Arthur Miller wrote The Misfits as a gift for Marilyn Monroe, who was his wife at the time, trying to point out some aspects of the person behind the diva and her acting skills, too often hidden behind stereotyped characters; the result is a continuous sense of harrow which becomes even more meaningful considering the following events of the actress’ s life.
The figure of Roslyn, played by Marilyn Monroe, is analyzable on two different levels: the first one as part of the group of four people who fight to keep a place within a society which has changed and which seems to push them away, the second one as an attempt to explain the person behind her diva image. Her role among the three male characters can be decomposed in other several fragments, to point out her deep difference from the others “misfits”: in fact Roslyn keeps some sort of broken innocence, which identifies her as the ideal victim of other people, who are supposedly similar to the men she is involved with along the narration. In fact nor Gay, Guido or Perce seem to be justified or pitied for their situation, which appears to be a consequence of their past behavior, while Roslyn is placed on a completely different level: the spectator isn’t able to blame her, not even when she sadly talks about an affair she has had with a married man. The only man who seems to be partially justified for his current situation is the young Perce, who is in final instance the one who first understands the absurdity of the horse hunting, and consequently the futility of the fight to death to keep a certain way of life.
On the other hand, the emergence of the unpleasant aspects of Marilyn Monroe’s typical characters – the dumb blonde, the erotic “it girl” – is clear since the beginning of the film, when we understand that she’s in Reno to divorce from her husband, a man who “wasn’t there”. We assist to an overcome of the stereotyped Marilyn, but the innocence of the character remains undamaged. The weight of Marilyn Monroe’s public image on the Marilyn Monroe persona is clear on her aesthetics: her blond hair are now almost white, the eyebrows are very dark and dramatic; those characteristics are a sort of exaggeration of her typical image, but it’s not grotesque: conversely, it’s a sort of visual consequence of the issues resulting from her public image itself. Moreover, her behavior as an innocent child is amplified by those excessive characteristics: her appearance makes her look like an expansion of the archetypal Marilyn, which compared to the character’s innocent behavior seems to show what is hidden behind the Hollywood dream, causing an overlap between the character and the actress and increasing the sense of disillusion.
The overturning of the stereotyped Marilyn and the abandonment of a tightly masculine point of view of the woman is reflected on the costumes: the seductive (but black) dress she wears during the first scenes is soon substituted by blue jeans and shirts and the very light hair are often collected in childish braids. The “classical” Marilyn clothing is repeated during the rodeo sequence, but the excessive appreciation of the woman’s body by some cowboys while she is playing with a child’s game, is not shown in a wink way: contrarily, it appears as a further misunderstanding of the woman’s real nature. Roslyn seems to feel good only when she is away from the civility, in the desert, until that safe space is corrupted by the men’s brutality during the horse hunt; again, the balance she seemed to have reached is now the prelude of something terrible which we assume is yet to come. We finally see how the men were just another cage for the woman, leaning on her as if she was a promise for a better future but refusing to consider her on their same level; none of them can leave his condition as a misfit, and it gets clear when Gay fights against the horse to catch it: the man is alone into a desert, fighting something not worth fighting for a worthless price, as if the whole meaning of his existence could depend on that particular act.
The progressive exclusion of the cowboys from the changing society of the time is quite different from the woman’s one: she can’t fit in because she’s been hurt too much since she was a child, while the men refuse to fit into a new social order, considering it a betrayal of their idealized way of life. The woman who turned into an erotic dream is again a victim of the circumstances, but this time she points out her sufferance: Roslyn shows her scars, anticipating and somehow predicting her own future. Marilyn Monroe’s character is again a defenseless woman and she is partially submissive to men, but the message seems to go in the way of the emotive punishment of those who hurt her: she has no way to rescue herself, but she is not going to pretend she is not suffering.
The connection between Roslyn and Marilyn Monroe comes out of the screen during the sequence in which Guido sees some of the most famous Monroe’s pictures hanging into a closet; the moment we see them, we are pushed outside the film: we are forced to remind that Roslyn is Marilyn and Marilyn is Roslyn, getting some sort of prediction: Marilyn’s image as a diva is finally crystallized and stereotyped for the contemporary society, in a way which makes her physical presence almost unnecessary. The awareness of the actress’s image predominance becomes even clearer when a drunk Guido tells her “here’s to your life Roslyn, and I hope it goes on forever”, a sentence which recalls and underlines the importance that Marilyn Monroe’s body has gained alongside the decades, pushing her undeniable acting skills in the background.
In final instance, Marilyn Monroe’s deep interpretation of Roslyn is a sort of redemption and an indictment to those who had always caged her into a superficial stereotype. A redemption coming only two years before her death, as a sort of eulogy of one of the greatest personalities that Hollywood ever gave us.