The Art of Self-Defense (2019)

# 16478 IMDb R 

The Art of Self-Defense (2019

Director: Riley Stearns

Stars: Alessandro Nivola, Jesse Eisenberg, Josh Fadem, David Zellner, Imogen Poots

Comedy, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Sport, Thriller (1h 44min)


Rated 7.1 after 3,801 votes, 65% postive reviews on 09-Oct-19.

3 nominations


After being attacked on the street, a young man enlists at a local dojo, led by a charismatic and mysterious sensei, in an effort to learn how to defend himself from future threats.


Jesse Eisenberg Alessandro Nivola Imogen Poots Steve Terada Phillip Andre Botello Caroline Amiguet Apollo Bacala

Jesse Eisenberg (Casey), Alessandro Nivola (Sensei), Imogen Poots (Anna), Steve Terada (Thomas), Phillip Andre Botello (Kennith), Caroline Amiguet (French Audio Instructor (voice)), Apollo Bacala (Karate Day Class Student), Hauke Bahr (Grant), Jason Burkey (Alex), Justin Eaton (Lone Man), Dallas Edwards (Manny), Will Ellis Jr. (Night Class Student), Josh Fadem (Serial Killer), John French (Office Worker), Darren Gaebel (Karate Night Class Student), Scott Goodman (Drunk Skinny Guy), Alex Haydon (Man Wearing Pants), Elizabeth Howlett (Girl in Hospital Room), Nicholas Hulstine (Pickup Truck Driver), Davey Johnson (Gun Store Owner), Chris Lay (Karate Student), Katherine Martin (Bakery Woman), Cameron Murphy (New White Belt), Leland Orser (Detective McCallister), Kinsley Ramey (Martial Arts Student), C.J. Rush (Other Steve), Gina Fountain Schneider (Mom in Car), Matthew T. Schneider (Son in Car), Molly E. Schneider (Daughter in Car (as Molly E Schneider)), Sarah Beth Shapiro (Answering Machine), Daniel H. Shoemaker (Karate Class Day Student), Katherine Smith-Rodden (Grocery Store Cashier), Frederic Spitz (French Guy), Louis Robert Thompson (Veterinarian), David Zellner (Henry)

From the same director


Riley Stearns (written by)

Produced by

Camille Bertrand (co-producer), Lisa Ciuffetti (co-producer), Andrew Karpen (executive producer), Andrew Kortschak (producer), Walter Kortschak (producer), Munika Lay (executive producer), Cody Ryder (producer), Kent Sanderson (executive producer), Stephanie Whonsetler (producer), David Zellner (executive producer), Nathan Zellner (executive producer)



The Art of Self-Defense has a lot more to offer than the good old fun it seems to be at first. It follows the story of Casey, a nerdy accountant with very little social skill, and a total pushover by every possible measure, a role which, obviously, fits Jesse Eisemberg perfectly.

Casey doesn't have much going on in his life, but on the surface, he seems perfectly content to let other people step all over him. As long as they leave him alone for the most part, he's happy to go on with his frighteningly boring routine.

However, one night, Casey gets attacked by a mob of a few bikers, who mug him and mostly beat him up badly enough to send him to the hospital. After his painful recovery, Casey stumbles upon a Karate class, and decides to join it. But the eccentric Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) soon turns out to have a lot more to teach than Karate moves - he teaches an entire way of life, one that will put Casey on an entirely new path, one that threatens to change him to the very core.

Now it would be easy to summarize the film as a satire on hypermasculinity, but yes, on the surface, what Sensei is preaching is essentially for his pupils to become some sort of hyper virile, violent beings defined only by their strength - and the film is pushing this to the extreme and spinning it on its head to hilarious effect. But on a deeper level, what this is really about is Casey's journey from being weak, to being strong, and what are the moral repercussions of exerting that strength. What does it mean to stand up for oneself, and then for others? In many aspects, what the film explores is how strength and its intrinsic values lead to various forms of conflict, to confrontation, and what are the consequences of dealing with these forms of conflict?

All I can say without spoiling, is that the film explores this theme with a fresh, and most often, hilarious point of view, and it's definitely worth seeing for that reason, if not for the terrific performances of the leads (including Imogen Poots, who I didn't get a chance to mention to avoid spoilers).

Memorable quotes

Sensei: [after Anna beats a fellow student to a pulp] You're done for the night.
Anna: So is he.


DOJO RULES: 1. No shoes on the mat. 2. No food or drinks on the mat. 3. Bow when stepping on/off the mat. 4. Always bring your belt. 5. Wash your gi. 6. Respect your opponent. 7. Tap or hear it snap. 8. Tap or take a nap. 9. Stay hydrated. 10. If it works, use it. 11. Guns are for the weak.

5 total 


3 nominations 
Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival • Munich Film Festival • Strasbourg European Fantastic Film Festival

Other titles

The Art of Self-Defense ((original title); India (Hindi title); USA; World-wide (English title)) • L'art de l'autodéfense (Canada (French title)) • El arte de defenderse (Mexico) • Искусство самозащиты (Russia)



Rated R for violence, sexual content, graphic nudity and language


Australia:MA15+ / Canada:14A / Canada:14A / Canada:13+ / Finland:K-16 / Germany:16 / New Zealand:R16 / South Africa:18 / United States:R



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