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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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.
Grateful to have caught an early screening of this movie in NYC, in which the cast made a brief appearance at the movie theater. The first thing I want to say is that this is a movie I will watch more than once.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a film about ideas. It explores polyamory ("the philosophy or state of being in love or romantically involved with more than one person at the same time") and touches on explorations of dominance/submission and role-play, along the lines of BDSM.
Having read Jill Lepore's excellent book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, I knew a great deal about this story before going into the theater. As Lepore writes, "Wonder Woman's debt is to the fictional feminist utopia and the struggle for women's rights. Her origins lie in William Moulton Marston's past, and in the lives of the women he loved; they created Wonder Woman, too." It's this dynamic that sets the stage for this story, and the preview trailer for this film made it look erotic too. But those expecting to see a film along the lines of Henry & June may be disappointed.
I enjoyed this movie, but wished the romantic elements were explored more fully, particularly between the two women. The editing seemed at times overly efficient, too much in a hurry, far more concerned with propelling the narrative forward than in creating a relaxed, intimate atmosphere where the characters could indulge in the situation and be in the moment. I wish there were more "real time" scenes of foreplay, actually. Not sex, foreplay as in flirting. Because I couldn't see the bond these people shared, and this was a movie about how these people connected.
My favorite character, by far, was Olive Byrne as played by Bella Heathcote, who is vulnerable and beautiful in the film. A real Gwendoline, to use fetish parlance. Least favorite would be Marston's wife as played by Rebecca Hall, who's an accomplished actress but seemed too uptight and, worse, too contemporary in this role. It always amazes me that costume and set design for period pieces like this are thoroughly researched and accurately reproduced, while almost no research goes into reproducing language use and speech patterns of the day (1925 - 1947). Did people actually use the f-word as much as Rebecca Hall uses it in this film? I think not. It made her character more grating than she needed to be. This is a fault of the script, and the f-word was used as a crutch far too often.
Marston was played adequately by the rugged-looking Luke Evans, who bears no resemblance to the overweight, dreamy-eyed real-life William Moulton Marston, but this was a concession to female audience members I suppose.
In real life, it's unknown how Marston developed an interest in BDSM. In the film, it's through Marston's encounter with the mythical pioneer of fetish history, Charles Guyette (the "G-string King"), a real historical figure. What I know of Guyette I learned through reading Charles Guyette: Godfather of American Fetish Art by Richard Perez Seves. As suavely played by JJ Field, he serves as mentor to Marston. Again, this is a bit of shorthand. Guyette is not mentioned in Lepore's history, but the audience is quickly introduced to this fetish underworld, which serves as a strong influence in the creation of Wonder Woman. No mention of Guyette being French in the Seves's book; in fact, he was born and raised in Massachusetts, according to Seves, but the people making this film may not have known this at the time as this brief book is more recent.
Overall, I'll wrap up this review by saying that despite these flaws, this is a film worth viewing. Maybe my own high expectations for it were impossible to meet. I enjoyed many scenes, with my favorite relying on the lie detector machine used in the first half of the movie; I truly loved those scenes. Again, I loved Bella Heathcote as Olive Byrne in this. So, in spite of all my nitpicking, I still give this movie a strong 7 out of 10. The ideas explored in this film make it worth watching. Maybe there's a director's cut of this film out there with additional scenes between the actors. One can only hope. But I would still see this movie again, as isand certainly plan to.
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