This year, the most famous and most loved female superhero has finally made it to the big screen in the first ever solo-movie – Wonder Woman. Patty Jenkins’ depiction of the selflessly compassionate warrior set records in no time. It has been celebrated as a victory for feminist filmmaking.
While most people can, at least, recognize Diana of Themyscira and know of the character, the public knows very little about how this iconic, beautiful character has been created. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women gives a bit more insight into the life of Wonder Woman’s creator William Moulton Marston, and how his personal relationships have influenced Wonder Woman’s creation.
William Marston (the dashing Luke Evans) starts out as a professor for psychology. He works with his wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) on the creation of the lie detector, as well as the DISC theory. The latter is based on four different behavioural traits: dominance, inducement, submission, compliance. This theory has been used as a red thread throughout the movie, said director Angela Robinson (The L-Word ,True Blood) at the London Film Festival screening of the film.
The Marston’s marriage is tested when a young teacher’s assistant joins the research team. Both William and Elizabeth start to fall for Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote). The film focuses heavily on how the relationship between them develops. We see this particularly throughout their first trials with the systolic blood pressure test, from the initial attraction to phases of jealousy and eventually acceptance of their newfound love. When the public becomes aware of their unconventional relationship, however, William loses his teaching position, and they move after learning of Olive’s pregnancy.
The trio try to make a new life as a family by claiming that Olive has lost her husband and is now living with William and Elizabeth. The polyamorous trio, however, is unable to fit into the suburban lifestyle. William first thinks about developing a female super hero after finding himself in a burlesque shop, where he is enthralled by a Greek-inspired costume. He believes that Elizabeth and Olive both have character traits that, when combined, make the perfect woman. Marston channelled this thought in the creation of Wonder Woman. He made her a strong, dominant woman, but also a kind, patient, and loving one – a true “love leader”.
Initially the reception of the new Wonder Woman comics is positive, but soon William is accused of incorporating his own sexual desires into children’s literature. In particular, the depiction of bondage and lesbian activity is cause for concern. William is forced to reduce his “kink content”. The Marstons continue to face more challenges than just professional one when their polyamorous relationship is once again tested by forces of society.
Angela Robinson delivers what is easily the most empowering, and surprising movie of this year’s London Film Festival. I personally had known a lot about William Marston due to my academic research, but it was still incredibly gratifying to see that research come to life.
The Marstons are a very interesting family that, even in the early 20th century, had challenged society’s perfection of normality. Whether it was Elizabeth’s interest in a professional career, or their polyamorous relationship, the Marstons lived life to the fullest and followed their very own beliefs, albeit being labelled wrong and perverse.
It was also that challenge of the norm that led to the creation of the most iconic female super hero to date. Wonder Woman was influenced by every facet of Marston’s life: the women he loved, the work he had done in psychology, and the values he held.
Luke Evans is compelling, interesting, almost all-mighty in his portrayal as Marston. Both Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote shine in opposite, practically contrasting roles that highlight the broad spectrum of women. The three of them play off of each other with ease, and their chemistry is sizzling.
The polyamorous love is depicted not in an overtly sexual way, but rather delicately sensual way. Robinson stated that it was very important for her to consider the male and female gaze while making this movie. It shows in the film – it is a carefully crafted art. The relationship is not so much about kink as sexual experimentation and desires. It beautifully captures this in stunning sequences that arouse body and mind alike through enticing cinematography.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women screens at the London Film Fest on Thursday, October 12th, and Sunday, October 15th. For more information visit the official BFI website. The movie is set for a US release on October 13th, and a UK release on November 10th.
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