‘Marston’ breaks down re­la­tion­ships that shaped a su­per­hero

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Magazine - By Barry Paris

I am in en­vi­ous awe of peo­ple like Hedy La­marr and Wil­liam Marston.

She was the sex­u­ally al­lur­ing film icon who co-in­vented a bril­liant new radar guid­ance sys­tem to thwart Axis tor­pedo-jam­ming in World War II.

He was the bril­liant Har­vard psy­chol­o­gist who co-in­vented the poly­graph lie de­tec­tor as well as the sex­u­ally al­lur­ing comic book icon Won­der Wo­man.

Go fig­ure. In dis­pens­ing skills to hu­man­ity, the Lord works in mys­te­ri­ous ways.

The mys­te­ri­ous, polyamorous ways of “Pro­fes­sor Marston & the Won­der Women” are thought­fully ex­am­ined in writer-di­rec­tor An­gela Robin­son’s biopic, which has not one but three sub­jects. The charis­matic Marston (Luke Evans) was an ex­po­nent of the D.I.S.C. (Dom­i­nance, In­duce­ment, Sub­mis­sion, Com­pli­ance) be­hav­ioral model on which, he be­lieved, all hu­man re­la­tion­ships are based.

“Men’s minds are far too lim­ited,” he tells a class at the out­set. “That’s why we need women.”

One of the au­di­tors is his fem­i­nist wife El­iz­a­beth (Re­becca Hall), a bril­liant psy­chol­o­gist her­self, who helps him de­velop the poly­graph — and chafes at be­ing in his shadow — even as she sees him drool­ing over gor­geous, round-faced blond Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) in the same class.

Tough, bitchy El­iz­a­beth warns Olive to lay off her hus­band, but she’s too hon­estly lib­er­ated to be hyp­o­crit­i­cal.

“Who am I to fight na­ture?” she tells Bill. “I’m your wife, not your jailer.”

Marston en­gages them both

for some kinky soror­ity house re­search, where pad­dle-stroke pun­ish­ment leaves all three “ex­cited, re­pulsed and aroused.” El­iz­a­beth longs for free­dom. Guile­less Olive longs for El­iz­a­beth’s ap­proval. Soon enough, they’re liv­ing to­gether, ex­plor­ing se­cret iden­ti­ties and Marston’s the­ory that men and women BOTH love to con­trol as well as sub­mit.

In fan­tasy lies pos­si­bil­ity...

In­spiredby the writ­ings of Mar­garet Sanger, Marston loves strong fe­males who make men tell the truth — on or off a poly­graph. His pi­o­neer fem­i­nist su­per­woman would be a com­bi­na­tion of El­iz­a­beth and Olive — “the new type of wo­man who should, I be­lieve, rule the world.”

But in a comic book? An Ama­zon princess on an allfe­male is­land, who wears a skimpy out­fit and sil­ver bracelets that de­flect bul­lets? Whose soror­ity girl­friends have spank­ing par­ties and fight Nazis? No­body would ever pub­lish it.

Some­body does — Sen­sa­tion Comics in Jan­uary 1942: Princess Diana, daugh­ter of Hip­polyta (aka, out­side her home­land, as Diana Prince) rises up in metal­lic bra, crim­son bustier and high­cut star-span­gled blue briefs to swing her Lasso of Truth against all sorts of vi­o­lence, tor­ture and S&M bondage — soon banned by the Catholic Le­gion of De­cency, et al. guardians of Amer­i­can moral­ity.

Se­ri­ous script is­sues in­clude the ex­ag­ger­ated bon­fire of Won­der Wo­man comics hurled by an­gry crowds in a mini-Re­ich­stag protest. We could do with­out much of the melo­drama about Olive’s child and vis­i­ta­tion rights, with ac­com­pa­ny­ing tears and tin­kly mu­sic. But those de­fects are largely off­set by fine pro­duc­tion val­ues and di­rec­tor An­gela Robin­son’s choice of sub­tle vs. graphic sex­u­al­ity, treat­ing the three-way love­mak­ing re­spect­fully as nat­u­ral, not sala­ciously as aber­rant.

Mr. Evans, Ms. Hall and Ms. Heathcote de­serve ku­dos for ma­jor menage-a-trois chem­istry. When Ms. Heathcote trades in Olive’s dowdy hat and pu­rity for that form­fit­ting Ama­zon (not dot.com) out­fit, all you can say is whoa! (and woe to men or women alike).

Won­der Wo­man’s on­go­ing cul­tural in­flu­ence? Well, Glo­ria Steinem put her on the first cover of Ms. magazine in 1971. And there’s the 1975–1979 TV se­ries star­ring Lynda Carter. In 2015, WW be­came the first su­per­hero to of­fi­ci­ate at a same-sex wed­ding in a comic book. Is she les­bian? No, just “canon­i­cally bi­sex­ual” ac­cord­ing to her cur­rent DC han­dlers.

Re: this film and the highly en­joy­able “Won­der Wo­man” with Gal Gadot, re­leased last June, I have a bril­liant idea: Re­mem­ber Read­ers Digest Con­densed Books — do they still make them? Any­way, why not edit and com­bine the over­long (141-minute) “Won­der Wo­man” with the (108minute) “Prof. Marston” into two man­age­able halves of a dou­ble-fea­ture whole? Thereby ex­plain­ing both.

Alas, like so many of my bril­liant ideas, it is un­likely to come to fruition, but never mind. The more cru­cial thing here is “Prof. Marston’s” dia­lec­tic: Is it pos­si­ble to love two peo­ple at the same time (whether of the same or dif­fer­ent sex)?

“It can’t hap­pen,” says one pro­tag­o­nist. “Why?”asks an­other. “The world won’t let it,” says a third.

“The world can’t stop it,” is the re­ply.

Claire Folger/Annapurna Pic­tures

Luke Evans, JJ Feild and Bella Heathcote in “Pro­fes­sor Marston & the Won­der Women.”

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