Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Mona Lisa Smile

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content and thematic issues

Reviewed by: Rosemarie Ute Hoffman
CONTRIBUTOR

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults Mature Teens
Genre:
Drama
Length:
1 hr. 57 min.
Year of Release:
2003
USA Release:
December 19, 2003
Copyright, Revolution Studios
Copyright, Revolution Studios
Copyright, Revolution Studios
Copyright, Revolution Studios
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Revolution Studios

how the role of women in society has changed

marriage in the Bible

Is formalized marriage becoming obsolete? Answer
Some people are convinced that traditional marriages don’t work and that this practice should be abandoned. What does the Bible say about marriage?


lesbian lover / What’s wrong with being gay? Answer

What about gays needs to change? Answer
It may not be what you think.

Read stories about those who have struggled with homosexuality

domineering mothers

fornication and adultery

LUST—What does the Bible say about it? Answer

TEMPTATIONS—How can I deal with temptations? Answer

CONSEQUENCES—What are the consequences of sexual immorality? Answer

Starring: Julia Roberts, Julia Stiles, Kirsten Dunst, Juliet Stevenson, Maggie Gyllenhaal | Directed by: Mike Newell | Produced by: Elaine Goldsmith, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Paul Schiff, Deborah Schindler | Written by: Larry Konner, Mark Rosenthal, Lawrence Konner | Distributor: Revolution Studios

Julia Roberts (“Pretty Woman”) has certainly done well in portraying a liberal in this film saturated with an obscure sense of what women’s roles ought to be. Throughout the film, you will find a mixture of harlotry and affairs, while women try desperately to remove the corset of the 1950s our society has deemed “freeing” in this era.

Screenwriters Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner have done a remarkable job. The stories of each individual intertwine as they experience life in their own way. Julia Stiles (The Bourne Identity) is superb when challenging Julia Roberts’ character in a face-off regarding the choice of career or marriage.

Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts) who portrays a bohemian from California is a newcomer to Massachusetts’ Wellesley College, which has a long lineage of being one of this country’s top liberal arts colleges, as well as a leader in the education of women. Katherine arrives with dreams of her own and a passion to make a difference in the lives of those she teaches. As an art professor, she has some tough work ahead, as she finds these women of the 1950s stuck in tradition and in need of some coaxing on the road of personal fulfillment, which is taboo.

After an angelic church hymn chanted in the cathedral, it is recited at the opening school day and sets the tone, “Who knocks at the door of learning? I am every woman. What do you seek? To awaken my spirit through hard work and dedicate my life to knowledge.” Katherine finds out on her first day of instructing that her students have read and memorized the entire text. However, they fail in preparing to consider Art, and form their own opinions. Also, the school office worker tells her that she was not the first choice for the teaching position of History of Art 100. Overall, Katherine’s fear catches up with her and failure begins to visit, but not for long.

Katherine along with the school nurse are branded for their subversive behavior. Katherine decides to implement unconventional methods of teaching. Off campus, she introduces her students to Modern Art in a warehouse while the school nurse (Juliet Stevenson) is reprimanded and discharged for distributing contraceptives to students. Furthermore, the nurse’s reputation of being homosexual follows her. Both women are considered progressive, forward thinkers, and a threat to Wellesley’s traditionalists.

Katherine’s long distance boyfriend on a visit to chilly New England proposes to her, but it is a brief engagement as Katherine declines with silence. It seems a committed relationship is not on her agenda. Shortly after, there is an unexpected twist, and she finds herself involved with an infamous Italian professor who is known for having sex with multiple students. In her defense, Katherine does ask him to be monogamous and wants his word on it. In the end, she finds that he has put up a front regarding his background as a solider. This once Italian-speaking war hero, who has traveled abroad, has been found out to be a language military man and served his time in New York on Long Island for the entire campaign.

Independence oozed from Katherine, which frightened most of her students, but what was once offensive to them, quickly becomes appealing as their lives unravel. The student’s independence leads them to feeling and imagining for themselves—something they were unfamiliar with, but eager to experiment. Ironically, Katherine’s dreams do not include marriage, while this is the first and foremost goal of every student she teaches.

