‘Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind’ Goes Beyond the Mystery of the Actress’s Death

Alice Oscura – Featured Writer

Does this HBO documentary answer all of our questions as to what really happened to award winning actress Natalie Wood on the fateful night of her death on November 28, 1981? Unfortunately, no it still does not. However, I feel as if the family thought that it was important to get their side of the story out there as the 1981 case was reopened in 2011 due to new evidence. The re-examination of her autopsy photos shows some troubling head wounds that may indicate a struggle before she fell into the water and Dennis Davern (the captain of their boat The Splendour) omitted from his statement to the police that the actress and her husband Robert Wagner had an explosive fight before she disappeared.

There are also the consistent and very public accusations by Natalie’s sister, Lana Wood, that the actress’s husband was responsible for her death. A toxicology report was released, and it revealed that technically at the time of Natalie’s death she was almost certainly inebriated due to a combo of valium and wine which impaired her movement and judgement in the water.

Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind - Still 2
A still from Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind by Laurent Bouzereau, an official selection of the Documentary Premieres program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute.

The documentary’s aim is to re-sensitise and remind the public to not focus on the sensationalizing of Natalie’s death but, to see who she was as a daughter, mother, wife, and movie star.

The film is narrated by Natalie’s eldest daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner. Natasha’s biological father was Richard Gregson, British film producer and screenwriter. However, she was legally adopted and raised by Robert Wagner along with her younger sister Courtney, Robert, and Natalie’s only child together from their second marriage.


It honestly shocked me to see how much Natasha resembled her mother. There are numerous interviews from friends of the family, fellow actors and actresses, members of the film industry, Courtney Wagner and Robert Wagner himself.
They seek to highlight Natalie as a person exploring the strained relationship that Natalie had with her mother and the difficulties of literally growing up in Hollywood, an industry that we know has been famous for chewing up people and spitting them back out.

There was an immense pressure put on the actress by her mother to succeed in Hollywood because Natalie (who began acting at age 4 and went on to star in films such as Rebel Without a Cause and The Searchers) was basically the bread winner in the family and her mother had put it into her head that if she failed that her family would be left to suffer. Too much pressure to put on an impressionable child in my opinion. But you had to admire Natalie’s strength in not only continuing to work into her early forties but, at ensuring equality for herself and other actresses in the film industry.


After we travel on this journey from Natalie’s childhood to adulthood, we are forced to confront that point in the timeline of her death. Robert Wagner talks freely of his last moments with Natalie, that nothing sinister occurred and he reacted as quickly as possible upon realising that she was in fact missing. He gets extremely emotional during the interview and said that not a day goes by where he does not think about Natalie. When his stepdaughter asked him whether or not he will ever return to visit Catalina Island (place of Natalie’s demise), he said definitively no.

The actress’s family claims that Natalie’s fear of dark water was greatly exaggerated due to a thought put into her head by her mother. She was warned by fortuneteller that her second child would be world famous but, she had to be wary of dark open water. Natasha states that her mother swam frequently with them, as well as made numerous trips on the boat.


My personal opinion is that Dennis Davern, the captain, may be seeking attention and fame from Natalie’s death because the few interviews that I have seen with him, I get the feeling that he was not being genuine. Something just doesn’t ring true about him for me. Lana Wood on the other hand may just be a grieving sister that is just looking for answers and her brother in law may just be the target obsession.

At the end of day, Natalie Wood’s family has been a victim of public scrutiny due to the mystery surrounding her premature death at the age of 43. I think that they should be allowed to continue to move on with their respective lives and keep the memory of their mother untainted and be assured that her legacy with continue to live on through her movies. That being said, if her husband RJ is indeed guilty whether it be accidental or not, he only has one person to answer to, and that’s God.

Rating: 7.5/10

For a review of the documentary Unfinished Sentences you can click here. To keep in the loop with all new Redmangoreviews articles you can follow us on Facebook here.

39AFB96D-4DEF-4DED-8DFE-3400E758CE9B Dark Alice has an old soul and a curious mind. I believe that anyone can be a hero and that the good guys should always win! I dislike cruelty to animals and think that they have far superior qualities to humans. My motto is there is no future without the past. I also have a weird penchant for Paranormal TV shows even though the slightest sound makes me jump.

I enjoy writing reviews and throwing in fun facts to pique the readers’ curiosity. My ultimate goal in life would be to become a published writer one day. You can find me as Dark Alice Reviews on Facebook, my Instagram is alice_oscura and my Twitter handle is @lise_veliz2. For more on me you can click here.


Leave a Reply