Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson star in "Don Jon"
MPAA Rating, R
USCCB Rating, O
(2 Reels out of 5)
At the very opening of Don
Jon, Jon Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) candidly declares
that “porn is better than sex.” It’s a shocking statement
partly because for many men it is true. The film's best quality is
its brutal honesty about the grip porn holds on millions of men.
Yet Jon’s sex addiction is
only one of the symptoms of his deranged lifestyle. Every person and
situation exists for his personal pleasure and indulgence. He loves
nothing, cherishes nothing, and sacrifices nothing. His life is a
perfect example of the sin of Adam and Burger King: to have it our
way. By the end, Jon has learned much and begins to open his life to
others, but the film itself is still constrained by the demands of a
sex-obsessed society. It tries to uplift the human soul but wants to
do it in a way that ensures twenty-something Americans will still buy
Nothing arouses Jon more than the
sound of his computer starting; it is the sound of endless
permutations of pleasure opportunities. Yet this is only the
beginning of Jon’s Xanadu. Everything in his life is an extension
of his vision of the Universe. He keeps his apartment immaculate. He
works out constantly. He even goes to confession every week and lists
off his one night stands and porn habit, despite obviously having no
contrition whatsoever, and receives a standard “5 Hail Mary/5 Our
Father” penance. He meets the girl of his dreamser, fantasies.
Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) is not opposed to sex, just not sex
right away. When they do consummate their month-long relationship, he
is uncomfortable cuddling at night and leaves to watch porn.
Naturally, she catches him and gives him an ultimatum: porn or her.
He chooses her…and secret porn.
Esther (Julianne Moore), a
much older female classmate, sees Jon watching porn on his smartphone
during a lecture but is oddly accepting and curious; she even gets
him to smoke weed before class, adding to his long list of
indiscretions. Barbara inevitably finds out and dumps him, but Jon is
sad for only as long as it takes him to reach his computer. To
fulfill his outward desire for sex, he hooks up with Esther, who
challenges Jon but doesn’t judge him. He discovers she has a broken
life that is probably the cause of her seeking a younger man, smoking
weed, and falling apart at random moments. His care for her propels
him to stop looking at porn and start a real relationship, not
“marriage or anything” but a relationship where he can “lose
himself” in a person rather than porn.
Don Jon pulls no
punches in its approach to this difficult moral subject. Maybe
secular men are comfortable admitting their porn use, but Catholic
men hide in shame. It may provide some cathartic release in shining a
light on the darkness. Consider a scene where Jon goes through his
laundry looking for clean clothes only to find pair after pair of
jeans soiled. It’s a funny way to show a sad reality. There’s
also a scene where Jon, several days on the wagon, has a perfectly
normal dinner with Barbara but frames of porn scenes loudly pass
through his mind. Every American male knows what these intrusive
thoughts feel like, and it’s refreshing to see how Gorden-Levitt,
who also wrote and directed the film, is able to articulate it. Jon
truly is addicted to porn, and Esther points out that he cannot
remember the last day he went without it. Indeed, Jon’s whole life
is an addiction. He is addicted to cleanliness, body image, sex, and
most of all, having complete control over his life. Any created thing
can become an addiction when it is not used for God’s purpose.
Jon states that he loves
porn because he can “lose himself” in it. Jon means that he finds
momentary release from his life in orgasm. Yet porn is not “losing
yourself.” All pornography is masturbatory; it is a reflection of
one’s own thoughts, feelings, and desires. The reason porn is so
attractive is it’s the only place the Law of Attraction actually
works. All male fantasies can manifest as reality on the screen. It
is the oldest sin: the desire to be God. Even after Jon gets rid of
porn and tries to love Esther, he admits marriage is not on the
table. Extramarital sex, and even porn use, is still permissible,
only now it must be mutual.
Jesus says that “whoever
wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their
life for me will find it.” Losing yourself means giving your life
to God by serving your neighbor. This can be done sexually, but only
in marriage because in the sacrament the couple agrees that their
relationship mirrors the love of God. This requires a lifelong and
fruitful union. Yes, a married couple loses themselves in sex. They
also lose themselves in changing diapers, caring for their elderly
parents, and saving for college tuition.
In his interview Light of
the World, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI famously stated that a HIV+
male prostitute who used a condom in order to avoid giving his virus
to others was a “first step in the direction of moralization.”
Many journalists erroneously saw this as an affirmation of condom
use, but it illustrates an important point. Even when clouded by
great sin, God recognizes the baby steps taken towards the light.
Jon’s relationship with Esther, while fraught with immorality, is a
step towards love and away from selfishness.
However, Don Jon
suffers under the weight of its genre and audience. It doesn’t see
porn as a problem, just porn addiction. It is like Thomas More’s
adage: “it’s easy to survive: just don’t cause trouble, or, if
you must cause trouble, cause the trouble that is expected of you.”
Don Jon challenges its audience as far as is socially
acceptable in a sex comedy, which is not very far at all. It has
taken the sobriety coin but has a long way to go.