‘Professor Marston And The Wonder Women’ Uses The Safe Biopic Playbook To Do Something Dangerous

Senior Editor
10.09.17 14 Comments

Annapurna Pictures

Years ago, then-director of D.E.B.S. and producer of The L Word Angela Robinson ran into Laeta Kalogridis, writer of an early draft of what would eventually become Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman. Robinson had been reading about Wonder Woman’s controversial creator, William Marston, and regaled Kalogridis with anecdotes about the disgraced former Harvard psychology professor, who was fired for sleeping with a student, lived in a plural marriage, and used the comic as a vehicle for his ideas about feminism and bondage. Kalogridis didn’t think she could incorporate much of it, but was so intrigued that she told Robinson, “you have to make that.”

So Robinson did. And in an insane bit of cosmic movie kismet, Robinson’s movie is now opening the same year as Jenkins’ Wonder Woman movie, which became the all-time highest-grossing movie directed by a woman, in addition to setting other records. Robinson could only credit dumb luck for the timing, since Wonder Woman had been in development for the better part of a decade and $150 million movies rarely adhere to the initial schedule.

As a filmmaker, though, Robinson is more than lucky. In Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, she uses the artistically safest, the most tried-and-true format — the prestige biopic — to tell a story that’s anything but.

Welsh chin merchant Luke Evans plays Professor William Marston, a Harvard psychology professor who’s trying to sell students on his theories of manipulation. DISC theory, as Marston has named it, seeks to try to explain how humans and systems can control other humans (this is pre-WWII, remember, a time of burgeoning totalitarianism). DISC has four eponymous principles: Domination, Inducement, Submission, and Compliance. If the one who seeks to dominate is powerful, Marston tells it, he may achieve compliance — people reluctantly going with the program. But the true goal is submission — willing obedience — which requires inducement. That is, something they’ll get out of it, positive reinforcement.

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