Movie Review: Professor Marston and the Great Unicorn Hunt

Greetings, new readers! Because this review is about a movie featuring polyamory, it’s attracted a lot of attention from folks who don’t usually read my blog.

I write a number of movie reviews in this style; the snark you see here isn’t reserved for this movie. You can see other examples here and here, or just click the Movie Reviews tag.

I am polyamorous. I am kinky. I have seen at least one Wonder Woman movie. Ergo, I am precisely the target demographic for the movie Fifty Shades of Professor Marston and the Great Wonder Unicorn Hunt Women, the movie that is taking Hollywood by storm as it zooms from first-run theaters to the dollar cinema faster than Starship Troopers 3.

I blinked, and so nearly missed the film in its theatrical release, but never fear! Vancouver has one of those theaters that sells beer and cut-rate tickets, with those chairs that make you sit with your knees in your nose and the floors that are always suspiciously sticky, so I was able to plunk down a few hard-earned Canadian dollars and experience the wonder for myself.

At least I think that’s what that feeling was. It might have been my kidney infection.

The movie goes something like this:

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Why are people burning my comic books?

OUTRAGEOUSLY STRAIGHTLACED WOMAN: It’s the 1940s. That’s what we do. Now, we want to ask you a bunch of leading and excessively moralistic questions about your comic book.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Very well, let me begin with a flashback.

He BEGINS with a FLASHBACK

PROFESSOR MARSTON: My new undergrad psychology student is hot.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: I’ve got bad news and good news. The bad news is this is the 1930s, which means Harvard won’t give me a Ph.D. because I’m a woman. The good news is that this is the 1930s, which means there’s no such thing as an ethics review board, so if you want to sexually groom and then experiment on your undergrad student in really creepy ways that totally objectify her and violate her consent, that’s okay. Also, I have no concept of sexual jealousy.

The polyamorous people in the audience CHEER

ELIZABETH MARSTON: I also have no concept of consent.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Awesome! This will be fun. What is your name, hot undergrad student?

UNICORN: You may call me Unicorn. My mother and aunt are the best-known feminists of this decade. I was raised in a convent, so I am sexually naive and trusting. Plus, I just starred in Fifty Shades Darker, so I have a totally fucked perception of how consent is supposed to work. Also, it kinda makes me this film’s version of the Born Sexy Yesterday trope.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Excellent! Let’s begin, shall we?


WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS, AND POSSIBLY TRIGGERS AS WELL.
PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Unicorn, I see my husband has made you his new TA. That stands for…well, we’ll say it stands for “teaching assistant.” Not that other thing, because that would be objectifying, and shame on you for thinking it. Don’t fuck my husband. Also, he likes his coffee black.

UNICORN: Wait, what?

PROFESSOR MARSTON: I am going to groom Unicorn so that she becomes my sexual plaything.

The audience LAUGHS

PROFESSOR MARSTON: No, seriously, I’m going to groom her, exactly the way sexual predators do. In fact, I’m even going to talk to my wife about grooming her, and outline on a blackboard my theories of dominance and submission in a dramatic closeup, just to drive the point home.

The audience LAUGHS

HUMBERT HUMBERT: I approve.

LOLITA: Shut the fuck up, you’re an unreliable narrator.

HUMBERT HUMBERT: This is an unreliable movie!

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Hey Unicorn, you’re in a sorority, right?

UNICORN: Yes.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Sneak me and my wife into the sorority building when you do those hazing things that you do with the pledges.

UNICORN: Dude! No! That’s creepy and fucked up! What is wrong with you?

PROFESSOR MARSTON: If you are going to be dedicated to the cause of science, you need to be willing to do whatever I say.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Clever.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Thank you! I got it from a cult leader.

UNICORN: Okay.

