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I will be the first one to tell you that I do not know anything about karate. It's a sport (practice?) that I have never even attempted, but I do know enough about it to discern what isn't karate. And as I watched the film, The Art of Self-Defense, I found myself constantly thinking—this definitely is not karate! I walked into this film expecting to watch the journey of a man who achieves inner peace through the development and refinement of his craft, but found something much more sinister. The characters in this film all enter a dojo** on a daily basis to practice (what they believe to be) martial arts in community with one another. And they truly believe that they are practicing this ancient art. The characters, however, practice something completely different. Instead, they practice the age-old tradition of toxic masculinity.
Casey, played by Jesse Eisenberg, must navigate the fears and insecurities of life after falling victim to a mugging at the hands of a mysterious motorcycle gang. After the attack, he stumbles upon the dojo and ultimately decides to enroll in martial arts classes taught by the powerful and masculine, Sensei (who is played by Alessandra Nivola). Casey meets Anna, played by Imogen Poots, and admires her tenacity and determination as the only woman practicing in the dojo. As the two individuals get to know one another better, they become more aware of their absurdly violent surroundings. Casey and Anna notice the ways their Sensei manipulates others and uses his power to destroy those he disagrees with or dislikes. But they only recognize this absurd and twisted reality that toxic masculinity creates in their world on occasion.
It should come as no surprise that Jesse Eisenberg executes this role perfectly. His slow progression from meek misfit to somewhat self-assured hero mirrors many of his previous roles. I imagine whoever cast this film found this role to be a no-brainer—praying that Jesse was available and willing to take the role. Imogen Poots provides a subtle, yet fierce presence to the film. We are introduced to her character very gently. She is the children's karate coach: a very maternal role. We quickly learn, however, that she's willing to do anything to become one of the boys. She executes this progression perfectly. In addition to a brilliant cast, the film's screenplay is especially strong. It does a good job at orienting the audience in a world very similar to their own, yet set apart. The satirical dialogue lets the audience in on the joke of the irrationality of the characters' world, while also pointing out that it's very similar to the irrationality of ours as well.
As the film began, I remember thinking that the characters were seriously misled about the purpose of learning martial arts. As the movie progressed, I thought—ahh, that's exactly the point. The characters learn the toxic art of self-preservation and personal domination (at any cost), rather than the art of self-defense. Ultimately, the film offers more of an exploration of the topic of toxic masculinity, than an actual analysis. As the violence gradually escalates in the film, the viewer realizes that the characters cannot escape it because they do not (entirely) recognize the source of their problem. They simply understand the difference between good and evil, not the causes behind those two forces. At the conclusion of the film, the main characters seem to believe that they have solved their problems, but they never address the issue at the core of it all. The film is a fascinating look at this subject, but doesn't offer any solution to it and holds nobody accountable for it. Nevertheless, it's entertaining, thought-provoking and definitely worth seeing in theaters.
A very dry and very funny movie. Jessie Eisenberg was great.
Cult classics aren't created in such a self conscious manner. This movie misses exactly because it starts trying to be a cult classic and it ends up feeling like a pastiche.
hilarious and in the end more funny that deep
buffcorrell piss poopie gegrlee
people in the theater stared at me when i stood up and did kung-fu. nothing like by zumba self-defense tramopline dance class.
Hilarious. Loved it.
liked surprise turn in plot
The Karate Kid rehash (in a nut shell)
This movie is bloody hilarious!!!!!