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The Art of Self-Defense | 2019 | R | – 6.7.5

content-ratingsWhy is “The Art of Self-Defense” rated R? The MPAA rating has been assigned for “violence, sexual content, graphic nudity and language.” The evaluation includes a masturbation scene and a reference to masturbation along with many references to male superiority over women and photos of bare breasts and full frontal male nudity; a death by gunshot, a suicide by hanging, many scenes of fights using karate moves with some ending in bloody injuries, references to murder by gun and by hand to hand combat, and the death of a dog; and at least 6 F-words. Read our parents’ guide below for details on sexual content, violence & strong language.”

After recovering from a brutal attack by bikers that left a timid bookkeeper (Jesse Eisenberg) severely injured and terrified to go out at night, he decides to learn how to defend himself by joining a karate dojo. Initially he gains newfound confidence due to the inspirational Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) and star fellow student (Imogen Poots), but soon discovers that the dojo hides a sinister secret. Also with Steve Terada and Phillip Andre Botello. Directed by Riley Stearns. Several lines of dialogue are spoken in French and German with English subtitles. [Running Time: 1:44]

The Art of Self-Defense SEX/NUDITY 6

 – A man looks at a photocopy of a magazine page with several photos of women’s bare breasts and masturbates (we briefly see his shoulder moving rhythmically).
 Several men remove their clothes after a karate class to cool down and all but one are shown wearing their briefs or boxers: one man is completely nude and we see his genitals and buttocks, as well as the chest, abdomen, back and legs of the rest, as they stretch each other out and massage each other. A man’s computer screen has an image of bare breasts on it as he practices speaking German in his office cubicle. A man reads a men’s magazine and we see several pages of photographs of women’s bare breasts (we see these pages and photocopies of these pages several times throughout the movie). Two men in a locker room are shown shirtless and wearing boxer briefs and boxers respectively (bare chests, abdomens, backs and legs are seen) while another man undresses and we see his briefs and bare legs. Several sealed condoms are seen in a desk drawer in an office.
 A man takes another man to a small room where a woman is seated and tells him to cool down with her, “Even though her hands are weaker than a man’s hands,” and the man takes off his jacket (we see his bare chest and abdomen) as he sits on the floor in front of the woman and she massages his shoulders and back; she then takes off her jacket (we see her wearing a sports bra that reveals bare shoulders and back) and she stands in front of him saying, “My turn.”
 After a man punches another man (please see the Violence/Gore category for more details), and he tells the injured man that he “masturbates to the thought of his wife in her bathing suit.” A man and a woman make up a story about another man seated alone in a café and talk about him reading personal ads and make explicit sexually suggestive remarks (they speak in French assuming that he cannot understand them). A man talks about a lot of testosterone in a karate dojo. Men talk about women being weak and men being more capable in several scenes throughout the movie. A man tells another man that his name is “feminine sounding.” Three men in an office break room talk about the sexual positions they prefer.

