(a “transgendered” film review by Timothy J. Verret)
I do pretty well with most film endings, meaning I can see it coming from a mile away or someone already gave the ending away. That said, not always but often. But with this 2018 Argentinian film, MARILYN, I was completely floored and left utterly speechless by the film’s endings. As opposed to me giving away the ending to the film, ‘NIGHT, MOTHER, in a review I wrote recently, I will NOT give away the ending to MARILYN. This film is based on a true story and, yes, truth is definitely stranger than fiction, but if you do have any interest in seeing this film, PLEASE do not read any reviews or true-life accounts related to this film. I promise you that you won’t be sorry for my thoughtful (or thoughtless) recommendation.
MARILYN is the story of young Marcos and Marcos’ family who live way below the poverty line on a ranch in rural Argentina. The family is a typical poor family struggling to make financial ends meet but, more so and more to the point, there is an inner struggle taking place in Marcos; that struggle is being (not feeling) transgendered. The family that includes Marcos’ mother, father and brother suspect something is up with Marcos, and I think they know what it is, but denial is a very, VERY strong and foreboding member that (or who) exists in many a family. With Marcos, it is the bullies who assign him the female-gender name of Marilyn. And it’s the bullies who just cannot comprehend anyone like Marcos who is not the textbook machismo of an Argentinian countryside. Even today in most current cities, being transgendered is not such an easy “gender pill” for those to swallow, but it’s doubly difficult to get this pill down when on the outskirts of an uneducated and unacceptable community of those preaching “act right, not different.” Despite all this, Marcos darns a dress and mask at Carnival and dances freely, meets another man who takes a great love interest in him, and even Marcos’ family cannot stop him from being true to who he is. But with so much freedom to be who you really are and love who you really love comes so much hardship and tragedy. But no hardship or tragedy can prepare the viewer for THE hardship and THE tragedy of MARILYN which, once again, I will not reveal.
What a find for the film’s director, Martin Rodriguez Redondo, in casting Walter Rodriguez to play Marcos/Marilyn. I love when DVD’s have SPECIAL FEATURES, and this film had one in the “Making of Marilyn,” where we are privy to seeing the audition reels of Walter. This 17-year-old actor in these reels is incredibly expressive and gestural, and the director explains how he had to “deconstruct” the actor so that he came across as facially and bodily expressionless to convey the “trapped” persona of Marcos/Marilyn. And the director accomplished just that, which led to Walter Rodriguez giving the best performance of a young actor I have ever seen since Haley Joel Osment in THE SIXTH SENSE. Rodriguez is a revelation and deservedly garnered the Silver Condor (for Argentinian films) Award for Best New Actor. He gives a jaw-dropping (even if his jaw stayed put most of the time when not kissing his love interest) performance!
The other truly “special” inclusion of the SPECIAL FEATURES for MARILYN is an interview with the real-life Marcos who is now living as Marilyn. I cannot tell you much about this interview as it would probably give away the ending and as I said, I won’t do that. But what I will say is that the real-life Marilyn talked about how everything had to happen exactly as it did in his/her life to be part of God’s Plan. It was very interesting to hear this, as on the day I saw this film, I was discussing with my therapist how Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus was simply following God’s Will. But was it God’s Will for Marcos to become Marilyn and then for Marilyn to live out her life that ran a course of so much freedom but so much loss? Sure, the freedom must have felt liberating to her but with that same freedom came a huge and heinous kind of trap, as you will see when you watch MARILYN.
Once again, I was absolutely, totally, and stunningly unprepared for the ending of MARILYN. It left me speechless and forever haunted. In fact, I immediately felt the need to go back and rewatch MARILYN to see if I missed something along the way of viewing it. But I honestly think if I did rewatch it (and I probably will), I will find I didn’t miss a clue but if I did miss out on anything, it was one’s journey of unbelievable heights, depths, widths and lengths (sometimes all at the same time) to go from trapped to freedom, only to find one’s self trapped yet again but this time with no chance at freedom ever again.
MARILYN is ballsy (no pun intended) and brazen. One reviewer described it as “depressing as hell.” I can certainly see that from many scenes that were painful to sit through, but I don’t think this film is depressing at all. I think this film “presses” into you and “de-” (or “dis-“) equips the reviewer too comfortable in preconceived notions and/or beliefs about what is right vs. wrong, masculine vs. feminine, love vs. intolerance, hate, prejudice, bigotry, etc. (basically, any antonym to “love”). “Strong” (machismo?) films will challenge you like this, and MARILYN is a VERY “strong” film and it’s also a VERY unforgettable film with a star-making performance by Martin Rodriguez in the lead as Marcos/Marilyn.
The real-life Marilyn said one other thing in her interview that I want to address: She said that because of her story (and tragedy), many boys and men left the “I’m living a lie” life to live truthfully. She implied that her life (and tragedy) made her a hero (I’m thinking she meant “heroine”). That implication left me with this thought that might be ill-conceived yet honestly questioned: “Can a hero (or heroine) ‘come out’ by any other way than tragedy?”