Australian Council on Children and the Media

Mona Lisa Smile

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Short takes

Not recommended under 8, PG to 13 (Lang. Themes. Sex)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Mona Lisa Smile
  • a review of Mona Lisa Smile completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 14 February 2004.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 8 While there is nothing scary or violent in this movie, due to its content, it is not recommended for children under 8.
Children aged 8-13 Children aged 8 to 13 would need parental guidance to view this movie.
Children over the age of 13 Children over 13 should be okay to see this film with or without parental guidance.

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.

Name of movie: Mona Lisa Smile
Classification: PG
Consumer advice lines: Mature themes, Sexual references, Low level coarse language
Length 119 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

It is 1953 and Katherine Watson is an idealistic, liberated, graduate art history student who accepts a position at Wellesley College, an elite girls school. She hopes to make a difference to the girls’ lives but finds herself up against the establishment, a conservative school board of directors, mostly run by the girls’ parents. Katherine wants to teach the girls to be the future leaders in society but Wellesley College aims to teach the girls to be the wives of the future leaders. Some of the students also oppose her ideas and see Katherine as subversive, in particular Betty Warren who is determined to make life hard for her. Betty also makes life hard for Connie who has low self esteem and has trouble finding a relationship. Betty sees marriage as the best thing to happen to a girl and her greatest desire is to own a home with a washing machine. Betty’s marriage to Spencer is the social event of the year and she is intent on seeing her best friend Joan marry her boyfriend Tom so that they can be housewives together.

Katherine however has great plans for Joan who she sees as a potential law student and gives her an application form to apply for Yale. Joan does apply and is accepted into Yale but her (now) fiancé Tom explains to Katherine that he’s been accepted into Penn and therefore Joan obviously won’t be going to Yale as it will be too far for her to come home and cook his meals.

Giselle is a more liberated and promiscuous student who has an affair with the Italian teacher Bill Dunbar. Bill however is attracted to Katherine and they too have an affair. Katherine had previously been going out with another man, Paul, who she left behind when she went to Wellesely. Katherine has to make several decisions for her life, one being whether she wants to be married or not and whether she wants to stay on at Wellesley where she almost loses her job but is offered a re-appointment under very strict conditions.

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 no violence in this movie except for when Betty screams abuse at Giselle.

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.

There is nothing scary in this movie.

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.

There is nothing scary in this movie.

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.

There is nothing scary in this movie.

Over thirteeninfo

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.

There is nothing scary in this movie.

Sexual references

There are quite a lot of sexual references in this film including the following:

  • Amanda Armstrong, the School Nurse, is a lesbian.
  • Amanda supplies Giselle with contraceptives, for which she’s fired
  • Giselle and Bill Dunbar (a teacher) have an affair. Nothing is shown; the affair is only talked about.
  • The girls talk about boys having dicks.
  • Paul walks up the stairs to Katherine’s bedroom and when she says no he says that he hasn’t travelled 3000 miles to see her to sleep on the couch. He leaves.
  • Katherine and Bill have sex; the sex is implied, they are shown afterwards.
  • Connie goes away for the weekend with Charlie.
  • Giselle sleeps with a married man. Betty asks her if he paid her and calls her a whore.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is no nudity or sexual activity actually shown.

Use of substances

There is a lot of smoking in this movie and nearly all the girls and women smoke. One of the men smokes a pipe. There is a full page advert in a newspaper for Camel cigarettes.

There is some drinking at a bar and at a wedding.

Coarse language

There is a little coarse language including the following:

  • bitch
  • arse
  • damn.

In a nutshell

The message of this film is that girls should be free to make their own choices and not be dictated to by tradition and a male dominated values system.
The movie is set at a time when a woman’s “sole responsibility was to take care of her husband and children” and the thought of having a career was far removed. The movie addresses the sexual revolution that began to occur at this time and exposes the hypocrisy that it was acceptable for married men to have affairs. It doesn’t denigrate the right of a woman to choose to stay at home to care for her husband and children as this is Joan’s choice. Joan explains to Katherine that this doesn’t mean she has no depth or intellect but that it is her choice to do so.

Values parents may wish to encourage include:

  • equal gender roles
  • to think for one’s self
  • empathy
  • choosing to be a housewife (as opposed to being expected to be) is still an honourable profession.

Values parents may wish to discourage include:

  • intolerance
  • spitefulness
  • promiscuity
  • infidelity
  • a teacher having sex with a student.

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