Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
2017, R, 108 min. Directed by Angela Robinson. Starring Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, Connie Britton, J.J. Feild, Monica Giordano, Maggie Castle, Oliver Platt, Allie Gallerani.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 13, 2017
If the comic book historian in you skews Marvel, you may be surprised about the origins of DC’s Wonder Woman, which was created in 1941 by Dr. William Moulton Marston, a psychologist who had his own free-wheeling and avowedly feminist attitudes that came together on the only-a-dime, four-color, pulp pages, but whose forward-thinking notions about the modern American woman eventually ran head on into establishment accusations of perversion, kink, and BDSM-lite from the Child Study Association of America in 1945. (A real-life shot across the bow of the comics industry presaging the infamous 1954 Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency that took down William Gaines from legendary E.C. horror comics.)
Director Robinson’s startling biopic opens in 1928 with Marston (the perfectly cast Evans), already a professor-provocateur at Harvard, working alongside his wife Elizabeth (Hall). Their studies into female eroticism elicit the attention of comely coed Olive Byrne (Heathcote), wide-eyed and eager to assist the Marstons in their experiments. Seduction of the innocent? Sorry, Dr. Wertham, but Robinson – who also penned the excellent script and is vocal about her own LGBTQ status – renders this trio of pioneers in human sexual studies (akin to Kinsey and co.) something deeper than merely their private lives behind the bedroom door and the contributions they made to their field.
Marston’s initial vision of the character of Wonder Woman is sparked by a visit to a necessarily underground BDSM outfitter, who dresses – or undresses, as the case may be – blond bombshell Olive in an outfit strikingly similar to that of the future Princess Diana of Themyscira. Backlit with a golden corona and holding a menacing coil of rope, the two could be one and the same and, indeed, all that rope-play kink in the early issues of Wonder Woman would come back to haunt Professor Marston.
The real story here is less about the actual creation of Wonder Woman the comic book superheroine than it is about the pressures of attempting to live an alternative, three-way lifestyle in buttoned-down wartime America. You need only look to the alt-right and the rise of pseudo-Nazis in our wayward American culture to realize that although much has changed, the status quo is determined not by the best, brightest, and boldest, but by those who can shout the loudest and manipulate the most. As Marston once put it, “Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who, I believe, should rule the world.” This reviewer concurs.