Joseph Gordon Levitt’s 2013 Sundance Film Festival hit Don Jon isn’t about porn, but it does make judgments about porn: porn is unhealthy when it forms a barrier to real communication and intimacy between people. It is, however, not the only thing emitting from the various screens we spend time staring into that can have this effect. I can’t help think of the comment made by I don’t remember whom at the moment regarding the negative effects early Disney and MGM movies have on women, those being unrealistic expectations of men (Prince Charming) and an obsession with shoes (The Wizard of Oz). It’s cheeky, very funny, and possibly true. In Don Jon, this character is played by Scarlett Johansson, who is, as Levitt’s character notes, a “dime” (i.e., a 10) if there ever was one. Nevertheless, like Levitt’s Don Jon, her character is flawed. Having formed her conception of love and romance from Hollywood, her real life experience falls as painfully short of the fantasy as Levitt’s real life experience of sex.
Don Jon also features a spirit helper in the form of Julianne Moore, who plays Esther, with whom Levitt’s character has an unexpected May-December romance. From a generation that grew up trying to find itself, she, as it turns out, is uniquely qualified to provide insight to a young man who comes from one obsessed with the opposite. All he wants to do is lose himself. Esther teaches him that losing oneself, as he does in this case through his addiction to pornography, also comes with a cost.
Don Jon is a very interesting and daring movie. It features caricatures and uses stereotypes for much of the humor, but also has something interesting to say. It strikes me as a very literary movie. A bildungsroman if there ever was one, it depicts a character who clearly and logically changes as a result of his experiences, an impressive feat, considering the relatively short run time. Although not exactly an after-school special, this movie should give a good many millennials who have grown up in a world where sex and LCD screens are ubiquitous (and the rest of us too, for that matter) food for thought.
View the trailer.