The students invite Katherine to a secret girl party and she accepts wanting to connect. Under oath and during a game of “Truth or Consequences” Katherine opens an old wound and speaks of her first love, Patrick, who also goes by the name Leo. They were eighteen and engaged. He was sent overseas to Pearl Harbor, and she further explains, that everything and everybody changed after that. With other confessions from the girls and the affects of the war, Katherine adds that Leo married another and she went to graduate school. She ends in round one with some strong blanket statements, that not every relationship is meant for marriage and that women should not plan their lives around marriage.

After a derogatory column declaring Katherine’s war on the Holy Sacrament of Marriage, Katherine decides to expose the women to the type of advertising of their era. She takes this approach to reveal the true reality of women’s roles. The photo slides show women reciting poetry while pressing their husband’s pants. She further refutes the journalistic piece that demanding excellence was not to be confused with challenging the roles you were born to fill—being a wife and mother. She had no idea she was signing up for tomorrow’s wives, instead of tomorrow’s leaders.

Kirsten Dunst who marries during the school semester was not ostracized for missing classes on campus, and her grades were not to be compromised because marriage was accepted, no matter the disruption. However, her perfect marriage quickly turned into a lonely existence. Her husband, who professed to have meetings in the evening and working, was having an affair. Kirsten’s mother was aloof to the idea of divorce and/or accepting the destruction that was occurring. While in her own pain, she was studying the well-known painting of Mona Lisa. She wondered if she was happy, even though she smiled—something she was all too familiar with.

Katherine was contracted to return the next school year, but with conditions from the college president, Jocelyn Carr. Katherine declined. She sailed to Europe to explore and seek the truth beyond tradition.

It is easy for many women to be caught up and wrapped up in the tradition of being a wife and mother, which are respectable and honoring roles. However, remember that all women are wonderfully and fearfully made. You have a future and a hope—whether you are single, married or have a career. Individually, we must seek out our own purpose, and we should not define it by cultural standards, but rather, by what is acceptable in the sight of God!

