Check out the movie Don Jon!

Cheers to writer, director and actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt

February 14, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a reader:

I have to admit, when I first saw the previews I thought, “Oh great, another movie that normalizes porn by treating it like a joke: boys will be boys, men will be men, and cool girls understand.” After all, way more porn comes out of Hollywood than feature films, and TV shows from “Friends” to “30 Rock” use porn as a punch line. Was I ever wrong. The film could’ve been called “If you can’t imagine sex without porn, you’re fucked.” a slogan on one of Stop Patriarchy’s most popular stickers.

But what makes this movie special and interesting is how the main character, Jon, transforms through his real interactions with women and liberates himself from porn, something he actually thought he loved and couldn’t live without. And it’s all done with a lot of wit, humor and heart that will appeal to a broad audience and is a great contribution to what must become a society-wide debate about the social effects of pornography. Watch this movie as soon as possible and tell your friends about it!

The movie opens up with a montage of pornified images of women and their body parts with Jon telling us that the only things he cares about are: “My body, my pad, my ride, my family, my church, my boys, my girls, my porn.” His life is a carefully calibrated cycle of working out, hooking up, watching porn, and going to confession. He explains why he likes porn better than having sex: “All the bullshit fades away. I don’t have to say anything, don’t have to do anything, I just fucking lose myself.”

Jon and his buddies eye and rate women like commodities on the regular, and what he eventually seeks out as the alternative to this is equally unreal and objectifying: a traditional relationship with a woman he views as a princess, Barbara, played by Scarlett Johansson. Patriarchal capitalist property relations are in full effect as she works to shape him into marriage material and seethes with embarrassment at the thought of him, as a man, cleaning his own floors.

The Catholic Church is no help at all. The priest makes it clear that the “Hail Marys” and “Our Fathers” Jon is tasked with are punishment and forgiveness for sex without marriage period—there’s no distinction between what he describes as “more than just sex,” a meaningful and mutual connection through sexual exploration with another human being, and a one-way sex transaction, be it porn or the empty hook-up—which leaves him even more confused. Reflecting on the humorous but biting confession scenes, it struck me even more profoundly that, as Sunsara Taylor has said, there is no fundamental difference between the Pope and the pornographer. Both reduce women down to things to be owned and controlled by men.

It’s not until Jon meets Esther, played by Julianne Moore, that another way to be and experience sex is presented to Jon. Esther is older than Jon and doesn’t fit his number ranking mold. She’s not the innocent and beautiful “good girl” who shows up at the end of a romantic comedy just in time to capture Jon’s heart. Esther is messy and letting it all hang out, as she struggles through fresh and ground-shifting pain. Over time they get to know each other as people, having real conversations and sex. Esther is interested in what Jon thinks in a way that is new to him. She asks, “Why bother with porn when you can have the real thing?” and Jon begins to question why he can’t stop watching porn or even imagine his own fantasies. The problems with porn that get revealed don’t come from a place of puritanism, and their relationship is not one headed for marriage and having children as the only thing that would make their sexual experiences meaningful and beautiful. Together, they untangle the ways that Jon has been equating porn with sex, and what he is missing because of it. Jon is hit by what Esther says when she puts into words what so many people have experienced: “The way you have sex is really one-sided, like I’m not even there.” There’s a lot of poignancy and joy in how Jon goes from feeling uncomfortable when a woman looks him in the eye, to being turned on by it, from losing himself in porn, to being “lost together” with Esther when they make love.

While Don Jon doesn’t attempt to critique the harm the pornography industry does to the real women who are prostituted in it, the film does explore the harm that porn does to relationships and the people who view it. I hope that the film encourages people to seek answers to these questions and look deeper into the actual content of pornography, the overwhelming majority of which is much more violent and degrading than what could be shown in an R-rated movie. Just as one example, a popular scenario and search term for porn is “rape.” People should ask themselves, what is it about the nature of pornography that makes the storyline of Don Jon ring true? What are these real (not fantasy) social relations that people are watching play out on film and what are they training generations of primarily boys and men, but also women, to think about women and sexuality? Is this what we want? Like Jon, most people have never stopped to ask themselves these questions or think critically about porn. Don Jon provokes and pushes viewers to think anew about widespread assumptions that have everything to do with understanding and finally ending pornography and patriarchy, the enslavement and degradation of women.

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.