Death Defying Acts

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Not recommended under 13, Parental guidance to 15 due to themes and sexual references.

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Death Defying Acts
  • a review of Death Defying Acts completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 18 March 2008.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 13 Not recommended for children under the age of 13 years due to themes and sexual references.
Children over the age of 13 Parental guidance due to themes and sexual references

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines. Other classification advice (OC) is provided where the Australian film classification is not available.

Name of movie: Death Defying Acts
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Mild supernatural themes, Infrequent mild coarse language and sex references
Length: 97 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Gillian Armstrong’s ‘Death Defying Acts’ tells the story of a psychic’s brief love encounter with the infamous Harry Houdini (Guy Pearce). 

The story is set in the Scottish town of Edinburgh, during the last leg of the great escapologist Houdini’s, 1926 world tour.  Mary McGarvie (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is a pseudo-psychic entertainer struggling to make ends meet for herself and her daughter, Benji (Saoirse Ronan), when she hears of a challenge put forth by Harry Houdini.  In the hope of contacting his late mother, Houdini offers a monetary reward of $10,000 to the psychic able to make contact with her and prove it by revealing her dying words to her son.  With the aid of her daughter, Benji, Mary sets out to con Houdini and claim the cash prize. 

Mary’s plan is constrained by the intense attraction that Houdini develops towards her, and what follows is a tangled love affair between the two.


Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

The supernatural; Use of a child for illegal activity

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • Two scenes where Houdini is punched in the stomach by another man, one of which results in his death
  • Deception of, and theft from, unwitting adults by Mary’s daughter, Benji

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of eight, including the following:

  • Scenes depicting Houdini’s mother as a ghost returning from the dead as well as images of other-worldly figures
  • Two scenes show Houdini performing his escape tricks and struggling to free himself from the tanks in which he is restrained and submerged
  • In one scene Benji is possessed by the ghost of Houdini’s mother, and this causes distress and alarm
  • Benji falls into one of the tanks of water and is seen to struggle to get herself out of the tank
  • Mary and her daughter live in a home in a graveyard; for some children these scenes may be distressing
  • The conclusion of the movie shows an image of the dead Houdini and the distress caused by his death

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

Children in this age group are also likely to be frightened and disturbed by the above mentioned scenes and images and may be particularly frightened by the scenes depicting ghosts and other-worldly images

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

Children in this age group are also likely to be frightened and disturbed by the above mentioned scenes and images and may be particularly frightened by the scenes depicting ghosts and other-worldly images

Thirteen and overinfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Some children of this age may also be disturbed or distressed by some of the scenes throughout the movie, as mentioned above, and require parental guidance and discussion.

Product placement

None of concern

Sexual references

There are a number of conversations between adults where subtle sexual references are made. These are unlikely to be understood by younger children.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some nudity and sexual activity in this movie, including:

  • In attempt to gain information about Houdini’s relationship with his mother, Mary calls on the help of a male library assistant to access unauthorised documents.  In return for this favour, the library assistant asks for sexualised favours from Mary, including asking her to walk up a ladder so that he can see up her skirt and bend over so that he can observe her bottom and see down her top.  He also requests sex from Mary and she refuses.
  • There are a number of scenes throughout the movie where passionate kissing is observed between two consenting adults
  • Mary and Houdini are seen to share a passionate kiss which leads to an implied sexual encounter.  The following morning, Mary appears to be naked in the bed and Houdini is standing outside, apparently also naked. 

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • limited social drinking by adults

Coarse language

There is infrequent use of mild course language and putdowns throughout this movie, including;

  • bloody
  • pisspants
  • hussy
  • god dammit
  • shit
  • ass

In a nutshell

Death Defying Acts is a love story about striving for what you want. Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include determination and independence.

  • This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children:
  • the real-life consequences of theft and deceit
  • the importance of parental love and a family sticking together through thick and thin.