Violence: None / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive
Positive—…a good film that depicts the battle within a woman’s heart. A difference between what the world says and what the Christian woman longs to be, a great wife and mother. Also not to be ashamed of the choice to be a wife and mother. Caution, the liberal tone of the film is just that, liberal. Which we have to face the liberal world everyday and raise the standard. I found this film inspiring.
My Ratings: [Average/4]
—Julie, age 33
Positive—The movie is a must see for anyone who has been in a teaching setting. The movie gives a good example of how teachers deal with many types of students and peers which includes the unsaved and homosexuals. The homosexual part of the movie was insignificant and disappears as quickly as it appeared. The movie was properly rated as nothing overwhelming came out that would offend the average Christian going to a movie with PG-13 rating. I would discourage my 13 year old daughter from going to this movie only as it would be too adult.
My Ratings: [Average/4]
—Jack Lane, age 53
Positive—The teacher brought the fact that one should not plan their lives around marraige. Adultery was in no way condoned or celebrated in this film. It helped to point out that when people get married just to marry, adultery is a popular escape for unhappiness. Overall, it was a good movie with good acting.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
—Sasha Watkins, age 23
Positive—I enjoyed this movie very much! The story was good, it kept my attention. The acting was great! I’m not a big fan of Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst or Julia Stiles, but they did an excellent job! Everyone was very convincing. This is an “intellectual” movie that provokes thought. As for offensive material, this movie was pretty clean.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
—Brady Williams, age 34
Positive—I am a 37-year-old, Christian, stay-at-home mom of five kids (ages 2-13). I went to see this movie by myself and am very confident in doing this. I love “teacher” movies, as I am a teacher myself. Considering the era (1953-54 school year) and the social mores of the day, Julia’s character was “different” to the society at that college. We all know that. What I enjoyed about this movie was it reminded me that, even though I do have a college degree, have taught school prior to my children being born (and while we homeschooled), I do have a choice of staying home or going to work. I love my life and my family, but I do thank my mom (who has always worked and never finished college but married instead) and her generation for allowing me just that—the choice to stay home. It’s not expected of me from society or a church or even my husband. It’s just the way we do things and have been blessed in that lifestyle. To me, the movie was an “escape” on a Sunday evening to go and do something for “me”, something moms rarely do for themselves. It reminded me that I love being home and didn’t discourage me about society’s message. It will cause you to think about who you are and where you fit in. I enjoyed it and would recommend it to an older audience, men and women.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
—MBH, age 37
Neutral
Neutral—A very good movie for Julia Roberts. Definitely not her best, but a good performance. Very, very little profanity and no nudity. However, as of always lately, Hollywood has to get the support in for the homosexual community. The nurse, a pivotal character and a lesbian, mourns over the death of her lover and at the same time promotes promiscuity by passing out contraceptive devices to the female students. Fortunately, her character disappears during the first 3rd of the film. Otherwise, enjoyed the movie.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
—S. G., age 57
Neutral—This movie is a mixed bag. Although it obviously contains behavior that most Christians would not agree with, I realize that the film did not actually promote most of this behavior. In fact, one thing that I liked about the film was that the true consequences of adultery, lying, and an unloving nature bore themselves out by the end of the movie. The film does not promote a lack of commitment, or a negative view towards men. In fact, one of the most beloved characters ends up choosing to be a homemaker for her husband and family over law school. An interesting look at issues that are still relevant to Christians, and their interactions with the secular world… but not a cinematic masterpiece!
My Ratings: [Average/2]
—Christine, age 20
Neutral—Taking this once-controversial topic to the screen in the 21st century doesn’t exactly merit any great rewards. We’re living in a world where dogmatic feminisism is being pedaled. So, on this front, I wasn’t overly impressed. I would’ve said that “Mona Lisa Smile” was only pushing the feminist agenda if it weren’t for one particular scene where Julia Robert’s character is confronted by Julia Stiles’ character on the issue of true choice.

Stiles’ character makes the decision, despite her education and promise of a career in law, to pursue the traditional role of housewife. Roberts’ character is furious. This scene has great dialogue and presents the choice of traditional housewife role in a very respectable manner.

What I like best about the film is that it really gives you big clues as to the WHYs of the feminist movement. If one understands that many feminists are women afraid of being vulnerable to social injustices, you’ll find clear social injustices littered about in the film. I think this film greatly supports Galatians 6:7—Whatsoever you put into the ground, that you will also reap. Sowing has everything to do with reaping. Objectionable material of course. Implied that a male teacher had sex with his students, casual sex, drinking, smoking, etc. Overall, enjoyable, but offensive implications to the Christian worldview underneath some scenes.
My Ratings: [Average/3]
—Raquel, age 28
Negative
Negative—I saw this movie knowing nothing about the storyline. Instead of enjoying myself, I was bored beyond belief. Like many Hollywood movies of today, this one left a sour taste in my mouth with its view of Conservatism, as being shallow and evil. Then they brought in the gay nurse character so the audience would feel sorry for the way she’s been treated by the conservative faculty. That seems to be the only reason she’s there, since her character doesn’t really pertain to the storyline of the film. Add on the support for contraception in schools and you’ve got yourself a very left-biased film. I really thought the story moved along very slowly, and it really didn’t hold my interest at all.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/1]
—Jennifer Conway, age 25
Negative—This movie is all about the radical feminist movement. There are no positive male figures portrayed at all. And Julia Roberts promotes and lives a promiscuous life. There isn’t much profanity and no nudity; however, these are the film’s only redeeming qualities. Don’t waste your money at the movies on this one.
My Ratings: [Average/1]
—PH, age 29
Negative—A fellow christian girlfriend and I went to see this movie hoping for a great “chick flick.” Aside from being dull in places and lacking depth, this movie was offensive in many ways. God’s name in vain is always unacceptable. Period. For another, one of the young girls named Giselle, acts bizarre and provocative towards her own friends [through] most of the movie. Plus, the nurse is homosexual. (Not a major character, but are we surprised?) The male professor has been rumored to sleep with his students. It turns out that he does in fact, sleep with his students. We were disappointed, and if that were not enough, it didn’t even end well. I also found it hard to believe that this was supposed to be an accurate portrayal of college life in the 50’s. Finally, the underlying theme of the feminist movement woven throughout makes me wish I would have stayed home to do the laundry.
My Ratings: [Average/2]
—Nicole Ray, age 29
Negative—This film has good parts, but others can tell you what they are. In it we learn of Julia Roberts’ missionary trip to the lost souls of the conservative east. When you see “Christian” people, they are poorly dressed or overly stressed or both. She turns down honest an marriage, and takes up an unmarried relationship with the Italian lecturer—and this has no consequences beyond minor disappointment. She is the final target of terrible witch hunts by the self-righteous Kirsten Dunst—not for her private immorality, but for the liberal quality of her Art classes, or for failing to be married. What fools these conservatives are! Do not fear—in the end Ms. Dunst’s husband deserts her, and she finds sympathy and undying friendship with the shamelessly immoral Gizelle. Truly, Christian values lead to this enslavement, and only liberalism can free us! Repent of your morality! Verily, Christian folk in 1954 not only said “Happy Holidays,” but had no way of dealing with the loss of their true love (by marriage!) except to descend into game show addiction.

