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Movie Review

William Marston knew without a sliver of doubt that he was ahead of his time. He saw so much more than the average man. He understood more. After all, he had been intricately tugging at the knots of human sociology for decades. He even created—with the aid of his brilliant wife, Elizabeth—a lie-detecting device, as well as something called the DISC system for understanding human behavior.

That acronym stands for Dominance, Inducement, Submission and Compliance. Those four states of being are incredibly important to studying the human condition, Marston believes. They are key to finding happiness and central to dissecting what we humans call "normal" behavior.

But what exactly is normal?

That was one of the first questions Marston raised in his classes at Radcliffe, the all-girl sister school of Harvard. Was it normal to keep women separated and subjugated in everything, from the basics of education to their place in the workforce? Marston was sure that it shouldn't be.

For that matter, all the many states of normal that we take for granted—from monogamy to the strictures of "acceptable" sexual interaction—are all, in Marston's learned opinion, completely unnormal for any thinking person, whether male or female.

In fact, Marston takes that very stance in his own personal life. He and his wife open their bed and home to one of his attractive students at the university. They give birth as a trio not a couple. They reshape their physical intimacies, experimenting with roleplaying and bondage.

Of course, the small-minded had ostracized them for it. And Marston soon loses his teaching position. But no matter. For William Marston has another idea. He's well-versed in Greek and Roman classics. So he creates something for the masses, something their meager minds would appreciate and except.

A comic book. Yes, that's it.

It would be something that could inject his ideas right into the hearts and minds of America. His DISC behavioral studies would become part of the superhero's missions. And that hero will be … a heroine. A woman as all women should be: a Wonder Woman.

Positive Elements

This biopic makes some positive statements about the need to change the oppressive societal attitudes toward women in the 1940s.

William, Elizabeth and Olive (who begins working with the Marstons as a student assistant) all appear to care for one another. They do all they can to protect their eventual offspring together—as well as trying to keep their kids in the dark about their unconventional sexual living arrangement.

Spiritual Content

William rails against the Decency League, a group that's raising questions about his new comic book. He calls them fascists. His publisher reminds him that they're Catholics. "Same thing!" William declares.

Sexual Content

William Marston may indeed say some positive things about women's strengths and the need to grant them more societal freedom. That said, he always seems to make choices based on the lure of his own male lusts. And his two female partners willingly follow him.

As does the camera in many scenes of this film.

Several scenes throughout the film depict various sex acts and combinations of participants, including threesomes between William, Elizabeth and Olive that include breast nudity. Explicit images and graphic movements depict sexual encounters and bondage.

In spite of the Marston's eventually being fired for the affair—and Olive losing her fiancé because of swirling rumors—the three stick together. During the next few years both Olive and Elizabeth become pregnant.

The Marstons and Olive discuss the psychological concept of penis envy. The camera closely examines still pictures of bound women. We also see pornographic cartoons depicting intercourse and oral sex.

Violent Content

When a neighbor accidentally spots William, Elizabeth and Olive in the midst of a sexual bondage session, she spreads the word. This results in one of Marston's sons getting into a fight at school. His face is bruised and scraped. William then gets into a fight with that boy's father and the two men wrestle and punch each other in the face.

William later collapses in a coughing fit related to a chronic illness.

Crude or Profane Language

Nearly 20 f-words and three s-words are joined by a couple of uses each of "h---" and "b--ch." There're one use of an extremely crude slang term for oral sex. We also hear one misuse of Jesus' name.

Drug and Alcohol Content

William, Elizabeth and Olive smoke throughout. (It's implied that William's eventual lung cancer is linked to his copious smoking.) They and others drink alcohol in private and social settings.

Other Negative Elements

We hear multiple ethnic slurs. Someone says, "The nature of love is pain." A representative from the Decency League points to the fact that the early Wonder Woman comics are "perverse" and filled with "violence, torture and sadomasochism."

Elizabeth, for her part, initially expresses some hesitancy about William's extra-marital sexual appetites. She eventually shrugs it off, saying, "I'm your wife not your jailer." When neighbors ask questions about Olive and her children's live-in status, the Marstons lie and say that Olive's husband was killed and that they simply took her in.

Conclusion

The ads for this appealing-looking period piece—and some of the critic's reviews, quite frankly—have tried to suggest that this is a stylistic, rollicking and "fun" origin story that focuses on the creation of a DC Comics icon. But like your average comic book, that perception is more brightly colored wishful thinking than black-and-white reality.

Yes, we're shown panels from the original 1940s era Wonder Woman comic (featuring the heroine repeatedly tied up in ropes and chains and being slapped or paddled with a hairbrush). But those comic book glances are only used to undergird the real focus here: the contorted sexual relationship and societal struggles of Wonder Woman's creator, his wife and a pretty college student.

For all of the lofty sociological ideas and thoughtful words that William Moulton Marston is credited with in this film, there's one key word that's not explored: deviant.

Yes, I know, in this day and age, raising questions about anyone's sexual choices is considered culturally anathema. But the word deviant—defined as "departing from usual or accepted standards, especially in social or sexual behavior"—is nevertheless a spot-on descriptor for the cinematic subject matter at hand here.

Marston and his partners delight in subverting the status quo, in "intellectually" critiquing the prevailing (at the time) Judeo-Christian understanding of sexuality. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women stylishly does everything it can to deceptively sweeten and romanticize the polyamory, lesbianism and reciprocal sexual subjugation at its core.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Genre

Drama

Author

Cast

Luke Evans as William Moulton Marston; Rebecca Hall as Elizabeth Marston; Bella Heathcote as Olive Byrne; Connie Britton as Dr. Josette Frank; Oliver Platt as M.C. Gaines; Chris Conroy as Brant Gregory

Director

Angela Robinson ( )

Distributor

Annapurna Pictures

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

October 13, 2017

On Video

January 30, 2018

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Bob Hoose

Content Caution