should have been more stories. It would have been interesting if they showed more of her hallucinations and her hearing voices. It would have been nice to see more of what Marilyn was like while she was alone at home. For most of the movie, she was always with someone else. The movie did not really show a lot of the bad things she went through. She talked about them briefly, but the movie did not go very into detail about them.

Regardless of the inaccuracies, I think it was more accurately depicted than not. It showed what it was like struggling to achieve her dreams while taking care of her mother along with many other problems she faced. It did a good job of portraying what it was like living with mental disorders.


The film, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe, did a phenomenal job of giving its viewers more insight as to what Marilyn Monroe’s life was really like. It depicted what it was like for someone with a troublesome background to rise to superstardom while facing a lot of hardships along the way. Marilyn Monroe made a name for herself and to this day she is still one of the most discussed female actresses of all time. She did it all on her own and did whatever it took to become the star she dreamed of becoming.


  1. Burke, Brian L., Sarah E. Trost, Terri A. DeRoon-Cassini, and Douglas A. Bernstein. Abnormal Psychology. 2nd ed. Academic Media Solutions, 2016. 552-568. Print.
  2. Collyer, Laurie, director. The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe. 2015.
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Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe: Movie Analysis. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 2, 2023, from
“Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe: Movie Analysis.” Edubirdie, 21 Apr. 2023,
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