Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

Professor Marston and the Wonder WomenDirector: Angela Robinson
Run Time: 1h 48m
Stars: 3.0

Wonder Woman’s creation was about more than just feminism. Way more.

Harvard Professor, William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) was teaching psychology with the help of his brilliant wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall). Together they were an unstoppable force of genius always on the cusp of a breakthrough or advancement in their field. In the early 1920’s their work — and their lives — was pushed beyond that barrier. Teaching at the women’s sector of Harvard (Radcliffe), they hired one of their young students to assist them in their research. The lucky girl: Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote). Immediately William was attracted to Olive; to her brilliance but also her beauty. However, Elizabeth was not keen on the idea of her husband’s affections toward a younger woman. But more than that, Elizabeth was not keen on the idea of sharing those same affections toward Olive. It was one thing for a man to have a mistress, but for his wife to participate? It was unheard of for their time. As much as they tried to deny that any feelings existed, eventually the Marston’s and Olive entered into a polyamorous relationship. Their love cost them everything and sent them spiraling down a path where love was all they had. Until William got an idea. For a comic book hero. A female comic book hero. A hero that could enlighten the minds of young girls and boys alike to forward-thinking ideas and Marston’s scientific discoveries. You and I know her as Wonder Woman. But Marston’s not-so-subtle imagery and subtext eventually befell scrutiny. Marston was investigated, defending his work. And his life.

There is a beautiful story to be had here. A story of love and heartbreak and hate. Our world continues to grow while remaining mostly closed-minded. Now, I am not a political person. I purposefully distance myself from controversial topics as not to get caught up in the conversation. But regardless of how you or I or anyone feels about what a “family” looks like or should be, we possess at least one commonality in a single, simple truth: we yearn to be loved. I just wish Professor Marston and the Wonder Women was a little more put-together in their approach to share this message.

The story is told with two parallel timelines. We open in the 1940’s, watching a book burning of the Wonder Woman comics as William looks on heartbroken, but not surprised. He is under investigation by the Child Study Association of America for his obvious inclusion of sexual references (ie. bondage, submission, fetishes). The more criticism he received, the more he included these components. During his interrogation, we are then given flashbacks starting in the 1920’s when he and his wife met Olive. The jumps back and forth made sense, but did not always utilize a smooth transition. I understood the reason. While he was defending his comic book hero, he was also defending his lifestyle. His love. He had poured so much of himself and his life into the comic that it was really William being torn apart, not Wonder Woman. I just wish the plot could have enforced that a little better.

As disappointed as I was with the presentation of the content, I was in love with the characters themselves. I owe it mostly to the performances of the actors. Evans, Hall, and Heathcote had amazing chemistry and you believed they were a cohesive unit. I’ll admit the passion between Hall and Heathcote was more dominant than either had with Evans but perhaps that was done on purpose. I thought each played their parts wonderfully.

Their performances were only brought down by some strange writing. Some scenes were rushed along while others were overly drawn out. And they did the whole “You need to leave! No please come back!” thing one too many times. (Which reminds me, Olive didn’t seem to fight too hard for either side every time this happened. Which was really frustrating.) That seems to be the way it goes I guess. The bits you’d like to see more of are cut short, while the ones that don’t require five minutes of undivided attention are given ten. It’s this disjointed approach that keeps this film far from being a masterpiece. But even though I was puzzled by more than a few artistic selections, I am a fan of the message.

Which brings me to my uneducated, unpolitical opinion:

Polyamory. I do not love that way. And to be honest, I have a hard time grasping the concept entirely. But I do not think it prudent to judge those who do. To watch the anguish and heartbreak in William, Elizabeth, and Olive when the world tried to divide them was tangible. I don’t have to understand someone’s lifestyle to understand that they’re human. All too often mankind — and womenkind for that matter — forgets that there’s a soul and a heart on the receiving end of hate. Marston said it best: Is it not better to rule with love than with hate? Even if this movie missed a few things from a technical or cinematic standpoint, I was proud of its message.

The reaction to the Wonder Woman comic was ill-received in the 1940’s. The opening scene with the book burning was testament to that. Over 70 years later, I hope we can make Marston proud by responding differently today.

If you are easily offended or have a singular view on life, please don’t see Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. With all due respect, you’re not ready for it. However if you are in the category that realizes hate solves nothing, even if you disagree with someone, you should give this film a shot. You’ll be watching for the message more than the movie though.

The last time my eyes were opened to a way of life so foreign to mine was while watching The Danish Girl. You can read more about that here.


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