Review - Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017), R, 1h 48min - I hadn't even been aware of this film's existence until a month or so ago when I happened upon the first trailer on YouTube.  In a year that has seen Wonder Woman dominate the box office and single-handedly breath new optimism into the future of the DCEU (DC Extended Universe), we now get this film about Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston's life and its influence on the development of his most well known creation.

Marston (Luke Evans) and his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston (Rebecca Hall) - highly regarded in her own right - were both psychologists, specifically studying human interactions.  William was a firm proponent of DISC theory, believing that a person's reaction in any given situation was a combination of the following components: Dominance, Inducement, Submission, and Compliance.  He was also a supporter of the feminist movement and took an actively participated in his research.  While the Marstons were teaching the mid-late 1920's, they took on a lab assistant by the name of Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), who had her own ties to the feminist movement (her aunt Ethel Byrne opened the first birth control clinic in the United States).  Byrne's relationship with the Marston's soon developed into something more than your standard professor/student arrangement.  In fact, the evolution of Olive's relationship with the Marstons from lab assistant to love interest (for both) helped them develop the systolic blood pressure test, allowing them to finally produce an accurately functioning lie detector test (something they had been working on for years).  As time went on, William, Elizabeth and Olive became more than just lovers.  Olive moved in with the Marstons after becoming pregnant with William's child (the first of two she would have with him).  Elizabeth would also go on to have two children with William.  As one could imagine, this sort of open/extended relationship was not looked kindly upon almost a hundred years ago.  If anyone asked about the odd living arrangement, they were told that Olive had been widowed and that the Marstons took her and her baby in.  During this time William developed his ideas for a comic book character he would call Wonder Woman (who was basically an amalgamation of Elizabeth and Olive).  In his mind, he would use the comic to instill the values of love, equality, and feminism on the youth of the day.  Wonder Woman became hugely popular, but after complaints of overt symbolism of bondage arose, Moulton was instructed to tone it down.  Instead, he increased the amount of symbolism in his scripts, refusing to be censored. 

I'm glossing over quite a bit here.  Partly because I don't want to spoil the whole story, and partly because this is a fictional biographical drama that (as far as I can tell from some online reading) takes liberties with some of the locations and times of events portrayed in the film.  The majority of the film focuses on the developing relationship, trials and tribulations of William, Elizabeth, and Olive.  It does touch on a couple keystone moments in Wonder Woman's history - mainly her creation, and Marston's fight over the censorship/content of his book - but this film is primarily a behind the scenes look at the alternative lifestyle that led to Wonder Woman's being created.

Before seeing this film, I was only aware that William Moulton Marston had developed the lie detector as well as having created Wonder Woman.  I had no knowledge of any other details of his life.  I feel as though the subject matter causes this biographical drama to have a bit of a niche target market, but that it is a well made, educational piece that would benefit most everyone (keep in mind that it is rated R for language and brief nudity).  No matter how you feel about the Marstons choice of lifestyle, there is no denying that those beliefs directly impacted the creation of one of the world's most iconic and enduring comic book characters.












*****SPOILERS*****

- As mentioned above, this film is a loose fictional take on the story.  It includes some conflicting timelines/locations from what I have read on the internet about William, Elizabeth, and Olive.  For example, it implies implies that the Marstons were teaching at Harvard/Radcliffe Colleges when they met Olive in the late-1920's.  But Olive was a actually a student at Tufts University in the mid-1920's.

- Four children were born into the Marston household.  Two between William and Olive (Byrne and Donn), and two between William and Elizabeth (Pete and Olive).

- Marston originally wrote Wonder Woman under the name William Moulton in attempts to keep his personal life separate from the comic.  

- William felt that comics could be used as an educational tool, and were not just 'low brow' entertainment for kids.

- Even after William's death from skin cancer in 1947, Elizabeth and Olive continued living together until Byrne passed away in 1990.  Elizabeth passed away in 1993.

- William had said that bracelets worn by Olive were the inspiration for Wonder Woman's now iconic bullet-deflecting bracelets.  

- They are very small rolls, but both Connie Britton (Josette Frank of the Child Study Association of America) and Oliver Platt (M.C. Gaines - publisher of All-American Comics) also appear in this film.

- Like Wonder Woman before it (Patty Jenkins), this film was also directed by a woman: Angela Robinson, whose previous works include True Blood and How to Get Away With Murder.

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