Catholic News Service
Fans of the comic book superheroine Wonder Woman (and of the recent film) are advised to steer well clear of “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women.”
The sheer escapist pleasure of watching the wholesome feminist icon fight for truth and justice is downright spoiled on learning the sordid story of the comic’s creator, William Moulton Marston (1893-1947).
In this case, the truth hurts, and not simply because Marston (Luke Evans) liked to tie women up and paddle them. In addition to sadomasochism, he was a proponent of so-called free love and open marriage. Or, in Hollywood parlance, he was “ahead of his time.”
At Radcliffe College in the late 1920s, the hunky professor teaches behavioral psychology to his eager female students. Marston purports that all human behavior can be traced to the interplay of four emotional states: dominance, inducement, submission, and compliance.
It’s not hard to see where all this will lead. “People are happiest when they submit to a loving authority,” Marston insists.
By his side is his wife and research partner, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall). Together they invent a lie detecting machine, which offers multiple opportunities to ask awkward questions (and inspires Wonder Woman’s “lasso of truth”).
Open-minded Elizabeth tolerates her husband’s roving eye. “I’m your wife, not your jailer,” she says.
The door thus opened, in marches one of Marston’s students, the gorgeous Olive (Bella Heathcote), who volunteers as a research assistant. Marston is instantly smitten. But Olive, in a surprising twist, only has eyes for Elizabeth, at least initially.
What ensues is a love triangle devoid of all propriety. The trio moves in together, engages promiscuously and, as the years pass, multiple babies are born.
It’s only a matter of time before neighborhood whispers are confirmed, and Marston is fired. To earn a living (and support all those children), he turns to writing.
“I’m going to inject my ideas right into the thumping heart of America,” Marston boasts.
Viewers will be disappointed to learn that the inspiration for Wonder Woman comes from Marston’s visit to a seedy Manhattan sex shop filled with tight costumes, ropes and cuffs.
Indeed, the early years of the Wonder Woman comic (which began in 1941) raised eyebrows for its extreme violence, bondage episodes and an acceptance of “free love” and homosexual behavior. Amid calls for the comic to be banned, Marston is hauled before a tribunal headed by moral gatekeeper Josette Frank (Connie Britton), director of the Child Study Association of America.
He has some explaining to do, as does writer-director Angela Robinson, who eagerly hoists the banner of relativism, painting a sympathetic picture of the outrageous Marston triad and casting traditional morality to the winds.
So much for being lassoed by the truth.
The film contains a negative view of religion, strong sexual content with nudity, a benign view of aberrant behavior, pornography and birth control, sexual banter, frequent rough language and one profane oath. The Catholic News Service classification is O, morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R, restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.