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“If you want to lose yourself, you’ve got to lose yourself in another person.”
Don Jon is the beautiful, thorough and highly commendable product of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s screenwriting debut. Also directed by Gordon-Levitt, Don Jon takes inspiration from fictional womanising icon Don Juan; a 17th century character famed for his pride in seduction and sexual conquest of any woman he desires. Jon ‘Don Jon’ Martello (played by Gordon-Levitt himself) is a slimy, arrogant, Italian-American chauvinist. He’s an objectifier – he’s out every week, picking up ‘tens’ with his ‘boys’, bundling them into a taxi, taking them home and fucking their brains out. He cares about few things – his family, his boys, his church, his car, and most pivotally – his porn. Jon is a porn addict, and his addiction to porn has devalued real sex for him. Through finding the incomparably sexy but ultimately controlling Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) and the present, frontless community college classmate Esther (Julianne Moore), Jon explores and expels the boundaries and expectations of sex and love set for him by porn and the modern media-obsessed society itself.
Firstly we need to applaud Joseph Gordon-Levitt on overcoming the challenge of both directing and starring in the film – not only has his message and intent stayed clear throughout the picture, he’s managed to portray a character (excellently, I might add) that completely contrasts the hapless, floppy-haired Tom Hansen in one of his last major comedy-dramas, (500) Days of Summer. It is seemingly effortless how Gordon-Levitt avoids ‘pulling a Hugh Grant’ (playing the same lonely halfwit bachelor in every film) and actually evolves into exacted extremes of the characters he assumes. The supporting cast seemed near faultless too, providing quality acting as well as impeccably timed comic relief (the latter mostly from the fabulous Glenne Headly and Tony Danza, who play Jon’s parents). The music choices were so creative and I felt as though, stylistically, it owed a lot to (500) Days of Summer – in the best way possible. It retained a quirkiness in the arrangement of scenes, and the interspersed narration
I was fortunate enough to be invited to a screening of Don Jon in September in Leicester Square, and I went with a friend who spent their entire twenties as a straight man. Don Jon doesn’t just comment on the flaws and weaknesses of men when it comes to pornography. It deals with typical difficulties faced by those in relationships – and this needn’t necessarily apply specifically to straight couples, either. Jon’s addiction to porn is an epitome of the blind slavery to the media faced by so many people (usually men) today. I know I’ve been in a relationship with a porn addict, and the ideals set by these writhing 2D porn bodies are unmatchable. We have never had a generation before who have grown up with such easy access to unhealthy body standards, and this is presented to them as normal sex. The body and sex ‘ideals’ are affixed to real life, and Don Jon depicts a story of how this warps standards, ‘sexpectations’ and the search for true love.
Why I found it particularly interesting to first see Don Jon with a previously straight friend is because he became more emotionally involved with the mirrored issue in the relationship between Don Jon and Barbara Sugarman. Jon’s porn addiction aside, Barbara is controlling. There’s a lot of insistence on Jon to act a certain way and to do certain things just to please her, and so she herself can imitate what romantic ideals she derives from crass modern romantic-comedies. Media influence is a two way street. Barbara projects an entire unattainable fantasy onto Jon in return, and while her fantasy is not sex-based, it is still of unrealistic and unfair proportions. Don Jon wholly explores love. It is an adventure into the endless, wild, limitless expectations people often make in love, how we get lost in them, and how it is honesty and reality that will lead us to true love.
As Julianne Moore’s character fantastically says in the film, “If you want to lose yourself, you’ve got to lose yourself in another person”.