The Art of Self Defense (2019)

Continuing with the woman driven comedies (please check the latest review to understand) I landed on The Art of Self Defense, a movie about hyper masculinity… what does that has to do with female driven comedies you might be thinking, well, you really need to watch this movie to understand. And it might not be an easy watch, I mean, this movie has some strange vibes going on, from black comedy to psychological thriller type of situations, and even some minor gore and a lot of character development, this movie does not end as it begins, it has a character arc like most movies, yet it also has some plot arc that reflects in the tone of the movie itself, exploring the subject of masculinity in a straight forward way, via man’s culture, but landing in a strange idea, that maybe woman are better suited to be at the top of the hierarchy, at least that’s what the main’s character self-revelation seems to be about.

But anyways, what’s the movie about?

It’s about this guy, Casey, a young man who doesn’t seem to have much of a personality. He spends the day mostly to himself, alone in a world that doesn’t seem to care much about him either. With a strange appearance and personality, he struggles to make connections with others. Yet everything changes when he gets beaten up by some bikers in the street, this forces him to find a way to protect himself, landing first in a gun shop and later in a karate dojo, where he meets Sensei (he literally calls himself like this!) who seems like the kind of man who can really help our protagonist become what he wants to become, a real man, a man like those who beat him in the street. So, he learns martial arts from sensei and in this learning, he’s also exposed to man culture by having to share spaces with other man, as he does this, we understand that almost everyone there in the dojo is following the same premise as Casey, all of them find the strength they need only in the confines of martial arts. Casey even admits in wanting to use his yellow belt, which seems to be the only real accomplishment he has in his life, in every ordinary situation.  So, by the midpoint of the movie Casey does become who he wants to be, some badass karate guy, by kicking a fellow student and managing to blow out one of his teeth and from there? Well from this point forward he will understand the reality of the situation he’s involved in, who Sensei really is, and the reality of toxic masculinity in the form of videos of aggressions that are filmed and sold by Sensei and the “night class”, the group formed by the worst ass students. Thing is, one of those videos involves the beating he received in the beginning and that sparked this whole situation in the first place.

But what about that woman thing, I really couldn’t catch the idea firmly, I guess. I mean, there’s a female character and she’s like the toughest fighter there, it almost seems like Sensei is afraid of her somehow, he doesn’t want her to be a blackbelt and refuses to give her this grade, choosing Thomas, another duchbag from the dojo, and the recipient of this prize. Sensei also talks about her as a lesser student, weaker and less useful. Is only Casey who realizes about her true strength after hearing her story, in which we understand that to be in the dojo she has had to face many difficulties and mistreatment from men. Also, she’s the one who saves him from being killed the night the bikers kick his ass on the street. Fact is, other than a couple of minor characters placed in the beginning, she’s the only woman in the movie! (Her name is Anna btw).

That’s it I guess, Casey manages to become a man by end, he sees the reality of the situation and acts in a very masculine way I guess, he shots Sensei with a gun. He realises he can’t win in a fist fight (he tries first though) so he goes for his first impulse remember? Buying a gun. Is only after that when he’s in a position of power and relinquishes such position, declaring he hasn’t earned the position and giving it to Anna, who becomes the new leader. But wait, there are some aspects of this movie that make me think about the subject. I mean, what is it to be a man anyway, is it the struggle to look and act tough to get some respect? Mainly from other man? The answer to that one is yes, I guess. Well, think about it, man tend to fight other man, not woman. Why is that? I don’t even understand. There’s this hierarchy thing also, what’s that about? Are all of those things in our heads? Well, this movie doesn’t answer that, only show’s it to us, maybe is time for us to think a bit about it, why is it necessary to be aggressive to be respected, is it the only way?

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