‘Marston’ breaks down relationships that shaped a superhero
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.
Luke Evans, JJ Feild and Bella Heathcote in “Professor Marston & the Wonder Women.”