Let’s Get Reel: Don Jon

If you have heard anything about the new movie Don Jon, you more than likely are thinking, “isn’t that movie about porn?” Well, in short, it is. But this movie which is written by, directed by and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt has so much to offer beyond its critique of our porn-saturated culture.

The movie follows the life of Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), known as “Don Jon” by his friends for his impressive skills with the ladies. Jon spends his life at the gym, his church, his house, the club, and with his family. His Italian family includes his football-addicted father, Jon Sr. (Tony Danza), his always nostalgic mother, Angela (Glenne Headly), and constantly texting sister, Monica (Brie Larson). Every week Jon has a new girl, but even with all these women, he still needs to feed his addiction: porn. To paraphrase Jon, “The real thing doesn’t compare to porn.” Jon continues his routine existence until he meets a girl he cannot ignore: Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson).

For the first time in his life, Jon plays the “long game” and ends up dating Barbara. Their relationship takes a turn for the worse after Barbara catches Jon watching porn, and Jon swears he will quit. But as the two continue their relationship, more problems arise until Jon encounters a much older woman, Esther (Juliann Moore), who imparts several lessons to Jon.

Now the plot itself is quite formulaic, but the subject matter is anything but. Even if the movie had been terrible (which it is certainly not), it would be hard to fault the movie’s originality. This movie deals with one of our society’s last taboos, porn. “Every guy watches porn,” declares Jon in the movie, and therein lies the paradox of this taboo. For something as ubiquitous as porn, it is seldom mentioned. While Don Jon does not answer many of the problems posed by porn usage (and I do not think it was meant to), the brutally honest presentation of a man trapped in porn addiction is bound to at least stimulate conversation.

While porn is certainly one of the central themes of this movie, it is in no way the only theme. Mainly, this movie is about our society’s problems with intimacy. Jon’s problem is the most obvious; he objectifies women and only seeks personal sexual satisfaction in a relationship. His addiction to porn only further demonstrates his disconnect between sexual intimacy and a more holistic intimacy. Barbara cannot fully invest herself in the relationship because she is preoccupied with fantastical expectations. She keeps herself aloof, so that she can use Jon as she wants.

Jon’s family experiences various forms of disconnect: Jon Sr. is constantly glued to the television watching football, Angela wants the “good ol’ days” and is trying to live vicariously through Jon, and Monica only sees the screen of her phone. The characters in this movie struggle to find meaningful relationships, but are incredibly reluctant to shed the things which are preventing them from finding true intimacy.

I could not end this review without pointing out some of Don Jon’s flaws. Many, myself included, will object to the message the final scenes of the movie leave the audience with. As a Catholic, I also could not help but be miffed by the stereotypical and inaccurate treatment of confession. Finally, the movie could have found more tasteful ways to incorporate pornographic material (as oxymoronic as that sounds). But, all my disagreements with small aspects of this movie should not dissuade potential viewers. It may not be perfect, but it will certainly generate thought.