UNICORN sneaks PROFESSOR MARSTON and ELIZABETH MARSTON into the SORORITY HOUSE. They have a creepy, fucked up scene where UNICORN is forced to HUMILIATE and SPANK a SORORITY PLEDGE without her CONSENT. PROFESSOR MARSTON gets really INTO IT because non-consent is his THING, and starts jilling off ELIZABETH MARSTON while they watch a woman being NONCONSENSUALLY DEGRADED. There is a brief INTERMISSION so the audience can take a SHOWER

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Whew! That was totally hot. For a followup, let’s non-consensually humiliate Unicorn by asking her really personal and invasive questions, and gaslighting her whenever she tries to assert any boundaries.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: You want to fuck my husband.

Unicorn: I do not want to fuck your husband.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: You want to fuck me.

UNICORN: I do not want to fuck you.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Observe, she is exhibiting physiological changes associated with lying! We should use this information to build a lie detector machine which we will use in some really creepy, fucked-up, cringe-inducing scenes later in this film.

UNICORN: This…is kinda gaslighty.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Nonsense. That term won’t even exist for decades yet.

HUMBERT HUMBERT: I like this movie already.

UNICORN: You guys do know I’m engaged, right?

PROFESSOR MARSTON: It won’t last.

UNICORN: How do you know?

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Your fiancé doesn’t get top billing in the movie credits. Plus his character bio on IMDb is blank.

EXPENDABLE FIANCÉ: Wait, what? I’m the only person in this entire movie who even raises the slightest hint of concern that some fucked-up shit is happening! I—

ELIZABETH MARSTON: I’m sorry, did you say something?

UNICORN: I want to go to grad school and become a journalist.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: A journalist! It’s so cute when you have ambitions. I’ll write a letter of recommendation for you! And then subtly fuck with your head to make you more dependent on my husband and me. In fact, let’s wire my husband up to a prototype lie-detector in a creepy, fucked-up, cringe-inducing scene where he fucks with your head by revealing his feelings for you!

They wire PROFESSOR MARSTON to a prototype LIE DETECTOR in a creepy, fucked-up, cringe-inducing SCENE

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Do you love me?

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Yes.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Do you love Unicorn?

PROFESSOR MARSTON: No.

LIE DETECTOR: Beep bleep scribble scribble doo.

UNICORN: I’m feeling a little uncomfortable here, with both our personal and professional boundaries. At least, that’s what I would say if I had a healthy sense of boundaries, which I don’t, because I’m 22 years old and completely naive and I’m being groomed by sexual predators.

They wire UNICORN to a prototype LIE DETECTOR in a creepy, fucked-up, cringe-inducing SCENE

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Do you love me?

UNICORN: No.

LIE DETECTOR: Beep bleep scribble scribble doo.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Do you love my wife?

UNICORN: No.

LIE DETECTOR: Beep bleep scribble scribble doopy-doopy doo.

The audience LAUGHS, because her LIPS are saying NO but her BODY is saying YES, amirite?

UNICORN: Okay, this has really gone to a twisted place, and I’m not comfortable with the casual lack of any sort of boundaries here. At least, that’s what I would say if I had a healthy sense of boundaries, which I don’t, because remember? Naive and being taken advantage of by a couple of people twice my age who also just so happen to have the keys to my entire fucking academic future in their hands, in a society that doesn’t even consider women to be fully human, much less worthy of being listened to when their boundaries or consent are violated. Instead, I’m going to rush out dramatically so that Elizabeth can chase me and then some fucked-up shit can happen.

UNICORN rushes out of the ROOM, pursued by ELIZABETH. UNICORN is feeling VULNERABLE AND EXPOSED, so naturally they KISS

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Bom-chicka-wow-wow!

They have the most CRINGE-INDUCING NOT-REALLY-CONSENSUAL SEX SCENE since that one scene in the first BLADERUNNER

RACHEL: Hey, now! I am an artificially-constructed, synthetic organism specifically designed and built to be a slave. Don’t be bringing me into this! Even I think what’s going on here is fucked up.

ELIZABETH MARSTON and PROFESSOR MARSTON and UNICORN all walk through CAMPUS making LOVEY-DOVEY EYES at each other

EXPENDABLE FIANCÉ: Everyone knows what you’re doing. I’m breaking up with you.

