2019. A year that ultimately comes as a grave predicament for all who are weary about the current climate of our society. With politics becoming more gross and inflated, with irresponsible men at the core of the problem, the toxic relations and actions they emit have frankly caused more bad than good. Especially with the heightened technological opportunities of today’s youth, it’s incredibly easy to become swayed in either extreme direction, regarding a specific perspective online. As you’ve probably heard plenty of times before in other articles and reviews regarding The Art of Self-Defense‘s subject matter, the film does ultimately surround on a topic of toxic masculinity. However, in actuality, when looking at the subtext and the character’s actions, it’s more so a think-piece on the act of brainwashing and brutal manipulation, the sole cause of how toxic relations begin in the first place; similar to the societal technological issues of today.
Largely utilizing a comedic deadpan backdrop, in a similar vein to the work of Wes Anderson, the dark and often times somber tone of the film never let’s down for a single second. Everything is constantly moving, where each plot element specifically serves a purpose for the greater scale of the film. From it’s muted color palette, to the overly simple-small town production design, everything feels like a potential trap; to lock up our protagonist into a more sinister scenario at play. Eisenberg in particular moves the audience with each sweat and tear his character Casey radiates, where each despicable action; either committed against him or done by him, sways the audience’s perspective into a whirlwind of moral dilemmas and justification.
The dojo itself is a location of respect and wielded emotions, but it’s also where the psychological torture comes into play within Sensei’s hidden motivations for proper ultra-masculine conversion. Similar to the extent of Mulan’s (1998) famed musical number “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You,” the emotionally investing climax ultimately uses a similar type of irony, to clash against the film’s primary foe; misconceptions and blatant brainwashing. To be defined by an article of clothing, for your soul and personality to be minimized to just one single color, is oddly enough an effective metaphor for the conversion of marginalized individuals who feel excluded from either side of the spectrum.
Riley Stearns’s fierce sophomore debut is unlike any other. It’s sharply witty and cruel, yet heartfelt and nuanced. It’s as blunt as a karate chop, and as thematically swift as a kick; where each move feels articulated to a tee. It does become slightly over the top with some of it’s deadpan humor, and almost feels borderline surface level with it’s social commentary on the specific aspect of hyper-masculinity; but to be as real and sincere as possible, The Art of Self-Defense honestly may just be one of the best sports films ever made.
The Art of Self-Defense is Now Playing in Select Cinemas