The story of psychologist William Moulton Marston, the polyamorous relationship between his wife and his mistress, the creation of his beloved comic book character Wonder Woman, and the controversy the comic generated.
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Guillermo del Toro
Details the unconventional life of Dr. William Marston, the Harvard psychologist and inventor who helped invent the modern lie detector test and created Wonder Woman in 1941. Marston was in a polyamorous relationship with his wife Elizabeth, a psychologist and inventor in her own right, and Olive Byrne, a former student who became an academic. This relationship was key to the creation of Wonder Woman, as Elizabeth and Olive's feminist ideals were ingrained in the character from her creation. Marston died of skin cancer in 1947, but Elizabeth and Olive remained a couple and raised their and Marston's children together. The film is said to focus on how Marston dealt with the controversy surrounding Wonder Woman's creation.
Though promoted as "the true story" of William Moulton Marston, Elizabeth Marston and Olive Byrne, most of this film is speculative as the Marstons' lived their lives in privacy. At the 2017 New York Comic Con, Angela Robinson was asked by Travis Langley, a friend of the Marston family, and said that she "talked to a source who said that that was her interpretation, who had studied them. chose to tell the story as my interpretation of the story, and I think that there's a lot of facts that are indisputable about the Marstons and I feel that there's a lot that's open to interpretation. So as a filmmaker, this was my interpretation of their story." See more »
William Moulton Marston was portrayed as a spy and in one brief scene reminisces about his military service and things he had seen. However, he received his commission as a 2nd LT on October 22, 1918 just 20 days before the end of World War I. He was stationed at Fort Oglethorpe GA, Camp Upton NY and Fort Lee VA before being discharged on May 19, 1919. Despite his portrayal in the movie, Marston never left the US and never saw the war first hand. Source: Harvard's Military Record in the Great War (1921). See more »
With some exception, Hollywood pretty much makes two distinct kinds of biopics. The first kind are the ones that almost seem obligatory your Gandhi's (1982), your Lincoln's (2012) and the upcoming Darkest Hour (2017); movies about historical giants who did truly incredible things with their lives, incredible things that should be projected (and even embellished) on the silver screen for the world to see. Then there are the ones about the others your oddballs, your misfits the characters that history books often ignore but are nevertheless important in the way our world is shaped.
Professor Marston is certainly one of the latter folk. Outside of DC comic devotees and the odd discredited crime scene investigator swearing by the validity of the lie detector, William Moulton Marston is not a name people know. But believe me when I say that after watching this movie, you'll want to read up on him and his equally fascinating partners Elizabeth Marston and Olive Byrne. For not only is he the originator of Wonder Woman, the most famous female comic-book hero ever, he's quietly the most fascinating academics to steer the sexual proclivities of modern society since Albert Kinsey.
He, Elizabeth and Olive I should say. The film starts with the three of them bouncing around the psychology department of Tuft University working on research and fine-tuning William's (Evans) latest invention. Olive (Heathcote), the Marston's graduate assistant becomes enamored with the two of them, binding the three in a love triangle that turns into a healthy polyamorous relationship. It being the puritanical state of Massachusetts in the 1920's however, the three couldn't be insulated by the academic bubble for too long before The Marstons are quickly forced out and move to New York City. From there, they hide their double lives with Olive assuming the role of homemaker and "widow" while William and Elizabeth (Hall) find work where they can as "the couple".
As the narrative slowly ebbs towards the inevitable formation of the first Wonder Woman comic-book, the film occasionally diverts from its primary story and uses a red-baiting comic-book committee as connective tissue to William's complicated past. We've seen this kind of framing before. In fact, apart from the decade's long love story involving three people in a committed and loving relationship, we've seen all of this before which may be the point. Instead of treating the subject matter as salacious or radically divergent, it treats it as another day in dramatic romance-land. Even when the trio develops an interest in the virtually criminalized BDSM subculture, there's a normalcy there that could potentially bore the one couple in the movie theater looking for their unicorn.
What makes Professor Marston ultimately work is director/writer Angela Robinson decision to make the tension largely external. It's never a question of whether all their goings-on will work but if the world will openly allow it. That concern is personified in Rebecca Hall's inner struggle that has the duel burden of her trying to be a smart, capable, 20th century working girl while also being madly in love with two people. One of whom is a woman.
As the brash, irascible Elizabeth, actress Rebecca Hall is an absolute revelation. She bursts onto the screen, all but announces she's smarter than everyone else in the room and easily proves it with her wit and pragmatism. While Heathcote displays the mirage of idyllic feminine beauty, it is Elizabeth's radical feminism that makes the punchy title worth the watch. Seriously though, if Hall doesn't get an Oscar nom by years' end I may have to boycott (#hall&Oscars).
Less successful is Luke Evans who, while certainly displaying the outward charm of a 1920's lad-about-town just has a knack for putting too fine a point on things. Every time we return to Connie Britton and her committee of comic-book hating cronies, Evans lectures like he's explaining particle physics to a freshman undergrad. Perhaps, given Marston's private life, Robinson may have figured the only way out of being questioned by a HUAC analog would be to be so soporific that they'd just move on to Superman or something.
All in all, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women may not be reverential enough to induce comic-book fans to check it out. The film spans decades ultimately treating the creation of Wonder Woman as an afterthought. Yet for those looking for a decently paced, boiler-plate great biopic it may just be the right ticket for you. Additionally because it smuggles in a few liberalizing tidbits about love and modern feminism (Luke Evans's goofy grin notwithstanding), Professor Marston may even be worth a detour to a theater ballsy enough to play it.
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