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Film “Don Jon”: Love, Porn and Patriarchy

Don Jon 2“Don Jon” (starred in, written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a lot more than just a skillful and entertaining piece of film making.  It is among other things, a serious portrayal of intimacy disability, a subtle depiction of the family issues and social norms that support the objectification of women (and men), and an exploration of the kind of human connection that offers a way out.

It is a marvelous oxymoron: a comic “guy” film, by for and about men, but also a feminist parable of spiritual evolution.

Gordon-Levitt plays the title role of Don Jon, a warm and charming young man who spends his free time with his friends in relentless pursuit of sexual hook-ups.  He and his group of male friends seem never to have progressed beyond high school, fixated on sexy women they observe, rate (1 to 10) and occasionally seduce in bars.

Jon is also a devoted porn addict.  No matter what else is going on in his life with actual women, nothing ever measures up to pornography.  His one night stands are ultimately less satisfying because even they make too many demands on him.  He prefers the fantasy world of porn where he controls everything and does what satisfies him without concern for anyone else.

The plot thickens when Jon pursues Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) who hooks him by withholding sex.  Johansson is perfect as the self-absorbed love addict who is waiting for the male hero to fulfill her romantic fantasy.  The attempt at starting a relationship between these two intimacy disordered people is funny, sad and predictable.

When Jon has his weekly dinner with his parents and sister we get to see why he is the way he is.  His father is your basic loud, macho jerk, who makes suggestive comments about Barbara and is overly impressed that Jon has managed to date such a sexy creature.  Jon’s mother is the narcissist codependent who cares more about being a grandmother than about what might be going on with her son or anybody else.

Still Jon is anchored in his family, the Catholic Church and his group of friends.  These are his sources of connection, the only “higher power” he has known.  He regularly goes to church with his family and takes confession where he dutifully, and comically admits to his 20 to 30 weekly sins of porn, masturbation and sex out of wedlock.  In the last of his confession scenes he tries to talk to the priest who is behind the screen.  The priest will not answer any questions or engage with Jon.

This backdrop is in fact a perfect depiction of the tribal or totemic “higher power”.  These are the more primitive forms of spiritual connection with groups and institutions that often have limited power to bring about any real emotional development.

The real spiritual journey picks up steam when Jon meets Esther (Julianne Moore).  She approaches him in a night class that Jon is taking to appease Barbara.  Esther is a survivor who brings a new spiritual dimension into Jon’s life.  She does so by being relentlessly present and honest, so much so that Jon begins to open up and to be drawn to her.  She is the mythic “crone” or guide who manages to connect with Jon in a real way.  Jon begins to heal and we see in a love making scene with Esther that is the most erotic I think I have ever seen that Jon has begun to understand the stated theme of the film:  losing yourself in someone else, rather than losing yourself in fantasy.

All of these issues are explored without any explicit reference to addiction or recovery.  This film is art and it explains the recovery journey, more powerfully, through metaphor.  It also carries a powerful message of social and feminist consciousness.

This is no accident.  Gordon-Levitt is a self proclaimed feminist.  He is the son of activist, progressive parents.  He describes his mother as being active in the movement in the 60’s and 70’s and is quoted as saying “My mom brought me up to be a feminist.”

The film is a gem, all the more impressive because it is Gordon-Levitt’s  first attempt at writing/directing a feature film.  I understand that there is a planned sequel.  I can’t wait.

Film “Don Jon”: Love, Porn and Patriarchy


Linda Hatch, PhD

Linda Hatch is a psychologist and certified sex addiction therapist specializing in the treatment of sex addicts and the partners and families of sex addicts. Linda also blogs on her own website at Sexaddictionscounseling.com


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APA Reference
Hatch, L. (2019). Film “Don Jon”: Love, Porn and Patriarchy. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 2, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex-addiction/2013/10/porn-addiction-film-don-jon-nails-it/

 

Last updated: 17 Dec 2019
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network (blogs.psychcentral.com) prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.