The Secret Origin of the Creator of Diana Prince
DIRECTED BY ANGELA ROBINSON/2017
Have you heard of Wonder Woman? Of course you have.
Gal Gadot’s portrayal of this iconic character in her first solo outing on the big screen this year broke many box office records. This has set the stage for this most beloved character to return this November to cinemas in the highly publicized Justice League, where Gadot will return to once again upstage the likes of Ben Affleck’s Batman, Henry Cavill’s Superman, along with Aquaman and The Flash.
But how many people really know the backstory to this icon of female empowerment, with her lasso of truth, and her upbringing on the island of Themyscira, where no men were present until pilot Steve Trevor invades their lush paradise? Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is the film about Wonder Woman’s creator, and his unconventional life that informed the development of the comic book character that continues to be loved all over the world.
Luke Evans (Beauty and the Beast, The Hobbit Trilogy) is Professor William Marston, a teacher of psychology at Radcliffe College, the women’s school that was associated with Harvard before women were allowed in. As the inventor of the systolic blood pressure test, he and his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall-Iron Man 3, Christine) are pursuing the development of the polygraph machine, or, as it is commonly referred to, the lie detector. Professor Marston is also seeking to further his D.I.S.C. Theory (Dominance, Inducement, Submission, Compliance) which stipulates that men have a nature of violence and anarchy, while women have a nature based on what he described as “love allure” which ultimately would naturally submit to a loving authority. He believed that women held the key to a better society as a result and sought to prove this theory through using his class as a sort of test lab.
His wife would also be a professor if she would simply go through Radcliffe’s doctoral program, but she believes if she is getting educated by the same professors at Radcliffe that also teach the same class at Harvard, the least she could do is get a degree from Harvard. Holding on to her pride, Elizabeth continues to be her own woman, while loving William and supporting him. It is during one of Professor Marston’s classes, that Elizabeth always sat in on, that she sees her husband staring at a young student by the name of Olive Byrne, played by Bella Heathcote (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Neon Demon).
Later, as they observe Ms. Byrne in the courtyard of the school being approached by numerous male seeking to ask her out, the two Marstons use it as an opportunity to apply their psychological insight of D.I.S.C. theory to this young woman. Knowing her husband’s attraction, Elizabeth gives him permission to pursue her for the sake of furthering their theory, declaring that she has no sexual jealousy, based on the scientific knowledge she has of basic biology and the impersonal nature of attraction for sexual action that is seen in every species. When Olive is hired as Professor Marston’s office assistant, however, Elizabeth demonstrates that that clinical, sanctimonious claim is not entirely true.
As the two work with Olive, getting to know this daughter of famed feminist Ethel Byrne, and the niece of famed birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, the spend time observing her life as a student for their theory. While observing Ms. Byrne, they watch Olive’s role in a sorority hazing ceremony for pledges where she must spank a new pledge who is dressed as a baby. As they observe from a second story vantage point, Elizabeth finds herself attracted to Olive as much as her husband. This leads to a polyamorous relationship between the three of them, despite Olive being engaged, and the fact that it was seen as one of the most perverse relationships society could ponder. Eventually, they are found out which leads to Professor Marston losing his job at Radcliffe, and Elizabeth being forced to find work as a secretary, instead of pursuing her passion of scientific invention and discovery.
Living together with a cover story to explain Olive’s residence with them, along with their now 3 children (2 by Olive, 1 with Elizabeth), Professor Marston tries writing books to earn money, while secretly hoping to get on with another college to pursue D.I.S.C. theory. He gets the idea to convey all of his ideas through a superhero, a female, which will incorporate all of his idea of D.I.S.C. theory and submission to a loving authority and deliver it to children in a format they can understand so as to have a greater impact on the culture. After convincing publisher M.C. Gaines (Oliver Platt-A Time to Kill, Simon Birch) to publish a woman superhero, Wonder Woman becomes more popular than Superman. But a powerful morality group headed by Josette Frank (Connie Britton-Beatriz at Dinner, Me & Earl and the Dying Girl), sees something perverse in Marston’s comic where Wonder Woman is constantly being tied-up, spanked, bound, and wearing sexy outfits. They see a dark world of BDSM, being cleverly slipped into the mainstream culture, targeted at children, and they aim to bring it to a halt..
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women was a surprising film of greater depth and beauty than I expected. The cast was fantastic, and each played their part with an authenticity and passion that kept the script, by Angela Robinson, from running to far into a film simply trying to normalize polyamorous relationships and the kinky bondage and role play that the Marstons engaged in with Ms. Byrne, and instead brought a humanity to them that transcended anything controversial about their actions. While Angela Robinson made much of the speech and mannerisms of Elizabeth much too contemporary (especially with the liberal use of the F-word by a woman of that time period, when very few educated people might use it regularly if at all-at least in public), she captures enough of the cultural mood to be in the ballpark of that time period. She sets up the “good guys” (The Marstons and Olive Byrne), and the “Bad Guys” (society, and Josette Frank’s morality based group) which cheapens the conflict a bit by making it too one-dimensional and self-serving to her obvious cultural bias, but is still able to deliver some truly great moments that will challenge the conventional wisdom of today.
We see what is meant to be a genuine love between the Olive and the Marstons, with the acknowledgement of the real consequences they would face for choosing to be in that taboo living arrangement. There would be consequences for the Marston’s marriage as they seek to hold on to what they have, which is a deep love and respect for each other, while trying to balance it with the mutual love for their third partner. It demonstrates the consequences for Olive, as she does not have the accepted institution of marriage to protect her to those on the outside who don’t approve of her and their lifestyle, especially as she is seen simply as a perverted mistress. There is even consequences on the children (now four), as they are socially outcast by their friends who hear their own parents talking about the perversion of the Marston house.
Through it all, the film connects the dots of the details of the life lived by William and Elizabeth and Olive and the iconic superhero. His inspiration for her iconic look, powers, beliefs, and how the story plots centered much on the details of their own life struggles is all in each frame. The lasso of truth, of course connects back to the famed polygraph machine, which Marston did not receive any money for as he refused to patent it because as the film reports, “science is for everybody”. But Diana Prince, or Wonder Woman, ultimately is the composite of these two women in William Marston’s life. One who was passionate, smart, fierce, and desired justice (his wife Elizabeth), and the other who was beautiful, kind, innocent, loving, and supportive (Olive). He loved them both, because to him they were two sides of the same metaphorical coin, that together represented the ideal woman. The kind of woman he longed for the world to believe in so that we, like his theory, would ultimately be led to live in harmony by willingly submitting to this notion of a loving authority.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is the story of the secret identity of Wonder Woman’s creator. What one thinks about that secret identity, that is now fully revealed through this film, may change what you think about the iconic character he created, and her continued influence in our culture. Or, it may simply reinforce it. Either way, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is being released in a year where Wonder Woman is once again more popular than Superman. At least in the DCEU. While this may be because of Gal Gadot’s passioned portrayal, it may be because the world is finally ready to submit to a superhero that represents the very nature Professor Marston championed through his D.I.S.C. theory. One who is a woman, and who is strong, powerful, passionate, and bent towards pursuing truth and justice, but grounding it all in her love for others. The desire for truth and justice by Professor Marston is a bit ironic, as he lived in a world where he felt he couldn’t truly be honest to himself or others. But through his creation of Wonder Woman, he could try to make the very difference he longed to make in the world as a professor, only now it was through a different medium.