By Carter Glace, Staff Writer
As some of you know—assuming anyone reads this regularly – I recently wrote a review of Professor Marston and The Wonder Woman, a fictionalized telling of William Multon Marston, Elizabeth Holloway, and Olive Byrne’s lives leading up to their creation of Wonder Woman. I almost want to spend another article showering it in more superlatives. It is honestly one of the funniest, rowdiest, most thoughtful mainstream romance films I have seen in years.
But I’d rather focus on one critical aspect of the film: it really isn’t about creating Wonder Woman. As the third act approaches, Marston has an epiphany that he should create a female starring comic as “psychological propaganda” for children. The next scene is him pitching the concept to Max Gaines, and then it’s done. Wonder Woman is created. We get a brief montage presenting her success, there is no other major reference to Wonder Woman herself (save for the film’s framing device, which centers on Marston defending his work to a censor’s board). And frankly, that is perfect.
You could have easily done a version of the film that is all about Diana Prince, and the many fascinating turns and twists her creation took. But then you are probably just making a documentary with actors. When you choose to make a narrative film, you are imply that by depicting/fictionalizing events, you have an interesting thematic point to make, which Professor Marston absolutely does. Angela Robinson realizes that the story is not about how Wonder Woman was made, but how the radical philosophy and modern romance of these brilliant minds made her creation inevitable. Wonder Woman truly is the creation of three brilliant minds expressing their love, their passions, and their vision of a better future.
The film quietly peppers Wonder Woman iconography and verbiage in subtle and not so subtle ways throughout the entire film. In probably the best piece of costuming and art direction, Olive Byrne wears a pair of metal bracelets throughout the film. Historically, these were the inspiration for Marston to give Wonder Woman her signature gauntlets (which in the comics, were cuffs from the Amazonians’ enslavement to Hercules. And to the best of my knowledge, they could not make sound disruptions like in the films). One of the other brilliantly subtle ones is a crystal bi-plane toy that is seen throughout the film, a reference to Diana’s invisible jet.
On the slightly more obvious examples, a very early scene has Olive walk in on a stage performance at Harvard centered around the Greek Goddess Diana. A scene in which a sorority forces new members to dress as babies and be spanked is ultimately a scene that occurs in Wonder Woman comics. The film’s signature romance scene, in which all three characters have sex for the first time, has Olive dressed in Greek robes, Marston in a soldier’s uniform, and Elizabeth in a cheetah pattern cloak (a reference to the old school villain cheetah). And finally, the moment in which Marston commits to creating a comic character comes when Elizabeth is tying up Olive while she wears a leather version of Diana’s Swimsuit style costume.
But perhaps the most important creative choice comes from the film’s two framing devices: Marston trying to protect Wonder Woman from a censor board, and his DISC theory (a theory on love and relationships centered on submission). The flow between these ideas, the imagery of Marston’s life, and real panels of the earliest comics is the most concise way to sum up the film’s message: the most important female superhero of all time does not exist if it weren’t for the very unique beliefs and experiences of these three brilliant people, and two extraordinary women. The final scene of the film is Marston declaring that Wonder Woman is “His life,” before showing both of his loves. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is ‘about’ Wonder Woman, about how these three people met in just the right place and just the right time, and how the perfect confluence of philosophy, sexuality, and political theory came together to make something extraordinary. And the ability to create these ideas through narrative is pretty darn Wonderful.