The audience LAUGHS

EXPENDABLE FIANCÉ: Wait, what? How is that funny? I’m, like, the only person in this goddamn movie who even raises the slightest hint that my fiancée being sexually groomed by two people in a position of authority over her might in any slight way be kinda not okay, and—

ELIZABETH MARSTON: I’m so happy. We’re so happy. We’re all so happy together.

THE MARSTON FAMILY: Wait, what? Like, none of this happened. For starters, Professor Marston threatened to leave his wife if she didn’t let Unicorn move in with them. And another thing—

ANGELA ROBINSON: Did I ask you? I don’t recall asking you. I’m the director and this is my movie. If I say it happened, it happened.

THE MARSTON FAMILY: But—

ANGELA ROBINSON: Security!

PROFESSOR MARSTON: We just got fired.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Okay, we’re done. Unicorn, get out.

UNICORN: Wait, what?

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Haven’t you seen the official polyamory couple looking for a third flowchart? It’s the rule. As soon as the unicorn becomes the slightest bit inconvenient, the couple re-assert their primacy and kick her out. You knew when you signed up!

UNICORN: No, I actually didn’t know when I signed up, because the two of you have the most shit communication skills I’ve ever seen outside a Hollywood romantic comedy. I mean, seriously, poly folks keep going on about how important communication is, and you two are, like, the most shit of shit people ever to shit a shit when it comes to communication. What the fuck is wrong with you?

ELIZABETH MARSTON: I’m sorry, did you say something?

UNICORN: Also, I’m pregnant.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Oh, that’s so wonderful! Do you hear that, my darling husband? We’re going to be parents! All three of us can live together!

UNICORN: Really? You mean it?

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Of course! You can be our live-in nanny and housemaid and take care of your kids and our kids, and—

UNICORN: Wait, what?

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Don’t interrupt, dear, I’m not finished. Take care of your kids and our kids, and also cook and clean house for us!

UNICORN:

ELIZABETH MARSTON: You’re the unicorn. It’s what unicorns do. Didn’t you read the flowchart?

They MOVE IN TOGETHER and have MORE KIDS. UNICORN takes care of the KIDS and also COOKS and CLEANS and STUFF

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Ah, look, a lingerie shop! I think I will go inside.

PROFESSOR MARSTON goes inside the LINGERIE SHOP

CREEPY DUDE: Do you like high heels?

PROFESSOR MARSTON: They’re okay, I guess.

CREEPY DUDE: Are you a police officer or a postal inspector or Sonny Crockett?

SONNY CROCKETT: Hey now, leave me out of this shit-show. I spend my time undercover busting human traffickers and child pornographers and stuff. I want nothing to do with you lot.

RACHEL: You want to go get a drink?

SONNY CROCKETT: Replicant lady, I will follow you into a wood chipper if it gets me away from these people.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Um, no?

CREEPY DUDE: Do you, like, like like high heels, like, in that way you like something when, you know, you really like it?

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Umm…dude, you’re kind of creepy and you’re making me kind of uncomfortable. At least that’s what I’d say if I had any kind of boundaries at all. But given that this movie is what it is…sure! Let’s say I do. What’ve you got for me?

CREEPY DUDE: Let me open this secret door, see, and…

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Wife! Unicorn! Check it out! I’ve just discovered BDSM porn!

ELIZABETH MARSTON: BDSM porn? What’s that?

UNICORN: Don’t you guys ever look at the Internet?

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Let’s go visit the creepy dude and stage the least realistic scene ever filmed in any movie, and I include Hot Tub Time Machine in that list!

THE ENTIRE CAST OF HOT TUB TIME MACHINE: No. No. Oh, hell no. Do not drag us into this. Hey Sonny, replicant lady, you got any room in that wood chipper?

