Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power.’ William Moulton Marston

The origins of the things that impact our lives and the people who brought them into existence are fascinating to investigate. Professor William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) and his wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) are credited with the invention of the modern day blood pressure cuff, the lie detector/polygraph and the behavioural assessment known as DISC. These all influence people throughout the world, but the creation that the professor of psychology is best known for is the comic book hero, Wonder Woman. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is writer/director Angela Robinson’s (True Blood) artistic representation of the development of this literary phenomenon and the personal lives of the people behind her genesis.

The post-war era of the 1920’s was a time of significant change in the application of psychology in the realm of academia. William and Elizabeth Marston were leading in the study of human behaviour at Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges, and amongst their various research projects and developments, they hired a new teaching assistant named Olive Bryne (Bella Heathcote). Despite the social and professional conventions of this time in history, their professional surroundings turned into an atmosphere for a polyamorous relationship. Their personal choices led to their dismissal from academia and the necessity of hiding their lifestyle from neighbours and work colleagues. In amongst these trying times, William sees the opportunity to develop a strong female superhero for comic books. The creation of Wonder Woman was meant as a symbol of feminism and for Marston to share his theories in psychology, human behaviour and even sadomasochism.
Many may not be aware of the controversy behind the making of this film. How Robinson and the Marston family are at odds on the reliability of ‘based on a true story’ claim. The director based her assumptions on one line of history that showed that Olive Byrne and Elizabeth Marston lived together after the death of William and the children left home. The Marston family has stated in the press that Robinson did not consult them on the details of the film and that the majority of the director’s interpretation of the Marston’s personal lives was distorted and fabricated.
Which begs the question, how this film got the green light to be made? On the surface, it seems to champion a campaign for polyamorous relationships and free love, but similar to life it pulls in a multitude of other historical issues. The fact that William and Olive had an extra-marital affair is not up for debate, but the love triangle between the Marstons and Olive is based on speculation and moves this film closer to the world of 50 Shades of Grey opposed to being representative of actual history. The performances of the lead actors are admirable, but the roles that they portray minimises the appeal of their characters.
After watching the film, it is unclear if the intent was to defame the role that Wonder Woman has played in history or to attempt lift her up as the poster child of feminism. Due to the speculative nature of Robinson’s version of William Marston and the women of his life, it is hard to know who to trust. The professor seems to love his creation and the opportunity she represents to convey his worldview, but it is a mystery to see if the exaggeration of an alternative lifestyle of the female superhero was merely artistic license of an adventurous director or the reality of the cartoon author’s preferences.

Throughout the film, Elizabeth Marston makes the statement that what happens within the privacy of someone’s home should not come under the judgement of others. Which makes the purposes of this film even more confusing, because the subject matter of the whole film shows how the private lives of individuals do effect how the public sees them. If the intention was to make a claim on the rights of people within their home, why does Robinson go to such lengths to show the interconnectedness of the personal and the professional? In her attempt to remain morally neutral as an artist, the intentionality of her message is undermined by the subject matter and adds to the bewildering experience of the whole project.
Reading various articles on the reasons behind the making of Professor Martin and the Wonder Women, it does not point to much more than an attempt to unearth a titillating and unsubstantiated story from the past. Beyond the graphic depiction of the affair between the threesome, the offensive nature of this film is that it is trying to represent itself as fact when it is primarily a work of fiction.

REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 

1. What does the Bible say about polyamorous relationships?  

(1 Corinthians 6:13, 18; 10:8; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3)

2. What is the importance of telling the truth? 

(John 8:32, Proverbs 12:19, Proverbs 28:13, Zechariah 8:16)

3. Why do we love superheroes? (Or, who is the real superhero?)

(Isaiah 1:17, 1 Peter 1:8, 2 Timothy 4:17-18)

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Russell Matthews

Russell loves film and enjoys engaging in discussions about the latest cinema offerings and then connecting this with the Gospel. He has worked for City Bible Forum for over 10 years, is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and Entertainment Fuse and has a blog called Russelling Reviews. He moderates events for Reel Dialogue which connect the film industry with the general public.