Professor Marston and the Wonder Women
Aida Vucic | 13/11/2017
It would be difficult for any film to follow the release of this year’s DC film, Wonder Woman, let alone its biographical counterpart Professor Marston and the Wonder Women; a film which chronicles the origins of our beloved Diana Prince and the man and women behind her.
It’s the roaring 20’s and Professor Marston (played by Luke Evans) is lecturing young women on the future. He spends an inordinate amount of time discussing his theories of DISC; dominance, inducement, submission and compliance. His wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) is an acclaimed scholar, but constrained by societal gender norms to be merely an academic for a Harvard offcut university. In their spare time, the pair have been working tirelessly on inventing the lie detector machine. Eventually, they recruit the help of an assistant; one of Marston’s prodigious students, the young and seemingly naïve Olive (Bella Heathcote). The introduction of the beautiful girl causes tension between the two, as jealousy and lust become rife and the trio become entangled in a scandalous polygamous relationship which causes these academics to be disparaged by their peers and forced to live a secluded life in suburbia.
The film uses flashbacks to retell these events while Marston is forced to fight for his comic book. Marston's Wonder Woman is under scrutiny by the Child Study Association of America, lead by Josette Frank (Connie Britton), a crusader for wholesome values who is vilifying the professor for his sadomasochistic comics. It’s a standard formula used by most biopics, but here it works well to create the tension necessary to sustain such a digressive story. Further, it gives a platform to discuss the S&M which so rampantly featured throughout the comics.
Admittedly, this is not an accurate recount of the Professor, and instead has been largely invented (like the lie detector sub-plot) for audience appeal. Because, let’s be honest; polygamy is not tolerated within society, but kudos to Angela Robinson who manages to avert our attention from this and rather develop the film into a relationship piece. This is largely due to the strong performances by the trio, particularly Hall, who is undoubtedly the standout among them. She embodies strength and executes her lines with precision, often swaying between a matriarchal figure, a nagging wife and a manic pixie dream girl sort of academic hipster. In contrast, Heathcote is the delicate china doll, looking longingly at the pair, while Evans is the attractive professor who lives many men’s fantasies.
While the picture is undoubtedly slow, and contains much less of the titular superhero than would be expected, the build-up allows these three tremendous actors to explore the inner workings of their characters, and it brings a nuance to scenes that would have been less appealing in a lesser picture. The lie detector is also used to great effect, eliciting confessions from the trio in steamy, grimy and intense scenes, where little is said but the pulsating of the lie detector needle is enough to set the audience on the edge of their seats.
The film is also beautiful; shot with loving care and delivering a series of incredibly lit shots that give a sense of artistry to a film that could have too easily been pornographic in nature. There's one particular shot of an early Wonder Woman costume that is heart-wrenchingly beautiful, with backlit sunlight silhouetting Olive as she stands in front of an aghast and aroused pair in the Marston's; although, that power dynamic seems to have played out from the moment these three met.
It's provocative and it's fresh, but in the end it’s not quite as good as the creation itself. Nonetheless, Professor Martson and the Wonder Women is an agreeable discussion on the nature of sex, psychology and gender reform in mainstream comic media.