PROFESSOR MARSTON and ELIZABETH MARSTON and UNICORN go back to the LINGERIE SHOP. The CREEPY DUDE ties up a RANDOM WOMAN

PROFESSOR MARSTON: I want to tie up Unicorn.

UNICORN: Okay.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: I am going to make a big show of being offended at the idea of bondage and stomp out.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: I will follow you out, leaving Unicorn alone with Creepy Dude.

UNICORN: I have just had my two lovers stomp out of the room arguing, leaving me alone with a creepy dude. I will now do the most unrealistic thing ever in any Hollywood movie ever filmed, and I include Hot Tub Time Machine in that list, by going through the creepy dude’s wardrobe dressing up in costumes while I’m here alone with a creepy dude in an unfamiliar place while my lovers are arguing, because that’s totally how Hollywood believes people get into BDSM.

They have the most unrealistic scene in any HOLLYWOOD MOVIE, including HOT TUB TIME MACHINE. Every person in the AUDIENCE who is even passingly familiar with kink GROANS. The ENTIRE CAST of HOT TUB TIME MACHINE walks into a WOOD CHIPPER

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Unicorn, do you want me to tie you up?

UNICORN: Oh, sure, NOW you ask for my consent. Sure, why not?

ELIZABETH MARSTON: I will now tie you up.

UNICORN: Wait, what? Just five minutes ago you were having a dramatic meltdown about how awful bondage is. Nobody, and I mean nobody, spins around that fast. Isn’t this, like, the second most unrealistic scene ever shot in any Hollywood movie?

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Yeah, and?

ELIZABETH MARSTON ties up UNICORN in the SECOND MOST UNREALISTIC SCENE ever shot in any HOLLYWOOD MOVIE

THE MARSTON FAMILY: Literally nothing like this ever happened.

ANGELA ROBINSON: Security!

PROFESSOR MARSTON: I am going to make a new comic book. It will be filled with bondage.

PROFESSOR MARSTON makes a new COMIC BOOK. It is filled with BONDAGE

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Let’s have a kinky bondage threesome.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Okay!

UNICORN: Okay!

They have a KINKY BONDAGE THREESOME. The neighbor next door WALKS IN ON THEM

NEIGHBORS: We think you guys are perverts. We will shun you now. Shun the perverts! Shun!

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Unicorn, this is all your fault. We must protect our family by kicking you out of the house.

UNICORN: Wait, what? How does that make any sense? The cat is already out of the bag! The horses have bolted, the barn has burned down, and the farm has been bought, paved over, and turned into a McDonald’s parking lot! How on earth does kicking me out now solve anything? And also, why is this my fault?

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Read the flowchart. If the couple encounters any problem, they re-assert their primary relationship and blame the unicorn. It’s all right there. Oh, and we will make you bring our kids over here on weekends, because Professor Marston is the father, but you will not be allowed to see our kids, even though you raised them. Besides, my husband and I are, like, productive members of society, but I don’t even know who you are.

UNICORN: I’m the bright young student who was engaged to be married and was going to become a journalist until two people twice my age decided to groom me and then gaslight me into being your live-in sex toy slash maid slash nanny.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Whatever.

UNICORN: You’re a terrible human being, you know that?

ELIZABETH MARSTON: You knew the rules when you signed on.

UNICORN: No, actually, I didn’t.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Aaaaaaaand that’s the flashback. Now I will do some dramatic exposition in front of you, Outrageously Straightlaced Woman, featuring some of the most terrible dialog ever to be seen outside one of the Star Wars prequels.

ANAKIN SKYWALKER: Nooooooooooooooooooo! Do not want!

PROFESSOR MARSTON does some UNNECESSARY GRANDSTANDING featuring TERRIBLE DIALOG, and then COLLAPSES DRAMATICALLY. ANAKIN SKYWALKER follows the cast of HOT TUB TIME MACHINE into the WOOD CHIPPER. The dialog WEDGES

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Hey Unicorn, Professor Marston is in the hospital.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: I’m dying of cancer. Tell her! Tell her the thing!

