Movies That Make Me Think: Don Jon

Okay, let me say this: Don Jon is an R-rated movie about a 20-something guy with an addiction to pornography.

That information might be enough to turn away quite a few people. But I actually think that Don Jon is an excellent film, and it’s made me think more than any movie in quite some time. So even if you’re not interested in the movie, I hope you keep reading.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote, directed, and starred in Don Jon, which came out in fall ’13 to good reviews and not much money at the box office. It was recently released on DVD.

Gordon-Levitt plays Jon, a stereotypical Jersey Shore meathead type. He frequents clubs with his friends, objectifies women using a 10-point scale (10 being the hottest), and sleeps with someone new every week.

What makes him interesting as a character is that he readily admits that sex doesn’t appeal to him nearly as much as pornography. He describes pornography as a way to let go, to be free, to be complete. Regardless of your views on pornography, as a viewer it’s unsettling to watch Jon describe it. He uses pornography as an alternative to real human connection, and it’s sad to watch.

That juxtaposition alone would have made for an interesting movie, but in walks Scarlett Johansson as Barbara Sugarman. She plays up the part of a blonde bombshell, the epitome of sexy, and she and Jon start to date.

I don’t want to give away too much, but Barbara adds some really interesting things to the movie, especially in relation to romance movies. She loves romantic films almost as much as much as Jon loves his porn, and the movies have a twisted impact on the way she thinks a “real man” should act in a relationship. Movies portray a “real man” as one who will sacrifice everything and do anything for his woman. As unhealthy as Jon’s porn addition is, Barbara’s romanticized perception of a man comes across just as bad.

The movie gave me tons to think about, particularly in terms of how I connect with women. I’m single, and I’ve been single for a while. Looking back at the last few women I’ve dated, I feel like I wasn’t completely there. I was with them, going on dates, cooking, kissing, etc, but was I really there? Or was my mind wandering off to games and Kickstarter and my book and my grocery list and even other women? What’s keeping me from being present?

Anyway, that’s for me to figure out, but in the meantime, I just want to recommend Don Jon to you. I know it’s a bit of a risk to watch, given the content, but I think there’s a lot of interesting ideas there.