Professor Marston and The Wonder Women
The secret identity of this film is the brilliant mutation of message into narrative structure.
To be free from constraint is to be free to submit. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women shuns typical narrative structure to connect the Audience deeply with its subject matter. Honest and sincere, the film opens us up to a new way of thinking about our relationship with love.
Influence Character as Protagonist
The first stand-out concept a writer learns when encountering the Dramatica theory of story is this idea of splitting the objective character function of the Protagonist away from the subjective emotional concerns of the Main Character. Many blend the two into the same concept of narrative; many blind themselves to an accurate understanding of how narrative works.
The Protagonist pursues and considers the resolution of the story’s problem, an act of Initiative seen objectively and without empathy. The Main Character offers perspective—a profoundly emotional point-of-view that only we, the Audience, share with them.
Sometimes, many times, these two facets of narrative find their place within the same player. Neo, Skywalker, William Munny, and Wonder Woman represent the force of initiative in their respective stories while simultaneously delivering a first-person account of the conflict.
There are narratives where the Main Character is not the one driving the story forward.
And that’s OK.
Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, E.T. in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Reese in The Terminator, and Westley in The Princess Bride all drive the pursuit of conflict resolution in their stories—but from a distant emotionally-detached point-of-view. These Influence Characters as Protagonists offer Authors an opportunity to explore complex and sophisticated methods of dramatic conflict. They also allow Audience members the chance to experience a narrative more often than not representative of their own experience in life: that of not being in control.
And control is at the very heart of all things Professor Marston.
A Chance to Submit
Elizabeth Marston (Rebecca Hall) is a submissive. Yearning to be dominated, she seeks to project that need onto others (Main Character Problem of Control). To place her in a position of driving the story, of controlling the world around her and seeking out her own true identity, would have been to diminish our experience of Elizabeth’s submissive nature. The default in Hollywood is to give the central character agency—to place them in charge—a disastrous option given this film’s subject matter. Writer/director Angela Robinson chose the better alternative.
An Attempt to Dominate
The Objective Story Throughline concerns the irresponsible distribution of offensive material within the Wonder Woman comic book series (Objective Story Issue of Responsibility). As Antagonist and head of the Child Study Association of America, Josette Frank (Connie Britton) represents the forces of Reticence—those of prevention and reconsideration. More than merely a series of flashbacks, her interrogation of William Marston (Luke Evans) offers us a glimpse at domination from a distant third-person perspective (Objective Story Problem of Control). Her fear and the fear of Conservative America at that time was the unholy transformation of their children into perverted and depraved adults (Objective Story Concern of Becoming).
How silly to even consider putting Elizabeth on the other side of the table.
Instead, it is Marston himself who drives the conversation forward as Protagonist. His DISC theory, and the submission of man to a “loving authority,” is an attempt to change the way the world thinks about the current male-dominated power structure (Objective Story Throughline of Psychology). By driving the discussion away from talk of sin & temptation and towards what is right and genuinely decent, Marston eventually beats Josette (Objective Story Focus of Temptation & Objective Story Direction of Conscience). Sure, this victory came posthumously-revealed in cards and heralded with Gloria Steinem’s use of Wonder Woman to launch her feminist magazine—but a win nonetheless. The social landscape in America today stands in stark contrast to the kink-averse society of the mid-20th century (Story Goal of Becoming & Story Outcome of Success).
The Heart of a Narrative
Note the complete lack of emotion in the previous section. Concerns found within the Objective Story Throughline perspective—by definition—are cold and objective. No character arc. No emotional wounds. Only Initiative & Reticence, Goal & Consequence, Failure or Success. All logical. From start to finish.
The subjective Throughlines, those of the Main Character, Influence Character, and Relationship Story Throughlines, care to matters of the heart. They work in concert with the Objective Story—both the Main Character and Objective Story Throughlines of Marston center on the Problem of Control—but they complement and augment the experience with the passionate view of working through that conflict.
The Challenge to Grow
Polyamory is a philosophy of being in love with more than one person at the same time. What better way to construct a film about these kinds of relationships than to infuse the story structure with multiple Influence Characters and a shared Relationship Story Throughline.
Both Marston and Bella Heathcote (Olive Byrne) challenge Elizabeth with their idealistic viewpoint and steadfast love (Influence Character Throughline of Mind & Influence Character Concern of Subconscious). To them, living outside of your truth is to deny who you indeed are (Influence Character Issue of Denial) and this perspective directly impacts Elizabeth’s concern with how the rest of the world will treat them (Main Character Issue of Preconception).
The trio’s relationship and their engagement in activities many in the community find repulsive defines the stage for their unique bond (Relationship Story Throughline of Physics & Relationship Story Issue of Altruism). Propelled by their belief in the other to always be there, their loving and caring relationship fizzles with Elizabeth’s conclusion that things will never work out for them (Relationship Story Problem of Faith & Relationship Story Solution of Disbelief).
The combination of the Influence Character Throughline perspective and the activities in the Relationship Story Throughline eventually drive Elizabeth to open up and engage a part of herself she previously denied (Main Character Growth of Start). By letting go of her inhibitions and dropping to her knees, Elizabeth fulfills her deepest desires and brings peace to the story’s central conflict (Main Character Solution of Free, Main Character Resolve of Changed, & Story Judgment of Good).
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women tells the story of free love & free self. By infusing the concepts of domination and submission into the very structure of the narrative, the film elevates its nature beyond mere kink and titillation. Marston sought to change the way we think through his art; Robinson finishes what he started with a complete and compelling narrative argument.