ELIZABETH MARSTON: You tell her.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: No, you tell her!

ELIZABETH MARSTON: You tell her!

PROFESSOR MARSTON: No, you tell her!

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Will you forgive me for being, like, the worst human being ever, completely disregarding your feelings, treating you like you’re totally expendable, and generally being just about as shitty as one person can be to another person without involving the use of a meat cleaver?

UNICORN: No.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Hang on a minute! No? You’re not supposed to say no!

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Let’s use emotional manipulation on her.

The audience LAUGHS

PROFESSOR MARSTON: No, seriously, I’m going to emotionally manipulate her. In fact, I’m going to do some completely unnecessary exposition right now describing exactly how I’m emotionally manipulating her.

UNICORN: Are you for real?

PROFESSOR MARSTON: I know! Try a non-apology apology, only without saying you’re sorry!

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Okay.

ELIZABETH MARSTON gives the least convincing NON-APOLOGY APOLOGY since KEVIN SPACEY’S TWEETS. She never once says she’s SORRY

UNICORN: All is forgiven.

ELIZABETH MARSTON: Great! So you’ll move back in, cook and clean, take care of the kids, and be a live-in maid, then?

UNICORN: Sure, if you buy me a new stove.

PROFESSOR MARSTON: Deal.

PROFESSOR MARSTON DIES. The movie EN—

EXPOSITION TEXT: And they lived happily ever after.

THE MARSTON FAMILY: Wait, what? This is not even close to how it happened. In fact, you didn’t even get Elizabeth Marston’s job right. You said she was a secretary. She was actually an editor for Encyclopedia Britannica. Do you even read Wikipedia?

ANGELA ROBINSON: Security!

THE MARSTON FAMILY: Oh, never mind. We’ll just follow Anakin into that wood chipper. Anything to get away from this travesty.

The movie ENDS

4 thoughts on “Movie Review: Professor Marston and the Great Unicorn Hunt

  1. I mean – I get your points, but you also kind of refute them at the same time. This is a movie about people who in the ’40s didn’t have the resources we do now. Would a lot of us be able to be as well grounded in our polyamory if we didn’t have resources to help us? If the movie had modern dynamics, it would feel out of place and unrealistic. Comparing it to 50 shades is a bad comparison because of the times the movie is set in. The characters in 50 shades should know better – the characters here, should they?

    Even in your own book talks about the many many ways you and your partners screwed things up through the years. So – while I agree that the movie doesn’t send the best messages, it doesn’t necessarily champion them either.

    When Elizabeth kicks Olive out of the house – it’s not portrayed as something good. While they’re the main focus of the movie – I’m not sure I ever saw them as heroes, just flawed characters and that’s usually the point of a movie right? Seeing flawed characters make poor decisions and dealing with the consequences?

    I think watching the movie again is needed, but I don’t think it’s necessarily harmful either. Our response imo shouldn’t be to shun the movie but – now that you see how difficult it is to navigate without any support, know there’s community to help you not make such awful decisions.

    • This isn’t a movie about making poly mistakes, though. This is a movie about two sexual predators grooming, harassing, gaslighting and abusing a student. That’s what makes it polyamory’s 50 Shades. It’s a movie about abuse that isn’t portrayed as abuse.

      Plenty of people in the 1920s and 1930s managed to have non-abusive relationships, sometimes even plural ones. And Freud had been writing about transference since the 1880s–the Marstons, as professors of psychology, certainly knew about it.

      The resource that was needed then that they’d have now isn’t a polyamorous community. It’s Title IX, research ethics boards, and the power of social media to expose bad behaviour. Unfortunately, we know that predators like the Marstons are still being protected in academia, but thankfully, this is changing, and we can reasonably hope that–perhaps with the help of a timely Buzzfeed article or hashtag campaign–they’d be brought down and never be allowed near students (or research dollars) again.

      And if our community looks at what happened in this movie and thinks “Oh, they’re just making newbie mistakes, just like we all do,” we have a very serious problem.

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