What is Professor Marston and the Wonder Women?
The story of how Harvard psychologist Dr. William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) — inspired by his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), and Olive, the woman they both loved (Bella Heathcote) – created comic book icon Wonder Woman.
An Unusual, Unconventional Romance
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a superhero origin story unlike any other. Because Wonder Woman has her roots very much in reality; inspired by the most unusual and unconventional of relationships.
The story is told via flashback, with the titular Dr. William Marston justifying the sexual politics of his creation to the head of the Child Study Association of America. She wants Wonder Woman banned, claiming the bondage, torture and perceived homosexuality found on the pages of the comic to be a corrupting influence on young minds. And her questions make Marston reflect on his life; remembering the many thoughts, ideas, and experiences that he built into the character.
Marston was an intellectual who taught ‘DISC Theory’ at Harvard; a psychological study that revolved around gender politics and mating rituals, and was so-named because it’s central themes were Dominance, Inducement, Submission, and Compliance.
Working with his wife Elizabeth — with whom he enjoys a pretty adventurous sex life — they took on a test subject. A beautiful student called Olive. And almost immediately sparks flew and a love triangle formed. One that’s initially powered by jealousy and mistrust. Which is bad for their marriage, but good for William’s studies, enabling him to invent the lie-detector. Yup, as well as creating Wonder Woman, William Molston invented the lie detector. Then failed to patent it.
The trio eventually settles their differences, move in together, and start the most atypical of families. Which ruffles the feathers of friends and neighbours, resulting in tensions rising within the household, and their children being bullied and shunned.
The Birth of Wonder Woman
William also starts pursuing some unusual interests; frequenting a store that deals in pornography, corsets and extremely high heels, its owner teaching him the ways of bondage and role-play. He introduces Elizabeth and Olive to the joys of such activities, and while watching them in action, an idea starts to form.
Now when you look at the early issues of Wonder Woman and connect all the dots – from the costume and super-powers to the ‘Lasso of Truth’ – this all seems a little convenient and contrived. But it’s also very much true. As when the three-way relationship was exposed and Marston lost his job, he thrust everything he believed about the world, sexuality, and behavioural science into the character. And immediately had a smash-hit on his hands.
The telling of the tale, however, is a little on the nose at times, the film endeavouring to tie every utterance, action and item of clothing to the birth of Diana Prince. Indeed, Professor Marston is probably at its weakest when documenting the creation of the Amazonian Warrior, failing to chart the rise of the character in any meaningful way. Which is frustrating, as there are some great, but all-too-brief scenes of Marston arguing with his publisher — played in typically deadpan fashion by Oliver Platt — about the weirder stuff he tried to sneak into the pages.
Rather, the film is at its best when concentrating on the relationship that forms between the three central characters. Who are beautifully brought to life by Luke Evans as Marston, Rebecca Hall as his wife, and Bella Heathcote as Olive, all three convincing as their respective characters, and making you truly believe in their bond.
That relationship still seems radical and unorthodox some 50 years on. But worked for them, as the heartwarming and tear-jerking final few scenes depict. And proves that, while society at large may not be willing to listen or understand, love really can conquer all.
Is Professor Marston and the Wonder Women Good?
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is an unorthodox biopic about an unorthodox relationship. It’s a period piece that takes place many decades ago. Yet revolves around a very modern romance; one that can teach us much about respect, tolerance, and love.
So while, as a story about the birth of Wonder Woman, Professor Marston is just OK. When dealing with matters of the heart, it’s really quite profound.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women screened at Fantastic Fest and will be released in the U.S. in October and in the U.K. in November.