Professor Marston and the Wonder Women / Starring: Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, and Bella Heathcote / Director: Angela Robinson / Writer: Angela Robinson
The development of Diana Prince, the Wonder Woman, is a fascinating subject. Perhaps you are aware of the true story or perhaps you know nothing at all. I, like many others, grew up with one of the lies around the ‘problematic’ nature of her development as a character based on bondage. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is here to clarify the truth; that despite being developed around bondage, Wonder Woman was born from the mind of William Marston to promote the idea that men could submit to a kind and loving feminine authority.
The movie takes a while to get to the development of Wonder Woman, despite a framing device that involves Marston being interrogated about the problematic nature of his character in 1945. The story revolves around Luke Evans’ William Marston. When we meet Marston in the late 1920s, he is married to Rebecca Hall’s Elizabeth Marston, who is his academic partner in a world where it is difficult for women to gain status in the field. Elizabeth is arguably the true genius amongst them and they hire one of Marston’s students, Bella Heathcote’s Olive Byrne, to help them develop an early version of the lie detector test. A romantic relationship blossoms between the three that leads to an expulsion from the scientific community. Angela Robinson crafts both her script and film to show in detail the academic and personal life of Marston so that the viewer can see later how both influence the development of Wonder Woman.Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, and Bella Heathcote deliver remarkable performances as the leads. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women creates endearing but flawled protagonists and never portrays their loving relationship as anything problematic in and of itself. The problems arise from how society treats their family when their secret is ousted. Rebecca Hall is probably the strongest of the three performers as she also takes on a slightly antagonistic role in their relationship when their children begin to face societal exclusion because of their parents’ actions. Most of the other roles are minimal, but Oliver Platt makes the biggest impact as Maxwell Gaines, the publisher who first puts out Wonder Woman.
So how does bondage play a role? Well, Marston developed an academic theory called DISC theory. It judged the behavioral traits of an individual and the film presents Marston as using it to promote a feminist agenda. The stages of DISC are Dominance (D), Inducement (I), Submission (S), and Compliance (C). Marston never gets the chance to fully develop this into a psychological assessment tool before his expulsion from the community, something Walter Clarke would later do in 1956. But Marston sees a visual interpretation of his DISC theory in the various stages of bondage. This inspires him to create an iconic heroine who would have narratives around her to further enhance DISC theory concepts; this character is Wonder Woman. As someone who strives to take complicated cultural theories and concepts and boil them down to their simplest form to create narratives out of them, this movie spoke to me on a level most films do not. The sequence where Marston develops Wonder Woman is one of my favorite sequences in any film from 2017.
This movie could be argued to be overly sentimental, but I see the sentimentality as one of the film’s strengths. The relationship between the Marstons and Olive is incredibly well realized and engages with both character strengths and faults without admonishing any member for making difficult choices. Given Wonder Woman’s status as a feminist icon and a symbol of inclusion, it means a lot for this film to not admonish the women who inspired her. And if that means the film is a little sentimental, so be it.
If Logan did not make me weep like a baby every time I watch it, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women could be my favorite film of 2017. I feel it is most comparable to An Adventure In Space And Time (2013), another sentimental film about the development of Doctor Who. Angela Robinson and crew do a lot to tackle the negative stigma around Wonder Woman’s development. This movie is a heartfelt in depth look at the academic and personal life of the man who created Wonder Woman and the inspirational women in his life who inspired her.
Verdict: 5 out of 5 Visual Representations of Academia.