PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN (2017)
Starring Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, Connie Britton, Oliver Platt, Monica Giordano, JJ Feild, Chris Conroy, Alexia Havins, Maggie Castle, Alexa Havins, Sharon Kubo, Allie Gallerani, Chris Gombos, Forry Buckingham, Stacy Fischer, Gabrielle Nail, Frank Ridley, Ken Cheeseman and Tom Kemp.
Screenplay by Angela Robinson.
Directed by Angela Robinson.
Distributed by Annapurna Pictures. 108 minutes. Rated R.
With the popularity this summer of Wonder Woman – surely the best and most popular film adaptation of a DC Comic since The Dark Knight Rises – this would seem to be the ideal time for this origin story about the creation of the comic strip to come out.
However, if you have a young daughter who was inspired by Gal Gadot’s super-heroine and wants to learn more about the character, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women may not be the ideal choice. That is, unless you don’t mind that there is a little bisexuality and light BDSM in the mix.
Now, before you get upset – if you are the type who may do so – keep in mind that while sex is a very essential component of Professor Marston’s storyline, the movie itself is not particularly explicit. You are looking at Bettie Page-level bondage here, lots of old-fashioned lingerie and tying people up, but certainly nothing particularly hardcore.
Still, though it is based on the creation of the comic book character, Professor Marston is very definitely an adult film. Politically as well as sexually. It looks back at the 1950s comic book scare, in which the federal government held trials to censor comics of perceived sexual or devious content.
When we meet Professor William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans, who just played Gaston in the live-action version of Beauty & the Beast), he is a Harvard Psychiatry professor in the 1920s. (Fun fact: he also invented the lie detector test.)
His wife was Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), a brilliant, progressive, sexual woman in a time when women were not supposed to be any of those things. From a line of famous feminists – her mother was birth control advocate Edith Byrne and her aunt was famous feminist Margaret Sanger – Elizabeth sees herself as an equal to her husband, and he agrees.
Professor Marston felt that eventually women would take over, and he thought that it would be a good thing. He had a very cutting-edge theory of human relationships and behavior, which he called DISC: Dominance, Inducement, Submission, and Compliance.
Into this brilliant couple’s life enters a gorgeous student named Olive (Bella Heathcote). She becomes the Professor’s teaching assistant, and eventually becomes the couple’s lover. It becomes a perfect, idealized love triangle, all three members love and are devoted to both of the others. They even start sharing a family with both women having children.
However, when their unconventional – especially for that time – relationship comes to light, the Professor’s career is ruined. When he can’t get any jobs in academia or psychiatry, and his books are no longer selling well, Marston decides to take on a pen-name and create a pulp comic book series, one which will covertly expose the masses to his beliefs about the superiority of women – as well as his interest in voyeurism and bondage.
The comic book series, the first one with a female superhero (they are still extremely rare) becomes a smash success. Everything looks good for the threesome until religious activists point out all the tying up, spanking, highly-charged imagery in the series.
At the screening I saw, a very loud and very insistent apparent comic book fan told those around him that the storyline of Professor Marston and the Wonder Women was based on unproven facts and full of suppositions. I don’t know who that person was or what knowledge he may or may not have had on the subject, but I will acknowledge that some of the connections seem unlikely or don’t exactly make sense.
However, it was an intriguing story, and it appears to at least have had a basis in reality.
If you are looking for a fun comic book movie, full of superhero action, you are in the wrong place. Wonder Woman is very much in the background here, and while you see the genesis of some of her attributes – the golden lasso and the arm bands, for example – you do not learn much about the character, and you only see her in some early comic book art.
Still, if you’re looking for a funny and slightly scandalous bio about a love triangle with a pop culture twist, you can do a lot worse.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2017 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 13, 2017.