Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is an exploration of DC's iconic Wonder Woman, by way of the origin story most people don't know. The film is goes back and forth between two different times,.flipping between the "present day" 1947, when William Moulton Marston is being persecuted by the Child Study Association of America for Wonder Woman's supposed notoriety (a.k.a. ladies trying up other ladies and such), and 1928 where he's a professor at Radcliffe University, at the beginning of his unique relationship dynamic between his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston and their mutual partner Olive Byrne.
The beginning of the film shows Professor Marston explaining dominance inducement, submission, and compliance (DISC) theory to his class, a system that studies four different human behavioral traits that supposedly drive all of society. DISC theory claims to have found the key to personal contentment: "A person is most happy when they are submissive to a loving authority" (which foreshadows the direction this film is going in). Meanwhile, William and Elizabeth are working on a long-term project, developing an early prototype of the lie detector machine, and Olive begins to collaborate with them on this project as their teaching assistant. The tension immediately begins as Elizabeth notes William's attraction to Olive, despite the fact that Olive is engaged to another man. Elizabeth initially encourages William to pursue his interest, claiming "I'm your wife, not your jailor" while struggling with her own professional and emotional jealously, as well as her own feelings of attraction to Olive which come as a shock and pleasant surprise to her. As all three delve further into their research of lie detection, the impulse to admit their feelings and attraction to each other only becomes stronger.
The relationship within the movie is definitely one of the most fascinating romantic dynamics in cinematic fiction in a long time. Each member of the romantic triad presents a fascinating personality. William as a proto-feminist, claiming women are superior to men in an age that was only beginning to recognize women's rights. Elizabeth, a woman William describes as "brilliant, ferocious, hilarious," a scholar who earned an MA from Radcliffe because Harvard wouldn’t give her a degree because she had a vagina (if at this point the audience wasn't already in love with her, then this scene clinches it). And Olive, at first unassuming, but full of life and passion, so fiercely loving and honest with herself and her desires to a degree that takes one (or two) people's breath away.
In any other director's or screenwriter's hands, this kind of relationship could be weighed down with any number of clichés about polyamory or kink that could turn our stomachs. Yet in the careful hands of Angela Robinson, each word and action is considered, and never wasted. The characters' love and respect for each other is a reflection of the director's love and respect for this story and the people whom this story also represents. In regards to the historical accuracy of the film and the Marstons' relationship with Burne, Robinson has done her research, and has thougutfully interpreted what she believes to be the trio's potential queer sexuality. The question of if these people had loved each other like the film portrayed, is a question I cannot personally answer. But I truly hope they did.
After so many adaptions of Superman and Batman and so many versions of Spider-Man, the geek world receiving two movies centered around one of its greatest superheroines marks the hopeful beginning of a cinematic revolution. I have had the pleasure of seeing Wonder Woman's origin story explored in two films, first in the incredible action film directed by the Patty Jenkins, and then in the biopic written and directed by the wonderfully (excuse my pun) talented Angela Robinson. Though the timing between the two films is claimed to have been coincidental, there's no doubt that these stories of feminism and justice are needed now more than ever.
When I first came into the movie theater that Halloween to see the film, I had expectations that something exciting was about to happen. I walked out knowing that I had just watched one of the best films of the year, as well as one of the most tender and unconventional love stories I've ever seen. I hope more films like this will be produced, honoring fictional heroes like Wonder Woman who inspire is, as well as the real life heroes who brought them to life for us, and who fought heaven and hell for love.
Anyone interested in a film exploring feminism, polyamory, BDSM, or superhero mythology should fly over to the nearest movie theater and watch Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. You won't regret it.