Story

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

The story is set in the Scottish town of Edinburgh, during the last leg of the great 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 any psychic who can 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.

Themes

The supernatural; use of a child for illegal activity

Violence

  • There are two scenes in which Houdini is punched in the stomach by another man. In the second scene, the blow results in Houdini’s death.
  • Mary’s daughter Benji deceives and steals from unwitting adults.

Content that may disturb children

Under 8

  • The movie depicts 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, causing distress and alarm.
  • Benji falls into one of the tanks of water and struggles 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.

From 8-13

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

Over 13

Some children in this age group may also be disturbed or distressed by some of the scenes and may require parental guidance and discussion.

Sexual references

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

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

There are some scenes showing limited social drinking by adults.

Nudity and sexual activity

  • 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 several scenes throughout the movie where passionate kissing is observed between two consenting adults.
  • Mary and Houdini 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.

Product placement

None

Coarse language

This movie contains infrequent mild coarse language and put-downs.

Ideas to discuss with your children

Death Defying Acts is a love story about striving for what you want.

You might like to talk to your child about some of the values in this movie, such as determination and independence. You could talk about your family values on the topics of parental love and a family sticking together through thick and thin, as well as the real-life copnsequences of theft and deceit.