By Tracy Wang
About the psychologist who created the character of Wonder Woman, ‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman’ goes back to the origin of the creator, William Moulton Marston, and reveals the events leading up to this iconic but controversial fictional character. Directed and written by Angela Robinson, the film bravely challenges the norms of heterosexual relationship, parenthood, patriarchy with humor and plot that are destined to make audiences reflect and be a bit uncomfortable.
The film opens with a sombre scene in which professor Marston (Luke Evans) watches a crowd of children and adults who are happily burning his Wonder Woman comic books. Soon, it shifts to many years ago when he was still teaching in a university. Though his wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), is an intelligent woman, she is repeatedly denied professorship. In one of his classes, he met a female student, Olive Bryne, whom he takes instant interest. As Olive becomes an assistant for the couple, a complicated relationship begins, and they start to have a three-people love affair, which eventually costs his job at the university. In order to earn some money, he starts to draw a comic book in which he combines the qualities of both Elizabeth and Olive, and creates a Wonder Woman. A female superhero who fights the evil in a swimsuit-like outfit and the elements of bondage quickly become famous, but also controversial. How did the public view Wonder Woman? How will the public view her now?
This film can be said to be full of significant themes. Human fear of the unknown, ignorance, normalcy, and bullying are all crucial discussion points; along with the theme of sexism, ‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman’ not only explains how Wonder Woman was created but also allows us have a fuller view of the troublesome historical society and further questions what kind of society we have now. The film quickly gives us a taste of the old sexist society by presenting Elizabeth and her constant struggle in acquiring the same treatment, and freedom as men. A woman in the cage of her identity, Elizabeth showcases a woman who desperately wants to break free from the restraints. One of the most touching scenes comes when Elizabeth is typing quickly as a secretary, an occupation that she once despised.
In discussing these rather heavy themes, the film also presents superb acting and dialogues that are filled with humor. From the very beginning, the Marston couple is not the usual one, and humor, at times reaching the point of sarcasm, brings them even more alive. With beautiful actings from Evans and Hall, we laugh and cry with them, and when Professor Marston declares that women are more fit to rule society, because they are of a more loving and caring nature, we all have fallen to his charm and wit, just like those female students in his class.
Though we now know more about the origin and background of the character Wonder Woman, and we feel much closer to the complicated relationship of the creators, some questions asked in the film remain to be asked and discussed. The question as to why such a powerful woman should only wear such revealing clothes by inspector Josette Frank is probably one that has been asked most often. Besides the also controversial scenes that are said to be the same as pornography and the repeated scenes of bondage, the issue of her outfit seems to be against the all powerful anti-sexism character. Why does a female superhero have to wear this revealing outfit? Does the creator still try to cater this image to the patriarchal world? Can a woman only feel powerful and act bravely with this kind of outfit? But some better questions to ask are: why cannot a woman wear whatever they want, and feel powerful? Why do we use a piece of clothes to define a woman’s identity and ability? Why does a woman need to be afraid of wearing such outfit? Finally, was/is the public criticizing Wonder Woman because of her outfit, the bondage, the pornographic materials? Or were/are we just afraid of having a female superhero?
Even though their complex relationship can be a bit uncomfortable or shocking to watch, what this film expresses are not the details of what they do behind a closed door; it is simply a story of how love does not have any boundary in terms of gender or sex, and more importantly, a story of falling in love, and understanding what it takes to love, and be loved.