My 2 Cents on Professor Marston and the Wonder Women


The origin of the first major female hero in a comic book, polyamory, feminism, BDSM, even the invention of the lie detector — Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, directed and written by Angela Robinson, packs in all this and more, spreading itself thin half the time but nonetheless succeeding as a biopic as powerful and receptive as its trio of lead actors.

Right at the start it’s unsettling to see kids packing up their Wonder Woman comic books and tossing them into a fire, with an upset Dr. William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans, Clash of The Titans, Beauty and The Beast) standing nearby. After a quick scene of him having to justify the explicit material of his comics to the Child Study Association of America, it goes years back to 1928 when he worked as a professor of psychology at the associated Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges, aiming to invent the lie detector with his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall, The Prestige, The Gift). When one of Marston’s students, Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote, The Neon Demon, Fifty Shades Darker), catches his eye and he decides to focus on her as an experiment subject, a relationship blossoms between the three of them that leads to one of the most popular comic book superheroes but also draws criticism from the conservative attitudes of the time.Where to begin with a movie as multifaceted as this one? Let’s go with the actors first, all three of them playing off each other with equal skill as their characters overcome initial tensions, grow close, and eventually come under fire from others for their polyamorous relationship. You easily believe that they had the courage to develop this affair in spite of the narrow-minded period in which they lived. Evans does his job well as Marsden, a complex man with radically feminist beliefs and an eye for unconventionality. Hall and Heathcote as Elizabeth and Olive, respectively, develop their own bond without it ever feeling staged.

Oh yes, and Marston is also the creator of Wonder Woman. However, be patient; the movie doesn’t delve into that part until the last half-hour or so. Learning about her origin will confound you, as the public was repulsed by its references to bondage, violence, lesbianism, and other related practices, much of it influenced by what Marston calls DISC theory: Domination, Inducement, Submission, Compliance. Even Charles Guyette, considered to be the innovator of American fetish art and the “G-String King”, plays a minor role in the process. You could say that any biopic teaches you a heck of a lot of things you never knew about the subject at hand, but such a statement strongly exists for this one specifically.

Feminism is a cornerstone, if you could call it that, of the movie, whether it shows up as Marston making Wonder Woman born as an Amazon, an all-female race of legendary warriors in Greek mythology; a reference to Sappho, a Greek poet whose poems expressed her affection for women; Elizabeth and Olive taking on powerful presences as supporters and lovers of the professor; and the mentioning of Ethel Byrne, the progressive feminist and Olive’s mother, and Margaret Sanger, the founder of the American Birth Control League and Olive’s aunt. All of this may have difficulty being juxtaposed with sadomasochism and how it sparked many elements of Wonder Woman, but that doesn’t stop it all from bravely attempting to unify around the film’s core.

An intangible peculiarity is strung along the movie, managing to hold together a heap of ideas and themes that sometimes becomes too scattered for its own good. You can predict what happens as Wonder Woman comes into being and the ending draws near, but that doesn’t take away from the sincerity with which the lead actors imbue the denouement. A few facts right at the end that help us learn a little more about the real-life threesome and Wonder Woman’s legacy close the movie nicely.

As Marston once puts it, “Wonder Woman is a love letter. She is a fantasy. She comes from a distant place where there is beauty and justice and respect.” And it will be completely appropriate to feel as such when you watch the movie.

Windup score: 88/100

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