The Art of Self-Defense VIOLENCE/GORE 7

 – A man is shot in the head and blood sprays from the wound onto a wall and pools under him on the floor (we see blood on the bullet hole in his head). A man holds another man’s arm outstretched and punches the elbow hard, snapping it (we see blood as the arm, elbow and on the man’s sleeve) and the injured man falls to his knees screaming in pain. A man walks alone in a dark street, a motorcycle pulls beside him and the rider asks the man if he has a gun and then speeds away; we later see the man walking in the same dark street and the motorcycle chases him, he runs and the rider chases him on foot, hits him in the head (he falls to the ground), the rider kicks him repeatedly and several others kick him while he lies on the ground (we see his bloody mouth and nose and later see him recovering in the hospital with bruises on his face). A woman approaches a man on a street and he draws a gun, he shoots her in the leg and a man gets the gun from the man and beats him with it, slams his head into a fire hydrant and leaves him on the ground with a very bloody head wound (he is presumably dead). A man and a woman fight in a karate class and the woman holds the man around the throat, kicks him in the crotch twice and squeezes his throat until he passes out, and she then punches him in the face repeatedly (we see blood on his face and nose and the mat) while he is unconscious (we see him bandaged later).
 A man punches another man in the face and the man falls to the ground hitting his head (we hear a crunch and blood pools on the ground under his head). A man kicks another man in the face and he falls to the floor, pulling a bloody tooth out of his mouth. A man punches another man in the throat and he falls to his knees gagging while the attacker talks about the other man’s wife in sexual terms (please see the Sex/Nudity category for more details). A man swings at another man several times and his punches are blocked; the second man hits him and he falls back onto the floor (he has a bloody nose) and the man presses his foot on his throat and threatens him. A man watches a video of a man beating him and stomping on his head (we see the man unconscious on the ground with a bloody face). A man directs a dog to attack another man and we hear crunching and screaming off-screen (we see the man dead on the floor with a lot of blood on his throat).
 A TV movie shows a man with a bloody face after a presumed beating as another man shoots him (off-screen). A man finds his dog motionless on the floor and we see him at a veterinary hospital where he is told that the dog died from injuries sustained from a beating (the doctor talks about X-rays that showed bruising and broken bones and that the dog had blood on his canines from biting his assailant). We hear a squish off-screen and see a man’s bloody index finger (implying that he stuck his finger in a head wound on another man). We see a blood smear on the wall of a karate dojo. A body is dragged across a floor and placed on a conveyor belt and rolled into an incinerator; we see the flames spray onto the body as the outside door is closed. A man with a cast on his arm is shown hanging from a ceiling dead (presumably from suicide).
 A man hits another man’s car when he swings his door open in a parking lot and they argue briefly; one man shoves the other man and he drops his bag of groceries (the second man drives home crying). A man yells at three other men in their office break room and tells one man to get out of his seat so the man can sit there (the man gets up and leaves the room).
 A man kicks another man in the chest in a karate class and the second man falls to the floor (he’s winded but OK). Two men in a locker room demonstrate holds and movements that can be used during an attack (please see the Sex/Nudity category for more details). A woman demonstrates a karate hold on a child in a class and holds him tightly around the throat causing him to fall unconscious (we see him OK later). A man slaps another man in the face and tells him to attack another man and exact revenge.
 A man challenges another man to “An unarmed fight to the death.” A woman teaches a children’s karate class and talks to them about punching an opponent in the nose, stating “Punching his nose up into his brain,” as wells as causing other injuries like breaking bones. A man talks about his boss being the worst and threatens to “punch him in the throat”; later another man talks about burning down the boss’ house. A man goes to a gun shop to buy a handgun and the sales person shares some information about background checks and gun safety statistics. People talk about guns being for the weak in several scenes. A man on talks to another man over the phone and tells him about the benefits of owning a gun over a knife. A man on an answering machine tells another man that he will have to let him go from his job if he doesn’t come in to work. A man talks about another man having been killed in a hiking accident when another man shot him in the face with a shotgun. A man talks about another man having killed three people during fights to the death and that he used a move where he would punch a hole into their heads using his index finger. A man tells another man that everything in his life should be as “masculine as possible” (like the music he listens to, the breed of dog he has, the foreign language he speaks, etc.). A woman tells a man, “This isn’t a safe place.” A woman tells a man, “Never hold back.” A man confronts another man about killing his dog (the man denies it). A man says about a woman, “Her being a woman will prevent her from being a man.” A man says, “Karate is for men.” A man talks about giving people a red stripe on their karate belt for ending a life. A woman describes killing a man that attacked her by strangling him with a belt until his eyes burst. A man tells another man, “I am going to kill you. Do you want to know why?”
 A man enters his home and finds a German Shepard dog inside that growls at him as he reads a note that explains that he needs to prove that he is the “Alpha” or the dog “Will chew through your throat in your sleep.” Several men punch boards in a karate class and all but one break the boards in half; the last man yells when he is unable to break his board. A man punches a side mirror off a truck and flattens one of its tires. Several men practice a stance and a yell in a karate class and the Sensei tells one man that his is “horrible.” A man hears sounds from a karate dojo and goes inside to watch several men practicing; one man makes several movements including one that appears to be him pulling out the heart of an opponent and then stomping on it. A couple of people are shown to be disappointed when they are passed over for promotion in a karate class. People listen to metal music played extremely loudly in several scenes.
 A drunken man stumbles into a parking garage and urinates on the floor (we hear the trickle and see the stream and a puddle forms on the floor). A man cleans a toilet in a karate dojo (we do not see any grime). We see a bite wound on a man’s arm.

The Art of Self-Defense LANGUAGE 5

 – About 6 F-words, 5 sexual references, 3 scatological terms, 1 anatomical term, 1 mild obscenity, name-calling (disgusting, less than, insane), 1 religious profanity (GD). | profanity glossary |

The Art of Self-Defense SUBSTANCE USE

 – A packet of white powder is seen in a desk drawer in an office (it could be a drug). A man drinks from a bottle of alcohol in his home.

The Art of Self-Defense DISCUSSION TOPICS

 – Self-defense, masculinity, testosterone, Alpha males, sexism, rules, gun violence statistics, suicide, intimidation, karate, revenge, sacrifice, pain, murder, conviction, believing in yourself, fear of the dark, fear.

The Art of Self-Defense MESSAGE

 – Hyper-masculinity is toxic and can have predictable and ominous consequences.


Be aware that while we do our best to avoid spoilers it is impossible to disguise all details and some may reveal crucial plot elements.

We've gone through several editorial changes since we started covering films in 1992 and older reviews are not as complete & accurate as recent ones; we plan to revisit and correct older reviews as resources and time permits.

Our ratings and reviews are based on the theatrically-released versions of films; on video there are often Unrated, Special, Director's Cut or Extended versions, (usually accurately labelled but sometimes mislabeled) released that contain additional content, which we did not review.

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