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Film / Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

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"I wonder if you're the one with a secret identity."

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a 2017 Romantic Drama Biopic written and directed by Angela Robinson (D.E.B.S.) and distributed by Annapurna Pictures.

The film is based on the lives of polygraph inventor Dr. William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston (Rebecca Hall), and their domestic partner Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) as they each contributed to the creation of an iconic superheroine, Wonder Woman. Connie Britton and Oliver Platt also star.

An initial teaser was shown before some screenings of the live-action Wonder Woman film during its opening weekend and was then released on YouTube on June 5th, 2017, along with an interactive flash webcomic (no, not that Flash) featuring illustrations of Evans, Hall, and Heathcote in-character as the Marstons and Byrne, respectively.

Not to be confused with Wonder Women.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women contains examples of the following tropes:

  • The '40s: Set in the early 1940s, though the extended flashbacks go back as far as 1925.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Near the end, Elizabeth (at the encouragement of William) went on her knees and pled for Olive to stay with them/her.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Several. Perhaps the most notable are Olive's first, desperate confession of love to Elizabeth, and Elizabeth's to Olive in the final scenes.
  • Based on a True Story: The line appears at the beginning of the film, though the Marstons' granddaughter has challenged its accuracy. Among other things, the Marstons were never fired for their relationship with Olive, and apparently managed to keep it under wraps for decades. There is also no evidence that Elizabeth and Olive were lovers; the true relationship between the three is unknown even today.note 
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: William's view of how to organize society is unconventional to say the least and has nothing to do with conventional ethics or politics.
  • Book Burning: The film opens on William seeing children burn Wonder Woman comics, and it turns out this is because they were denounced as morally corrupting for minors.
  • Brains and Bondage: The Marstons are Harvard-educated and develop a taste for BDSM (though Elizabeth more reluctantly).
  • Closet Gay: Olive and Elizabeth are forced to keep it secret that both are bisexual, given the homophobia in the time when they live.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Period attitudes about women, homosexuality, polyamory, and smoking, among other things, play significant roles in the plot.
  • Disposable Fiancé: Olive is engaged when she meets the Marstons, but her fiance learns of what's going on and walks out of the movie.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The equipment for the polygraph deliberately invokes both bondage and Wonder Woman's Lasso of Truth (and were likely inspirations).
  • Everybody Smokes: Appropriately for a Period Piece, it also foreshadows Marston's untimely death.
  • Feminist Fantasy: Marston purposefully created Wonder Woman as one such, explaining how empowering she can be for the women of tomorrow.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: Josette Frank faults William in writing Wonder Woman as she believes, among other things, he's implicitly endorsing lesbianism due to her frequent catchphrase invoking ancient Greek poet Sappho, famous for her erotic poetry about love between women, claiming he's advocating an "emotional illness".
  • Historical Beauty Update: The real William Marston wasn't a bad looking man, but he wasn't Luke Evans either.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Josette Frank is portrayed as wanting to censor comics like Wonder Woman she believes are corrupting for minors. The real Frank was actually a strong pro-comics supporter, and was later attacked for this by people who did hold such views. In fact, the most criticism she ever had for Wonder Woman was sending a single letter. Frank had no authority to even attempt censoring it, and never interrogated Marston.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: William starts coughing during his interrogation, signaling the cancer that would eventually kill him.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Elizabeth tells William bluntly that no one is ever going to publish his comics. Cue the Wonder Woman comics outselling Superman.
  • Kinky Spanking: A ritualistic "baby party" in Olive's fraternity involves spanking members who break the rules. While it was probably not meant to be sexual, the Marstons get turned on by it. Spankings then turn up frequently in the Wonder Woman comics.
  • Lie Detector: William Moulton Marston was the inventor of the polygraph, which is commonly used as a lie detector test. It's used in the film partly as a way for the characters to reveal their true feelings.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Elizabeth and Olive are both very feminine bisexuals. They have the expected femme hairstyles and clothing women in the early 20th century wore.
  • Living Lie Detector: Elizabeth has developed something of a skill for this as part of the couple's research on lying. She rattles off a list of signs of deception when Olive lies to her, leading to a realization about one that they can measure by machine.
  • Locked Away in a Monastery: Olive was the daughter of the feminist activist Ethel Byrne and the niece of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, but due to circumstances she was sent to live in a convent school from early childhood onward. The Marstons note the irony of a girl of such a lineage being raised by nuns.
  • Making the Masterpiece: The film's central story is framed around the creation of Wonder Woman.
  • Moral Guardians: Wonder Woman gets attacked by them due to Marston's kinky themes, and a Framing Device for most of the film involves him being interrogated by a child-protection group.
  • The Muse: Elizabeth Holloway Marston and Olive Byrne served as inspiration for the Wonder Woman character in different ways.
  • Out of the Closet, Into the Fire: Olive, Elizabeth and William getting outed as a bisexual polyamorous trio results in the latter two being fired. Later, William and Olive's son is beat up for it by other children, while they're told to leave the neighborhood.
  • Pen Name: The film touches on William's original pseudonym of "Charles Moulton," which he initially used to protect his reputation as a scientist, since comic books were seen as being disposable and vulgar things for children at the time.
  • Polyamory: Part of the film's plot involves the Marstons' romantic relationship with Olive Byrne, who remained with Elizabeth even after William's death.
  • Secret Relationship: Elizabeth, Olive and William keep the fact they're together secret (or at least they try to) as bisexuality (along with polyamory) are taboos, deemed "sex deviations" in the early 20th century.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Everybody drops F-bombs in the film, but Elizabeth's are almost constant.
  • Sorry to Interrupt: A neighbor walks in on the Marstons and Olive having a threesome in their living room, and has the predictable reaction.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Olive is a student in one of Bill Marston's classes when their affair starts.
  • Think of the Children!: What Josette Frank keeps bringing up as Marston explains his philosophy, and what the Moral Guardians bring up to justify censoring his works.
  • Threeway Sex: William, Elizabeth and Olive, as a polyamorous trio, all have sex together multiple times.
  • Tsundere: Elizabeth is very willful and constantly argues with William, but her tender side does come out with some prodding.
  • Wolverine Publicity: The official title of the film is evocative of the Wonder Woman name (and Olive's outfit on its poster bears a great resemblance with the teaser poster of the character's feature film adaptation released around the same time), but it's less about her than the people who created and inspired her.
  • Women Are Wiser: Sort of. Marston believes that women should rule the world to make it more peaceful. However this is as much to do with his belief that women are better at inducing submission as with them being wiser than men.