But none of that explains why, 50 years after her death, she is latent, current, mysterious yet known. When she died, the popular explanation was suicide, and it has always been easy to believe that lovely, uneducated kids often get found out by fame and stardom. But any examination of her death teaches the lesson that hers is the first death in that haunting line of the ’60s that includes the Kennedy brothers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Lee Harvey Oswald. How can such notable people die in uncertainty? Are there really infinite intrigues in the world, or do we refuse to accept simple and obvious answers? It is a kind of religion. So the collection of stories attending her death are more potent than her films, and they provide an occult explanation for that gorgeous, plaintive look she had: “What do you think happened to me?” We tell ourselves now that we are known in so many oppressive ways: Our identity is laid out in numbers ready to be stolen; all our e-mails are retrievable; increasingly, we are subject to surveillance, all meant for our “security,” but all contributing to its opposite. Monroe stands for this unlikely possibility: that in an age of mounting data and information storage, it is possible for someone beautiful and famous to be unknowable.
more from David Thomson at TNR here.