Don Jon is a rare breed of Rom Com which takes the male perspective . It’s focus? How pornography creates in men false perceptions of women and sex and ultimately damages relationships. A Reworking of 17th century lothario, Don Juan, it follows Jon Martello (Joseph Gordon Levitt)- a thirty something narcissist and hedonist whose only pursuits in life are sex, gym, family and church. In every way the eligible bachelor he is ruled by his own selfish pleasures- the greatest of which as we learn is masturbation. His routine is simple- he flicks the light switch, opens his laptop, surfs the net and loses himself to a world flesh and fantasy.
Comparing the women he sleeps with to the women he sees on screen, he teaches us that porn necessitates a voluptuous figure, excellent blowjob skills, and willingness to try out different sexual positions, all which, at least in Jon’s mind, the real thing falls short of. And so it goes that the early portion of film charts his jersey shore style courting as he bumps, grinds and takes home a different girl at every opportunity.
But then he meets Barbara Sugarman, for all intents and purposes, the porn ideal physically, but not the easy lay he is used to. Failing to sleep with her on the first night, he pursues her, tracking her down online and arranging a date. Barbara, played by the beautiful Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin/ Vicky Christina Barcelona), quickly makes her intentions clear: she wants a real man and isn’t out to fool around. Playing to her affections, Jon maintains he is after the same thing, to which a relationship starts to blossom between them.
Here we assume that Barbara is going to be the making of the Jon- she encourages him to return to college, puts a smile on the face of his parents and opens his eyes up to the possibility of love. But alas, no soon have they slept together and Jon is off in the other room, jacking off and telling us where Barbara went wrong. Catching him in with an inappropriate clip on screen, Barbara shoots into a fit of rage, believing Jon to be both perverted and insatiable. He assures her that he was simply watching a clip his buddy sent him, and at least for a short while gets off with a slap on his wrist. But early worry soon turns into full blown paranoia, as Barbara raids his laptop and confronts him about his search history. Aligning himself with the male species, he maintains that porn is something which every guy watches, regardless of whether they’re in a relationship or not. Here, the film begs the question, how common is porn consumption among young men and does it represent a form of infidelity?
For Roman Catholic Barbara at least it’s a deviation from the norm, and ultimately costs them any chance of a future together. Possessive and needy in equal measures, she loathes the bachelor life that Jon has become accustomed to, down even to the brillo pads he buys to clean his apartment. Physical chemistry aside it’s clear that Barbara isn’t “the one”. Interestingly, for all his vices, Jon regularly attends church and represents his sins. Yet despite the countless Hail Mary’s he receives he cannot quite seem to shake his weakness for onanism, a weakness which in actual fact is simply a matter of having not met the right woman.
His metamorphosis takes the form of Esther (Julianne Moore)- a unassuming plain- jane he meets at college. Esther is everything that Barbara isn’t: open minded, understanding, gentle, 10 years his senior. And Instead of condemning his porn habit Esther embraces it- giving him an obscure blue movie to watch and asking, what is it that porn gives you that a real woman can’t? Re framing Jon’s perspective, she teaches tenderness in place of lust, selflessness over self interest, and mind- body unity, not superficiality. With the gel out of his air, and the Hail Mary’s at a bare minimum, Jon shows all the signs of a changed man; an acquired knowledge that love for another is so much greater than love for oneself.
Don Jon is one of the few Rom Coms to have spoken to me as a man; to have sympathized with chauvinistic views on women and sex and contextualized the meaning of porn intuitively. For these reasons I consider it an original piece, and a must see for any guy who normally can’t stand what the genre has to offer.