Somewhere in this propaganda piece, where good is called evil, and evil good, there is a story. I’m not entirely sure what that story is, but the message is: if you want meaning in life, love and happiness, don’t bother with morality, and especially not Christian morality.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Andrew Mcgill, age 36 (South Africa)
Comments from young people
Negative—I went and saw this movie with my mom, and we both agreed that we made a big mistake in judgment. Mona Lisa Smile promotes sexual promiscuity, premarital sex, and homosexuality. As Christian women, my mom and I left the theater feeling embarrassed that we had viewed such an offensive film. I would definitely not recommend this movie to anyone.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/3]
—Kelsey, age 16
Positive—I LOVED this movie; I thought it was very inspiring! It DID have a few parts that some people wouldn’t like, but it didn’t bother me. I reccomend that you go see it, but don’t take your small children; they would be bored outta their minds. It’s definitely a chick-flick and a teenager/adult movie! It was great; I give it 2 thumbs up!!
My Ratings: [Better than Average/5]
—Stef, age 16
Positive—As a young woman trying to decide what to do with my life, I thoroughly enjoyed “Mona Lisa Smile”. There were definite times in this movie that are not following the best Christian example. As for those searching for purpose in life, this movie shows that there is more after graduation then a 2 bedroom apartment and a ring on your finger. This movie brings up many norms of an age passed for those of this generation to consider. This movie was a tear-jerker for me and I am looking forward to seeing it again.
My Ratings: [Average/4]
—Emily, age 16
Movie Critics
…does little to entertain or inspire… earns its PG-13 with significant sexual content…
—PlanetWisdom
…cliched characters …Self-congratulatory diatribe against ’50s conformity…
—Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter
…I wanted to enjoy this movie like I did “Dead Poets Society,” but instead it left me with a depressed feeling. …biased… shallow, incomplete characters and major, unresolved issues…
—Holly McClure, CrossWalk
…heavy-handed message …
—Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
…one of those movies where heart and head clash and neither wins…
—Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune
…Like a boring teacher, “Mona Lisa Smile” simply fails to tell us anything we don’t already know…
—Margaret A. McGurk, Cincinnati Enquirer
…sanctimonious, relentlessly predictable and willfully ignorant of the period it’s set in…
—Jonathan Foreman, New York Post
…should be moving, but it isn’t. We should feel swept up by it, but we don’t…
—Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle
…more likely to evoke a grimace than a grin…
—Claudia Puig, USA Today