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R13: Domestic violence, offensive language, sex scenes, drug use and content that may disturb

Spoiler alert

This page outlines how the classification criteria were applied. We do our best to discuss the content while avoiding spoilers, but please avoid reading this information if you do not want to learn anything about the content of this movie.

About the film

Waves is a 2019 family drama feature from the USA. It is an intimate and realistic story about the personal and shared struggles of the Williams family, particularly as experienced first by Tyler and then his slightly younger sister, Emily. They are high school seniors coming of age, living with their father and stepmother. Tyler is pushed hard by his father to excel at wrestling, struggling to balance this with other demands and aspirations, such as his relationship with his girlfriend, Alexis. This is further complicated when a shoulder injury threatens his budding career and Alexis becomes pregnant. Tyler pushes himself too hard before losing control, with rage taking hold and bringing devastating consequences. The family members are despondent and scattered. Emily’s life picks up when she finds romantic love.


Date registered: 01/07/2020

Classification criteria: Sex

Sexual content mainly includes two brief shots intending to depict sexual activity in a casual, slice-of-life way for the purpose of character development. Tyler masturbates while watching pornography on his computer. He is shown from behind, sitting at his desk, while his arm makes jerking movements. There is a glimpse of a figure barely visible on his computer screen, along with the sound of a person sighing and moaning. In another scene, Emily lies on her back in bed, with her boyfriend lying on top of her briefly making slight to-and-fro movements while they look at each other, talking considerately about the activity. The tone is romantic and innocent. There are also sexual references which include a throwaway reference to having “a dick as big as the Eiffel tower”.

The sexual content is unlikely to adversely affect viewers of any age; it is not explicit enough to be identifiable or otherwise meaningful to anyone who is not already sexually aware.

Classification criteria: Violence

Violence occurs as aggressive behaviour leading to a scene of relationship violence and manslaughter. Tyler goes to a party to find Alexis after she breaks up with him. They argue and he hits her hard across the face, knocking her to the
ground. The film shows Alexis in close-up as she hits her head on the floor. The scene quickly cuts to black before showing her from a distance. She lies dead, with a pool of blood under her head. A sober silence adds to the impact of the scene, while Tyler begins to panic and weep. The rest of the film deals mainly with the effects on Emily and the parents. This material is well-contextualised and clearly presented as highly problematic; the characters and film as a whole deal thoroughly with the causes and negative effects of the violence.

Classification criteria: Crime

Drug use is shown in the film. Tyler is shown deeply inhaling a joint at a party, before sitting and staring as he hallucinates Alexis staring back at him. Later, Emily hangs out with her friends, and they are shown socialising, and there is a brief shot of Emily accepting a joint before swimming. Although this scene is idyllic, the presentation is discrete without any dialogue identifying the activity for viewers who cannot already identify the activity. As such, while the film normalises drug use to some degree, it does not glamourise it to a significant level.

Classification criteria: Harmful imitable conduct

Tyler takes his father’s prescription opioid medication to excess. He is shown taking a bottle of prescription pills from
the medicine cabinet, and frequently taking these pills. In one scene he not only takes the pills, but snorts from a capsule, while drinking alcohol, swigging vodka from the bottle. This presentation presents a risk to children who might be able to access prescription medicines and alcohol in their household, and be inclined to copy Tyler’s actions. Teenagers are likely to be better equipped to relate Tyler’s drug use and excessive drinking to his aggressive attitudes and violent outburst, resulting in Alexis’s death, and his own life prison sentence.

Classification criteria: Offensive language

Highly offensive language is often used, and this includes “nigger”, which an anti-abortion extremist yells at Tyler. Characters also use language such as “fuck you!”, and “I fuckin’ hate you!” regularly. This aggressive use of highly offensive language is likely to disturb children or adversely affect their developing social attitudes.

Decision Summary

Waves is an emotionally charged, socially relevant and sensitive coming of age drama that is critically acclaimed. To a degree the film examines pressures that young people are under, and healthy and unhealthy ways of dealing with these. Adults and teenagers are likely to understand the nuances of the context in which this is explored, and the film will be of interest to these audiences, albeit challenging and thought provoking for that younger age group.

A restriction on the film’s availability is, however, necessary. Children are unlikely to have the experience and intellectual maturity to process the violence, nor to appreciate the risks of drug and alcohol misuse. Instead they are likely to be shocked and disturbed by the violence, including the aggressive use of highly offensive language. Children are also at risk of imitating the consumption of someone else’s prescription medicine. The relationship violence and associated offensive language is likely to be triggering to some viewers, and is to be included as a warning in the descriptive note.

Waves is therefore classified as R13, restricted to teenagers and adults.

Contact the Information Unit if you require further information on a classification decision.

R13 label
R13: Domestic violence, offensive language, sex scenes, drug use and content that may disturb