Note: This movie includes numerous brief clips of pornography. Before watching it, check out our full analysis of the film, as well as the review from Plugged In.
“There’s only a few things I really care about in life. My body, my pad, my ride, my family, my church, my boys, my girls…and my porn.”
So begins the trailer to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut Don Jon, in which he also plays the titular role. Per the official synopsis, Jersey boy Jon Martello is a strong, handsome womanizer who sleeps with a different woman every weekend, but prefers the solo bliss of pornography…at least until he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson).
Certain subplots are evident even from the brief trailer, such as Jon’s sister’s silent texting during family altercations and Barbara’s escapism through romantic comedies, but one thing is clear: the movie hinges on Jon’s use of porn. More to the point, when Barbara catches him, he’s forced to re-evaluate what’s important to him.
This is Hollywood, of course. My speculations are based almost entirely off the preview. There’s no guarantee that in the end, Barbara and Jon won’t come to some “understanding,” like a compromise that Jon will cut back on porn use and Barbara will look the other way when he uses it. And as far as I’m aware, Covenant Eyes hasn’t been contacted for permission to use our software and logo as part of Jon’s healing process. I’d speculate that, if Jon does decide to give up porn, it will be a much easier recovery than most porn users experience. And, of course, it’s likely that the movie will at least partially undermine its own message by showing full or partial nudity, or even full porn scenes.
Still, there are a number of reasons to be excited about the movie:
1. Don Jon promises a honest assessment of porn’s impact on intimacy.
Per the movie rating site Rotten Tomatoes, “His buddies call him Don Jon due to his ability to ‘pull’ a different woman every weekend, but even the finest fling doesn’t compare to the bliss he finds alone in front of the computer watching pornography.”
This, of course, parallels our own research. While some claim that porn can be used to build intimacy, the reality is that it continually rewires the brain to only be satisfied by endless variation. In short, like most addictions, porn fuels the need for more porn. Real women can never compete.
2. Don Jon shows how porn leads to the objectification of women.
When Jon sees Barbara for the first time, he’s not attracted to her stunning personality. And when he and a friend look her up on Facebook, they linger over the photos of her in skin-tight dresses; they focus on her posterior. While Jon actually attempts to build a relationship with her as opposed to seeing her as another conquest, he doesn’t quite seem to see her as a person with real hopes and dreams.
This is also supported by plenty of research. Porn fuels things like rape myth acceptance. It reduces women to the sum of their parts. If only subtly, the movie appears to acknowledge this as one of porn’s symptoms.
3. Don Jon promises a real sense of betrayal.
When Barbara walks in when Jon is watching porn, it is not a happy scene. She yells, she cries. “I thought you were different,” she says.
I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve heard from hurting wives who have been in exactly this situation. It’s in the hundreds, if not thousands. This post, for example, has 50 comments, many from heartbroken wives and girlfriends. This one has 69.
As porn has become increasingly unavoidable, many people seem to have the attitude that it isn’t – and shouldn’t be – a big deal. But the truth is, it is a betrayal, and many women even experience symptoms similar to PTSD.
Even if the movie ultimately comes to some sort of compromise (like okaying Jon for occasional porn use), it’s nice to see a movie that appears to give the sex addict’s partner the weight of emotions that she deserves.
4. Don Jon may signal that the tide is shifting.
The extent to which art imitates life and to which life imitates art can be subject to endless debate. Certainly movies often reflect what’s going on in society, as Don Jon clearly does.
It’s also true to say that media often normalizes the situations it portrays. This has been proven with pornography (see also the rise in rape myth acceptance), and it’s true of culture in general. Just think back on the history of TV, from benign shows in the early days like Leave it to Beaver to the modern hit How I Met Your Mother, in which a dad tells his teenagers about his hookups and recreational drug use before he met their mother, and another cast member unashamedly picks up women and uses porn. Or HBO’s Girls, in which the token virgin had sex in the first season’s finale.
The truth is, porn and extramarital sex are normal. But that doesn’t make these behaviors healthy. And while researchers and lawmakers seem generally aware of porn’s harmful effects, the message does not seem to be seeping down to the populace. In fact, policymakers in Great Britain are recommending incorporating education about porn in elementary school sex education – most specifically, that like anti-drug awareness campaigns, kids need to be warned about porn before it has the chance to take a grip on them.
So what does this have to do with Don Jon? Namely this: at least one high profile actor and director in Hollywood appears to have gotten the message about porn use. And if people buy tickets to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt and walk away with a better understanding of what porn does to a relationship, it’s a good thing.
View the trailer for Don Jon here. (Warning: while there’s no full nudity in the trailer, it may be considered inappropriate for some audiences.)
Image source: Still from the movie.
I hope you’re right on so many levels, but I do worry this will be buried at the box office and completely overshadowed by all the big “blockbusters” coming out over the next few months. But I guess the fact that, as you allude to, this is going to be a mainstream movie at all, done by a pretty big actor / actress combo is a step in the right direction!