No matter what your age, cinema can always teach you something new, or at the very least, confirm something you have suspected all along. In ‘Don Jon’, Joseph Gordon Levitt thrusts forward a notion that all men watch porn but all women don’t know about it as when asked, most men say they don’t. The level of disgust awarded to such a discovery will vary from woman to woman, dependent upon a number of factors, I guess, like their own self-confidence, personal body image or even just how down and dirty they are themselves. Just as it is true that not all men look at porn, not all women find the thought of it, or their partners doing it, repellent either.
Gordon-Levitt, a current Hollywood darling, debuts here as writer, director and star. Previously, as a mere puppet for the greatness of others, he has provided excellent performances time and again. Here, he takes the plunge into a world of his own making, one which will surprise some by not only its candour, but also its finesse, given apparently limited experience.
The eponymously titled lead, played by Gordon-Levitt, is a man consumed by routine. He likes order where chaos lurks as window dressing. JGL returns to the same repeated process over and over here to demonstrate that whilst Jon may well live a seemingly vicarious lifestyle, it is still most definitely structured, ordered and arranged in suitable minutiae by the character. He eats dinner with his family once a week and goes with them to church every Sunday morning, despite not living with them, enjoying his own lifestyle of bedding women that meets at the same place in the same bar on the same night of the week he attends with the same friends. He attends the gym regularly, the place where says his Hail Marys, as suitable a venue as any to admonish himself for his sins.
As if possibly championing the hurdles that the modern man currently faces, Jon enjoys porn. He goes on at great length about it as JGL narrates the reasons for Jon’s particular obsession. Could it be that he prefers porn to sex with real women (although he does both) because there is no pressure? He doesn’t have to give anything of himself. He doesn’t have to try, to impress, to share. For the busy man that’s in demand, guilt free porn seems like a great idea. Nobody has to be affected by it or even know about it. Jon gets to (literally) please himself, no harm done.
When he meets the girl of his dreams, in the very shapely form (and an odd New York accent) of Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), he doesn’t figure that his relationship will be any different, but when she checks his history on his computer, something he had no idea about, she is shocked and appalled by his behaviour and threatens to leave him if he doesn’t stop.
Now the porn viewers will be thinking one thing at this point and the non-porn viewers will be thinking something entirely different. One of you is thinking that she is perfectly right in her reaction and she is not asking much of him at all. She is right to be upset by what he’s done because she surely should be enough for him. It’s not like she wouldn’t do anything for him, is beautiful and alluring, so why would he even need porn?
The porn viewer is wondering why she was rifling through his browsing history.
And both have points to make which are equally valid. The school of thought that suggests that you should be allowed to do anything you like as long as it does not detrimentally affect the well being of another, should really be allowed to do it and not have to explain his or her actions. If only you know that you’re doing it, then where’s the harm? If you’re on the receiving end of this treatment, however, and do not really understand porn in the first place, it is easy to imagine how you may become upset by the fact that your partner may be secretly attracted to a set of pixels on the computer and may, in fact, rather be fucking a two-dimensional image of them than a real living breathing version of you. Yes, perhaps you shouldn’t have gone snooping around their history to begin with, but if you don’t like what you’re going to find, you might be better off not looking. And, anyway, just why were you sneaking around behind your partners’ back in the first place?
JGL handles this conundrum quite efficiently, by not really trying to solve the problem at all, but merely announce it like an x-rated caterwaul. PORN IS GREAT! He might as well have put up a big flashing neon sign outside his house.
One of the things that his new girlfriend insisted upon was that he takes a night school class. An odd request, to be sure, but one that we can assume was meant for all of the right reasons, to better his future prospects, make him more rounded, etc. During his time there, he meets a middle –aged woman, Esther, played by Julianne Moore, who becomes lover and sounding board after Jon splits with Barbara, after she gets a look at his internet browsing for the second time and finds that nothing has really changed, despite what he initially promised.
And if you can swallow it, we are led to believe that it is Esther that teaches Jon that porn is not as good as sex with your partner, but that you have to give yourself, and they to you, in order to feel something more than can be found grubbing about in the dark recesses of the internet, with only a box of Kleenex (other ‘filth-away’ wipes are available) for company.
Overall, this is an impressive first multi-tasking outing for JGL, who proves just as much as the sum of his parts when this whole project is presented before you. The script is a little basic, as is his direction, but lest we forget , the man had a lot on his plate and has done an average or above average job all round. I’ve seen much worse direction, acting and writing in films, even this year, where one person is responsible for each, far less dealing with everything.
Interesting, thought provoking and dying to get into an argument, JGL has announced himself as more than just an actor of some talent and it will make most of his peers bloody annoyed. Good (enough) acting, and a passable if not laudable script and direction that doesn’t make you wonder or wince. A good mark for effort, but maybe a more conservative score for actual execution.