A review of Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
*** out of five stars
(Currently in limited release)
by Walter G. Tarrow
Following the success of the movie Wonder Woman comes the biopic of the man behind the Amazon princess. More for fans of the novel/film Fifty Shades of Gray than the superhero herself, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is not your grandfather’s comic book origin story.
William Moulton Marston was a psychologist and Harvard professor who taught a theory of human behavior and relationships that focused on domination and submission. So it should come as no surprise that his personal life as well as his fantasy writing involved bondage, fetishes and kinky sex.
He also is credited as a major contributor to the development of the lie detector. Which, in the film, is used to reveal the truths behind the repressed lusts of the three principles and free them fully to act upon their unconventional sexual appetites.
However, in the film, not the Professor, but Elizabeth Marston (Rebecca Hall), straight, or maybe better said, right out of the gate, establishes herself as the Alpha. She smokes, drinks, and curses more than any other character in the film, including her husband (Luke Evans) and New York publisher M.C. Gaines (Oliver Platt). She is brutally frank and insensitive to all, even Olive (Bella Heathcote) the shy newly recruited assistant to Professor Marston, and the eventual object of their desire. Elizabeth calls the shots and is credited with being the real brain behind the invention of the lie detector. Perhaps a more accurate title for this film would have been Elizabeth Marston, Olive and the Professor.
This ménage à trois heavily influences the particulars of Suprema the Wonder Woman (the character’s original name). After extended visits to the shop of Charles Guyette, a clothier of erotic costumes, who has a back room for aficionados of bondage, Olive attired in high heeled boots, bustier and corset, and holding a rope, (the film’s credits include a Rope Supervisor) stands luminous as the icon from Paradise Island. And her rope, her lasso, her lie detector, forces men to submit to her, to confess the truth.
Framing the film’s narrative is Marston, a disgraced professor and now successful comic book writer, testifying before a committee of the Catholic League of Decency justifying the right and decent morals of his Wonder Woman for kids despite questionable elements of bondage and discipline.
Sumptuously photographed in warm tones of a nostalgic New England college town, well written, acted and produced, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women fails most in one regard. It constrains its unorthodox polygamous stance in a cloak of false respectability. It takes prideful passion in its nonconformity but wants to be one of us. Cake and eat it too.
I kept wondering where the real story ended and the fanciful began. All three actors are attractive and physically appealing. Their trysting is filmed and edited like good quality soft core porn. But the real life threesome was less than glamorous and the extent of their sexual proclivities is not fully known. What happens behind closed doors (and, surprisingly, in the film, also in a rather public setting), I suspect, is more a product of the filmmakers’ wish fulfillment than of fact. And is this a film from the mind of a feminist or a sexually liberated dilettante or both?
Keep in mind, an alternative title could have been Masters and Johnson Make a Porno Comic.