Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Themes of Don Jon

A lot of people may be put off this film because of the subject matter – a film about a guy who is addicted to pornography. Not exactly a subject that will appeal to the masses. However, the film does cleverly explore a lot of themes that people may be able to relate to.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t go watching this movie with your parents and the scenes with Joseph Gordon-Levitt cracking one off in such a concentrated and sinister fashion, followed by a Kleenax slam-dunk into the trash, can be a little hard to stomach.

But Gordon-Levitt, playing Jon (a modern day Don Juan), has enough charisma as an actor to pull it off. And kudos to him for his directorial and screenwriting efforts, as the film was also aided by a clever script, sharp visuals and editing to keep you engaged.

Despite the subject matter, the film handles the sexual content in a non-gratuitous manner and is always relevant to the story, as well as subtly making several points for you to consider and think about.

If you’re simply looking for a couple hours of entertainment and nothing too thought provoking, the film is still entertaining enough for you to enjoy. But there are several themes that aid the plot of the story that feel relevant to modern times, and that to me is the mark of a good, engaging film and exactly what I look for when deciding what movie to watch.

Specifically, the main theme running throughout the film is just how much the media influences your perspective on many things, including sex and romance, and how this affects men and women differently.

For example, masturbation (in this case, with visual aids) is viewed as wrong or “dirty” by love interest Barbara (played by Scarlett Johansson), who is unnerved when she suspects Jon is viewing online pornography to erm self-complete. So it ends up being his dirty little secret. This deception, along with the habit itself, ultimately ends their relationship.

Culturally, sexual urges can at times be suppressed because it’s been painted as something dirty or unnatural. This can lead to a skewed attitude towards sex. Something that is essentially a very natural compulsion being painted as “wrong” can negatively affect people’s attitude towards things that are perfectly normal and affect them later in their adult life.

But then on the opposite end of the spectrum, you have societies becoming increasingly sexualised, and some of the reasons as to why this is, and why perhaps Jon ends up finding pornography a lot more satisfying than the real thing, are also explored in this film.

Jon, an aggressive alpha male with a heart, lives his simple yet somewhat shallow life with an almost militant-like routine (the repetitive, fast-paced edits and sharp cuts of Jon going about his daily life emphasise this inflexible cycle). This includes a reliance on pornography to feel fully satisfied sexually when he’s in the mood, despite having no trouble getting the ladies.

This aspect of the plot branches off into the way women are objectified in the media (which isn’t just limited to pornography), and gives men unrealistic ideas about what the “perfect” woman should be like. It also highlights just how accessible sexual content is, the way it’s thrust (excuse the pun) in your face through various media outlets.

Let’s face it, sex sells. You see it all around you. A rubbish song with a hyper sexualised video, almost a parody, will commercially perform a lot better than a seriously produced, melodious track. Then you have pointlessly scantily clad supermodels in music videos, which has little or no relevance to the song lyrics or video concept.

In the movie, nothing quite brings home this point than a scene where the camera drifts to a fast food commercial on the TV, showing a bikini-clad woman munching on a burger. I mean sure, this is exaggerated in the film but you get the point. Is it any wonder that our male lead is so sexually charged all the time?

Another issue raised in Don Jon is the way porn desensitises men and further enables them to objectify women. Constantly being reliant on these false interpretations of reality can have dire consequences – in Jon’s case, he’s no longer fully satisfied by the act of sex itself, even when he manages to land his dream woman.

On the flip-side, the film explores how romantic comedies can too give women unrealistic expectations of love and romance (though, much like the faux-commercial, the faux movies used to illustrate this point were a little over-the-top and absurd). However, some women do approach a relationship like a project, with a focus on turning the guy into prince charming, much like Scarlett Johansson’s character Barbara does. This can lead to a superficial relationship with little depth or compromise.


Don Jon manages to stay contemporary with its references to social media and technology use (it’s refreshing for a film to use modern gadgets without it feeling like a blatant product placement opportunity). This highlighted another issue - social media and its impact on society, which in my opinion has helped to create an age of instant gratification: whether that's friendships or relationships, people no longer take the time to cultivate true intimacy or close relationships.

Why bother with the hassle of a relationship, when a casual arrangement or even pornography satisfies their urges without the headache or effort that a relationship requires? Being constantly connected makes it feel like people have interacted, when really they haven’t in any real, concrete way – another thing that is aiding these shallow, superficial relationships.

It’s a bleak, empty way to live your life, limiting the depth of your interaction and communication and sure, it may not be as extreme as Jon’s case, but it is happening. This lack of depth affects Jon more than he realises, until he learns that looks alone aren’t enough to sustain a relationship, some degree of depth and compatibility is required - something Julianne Moore’s character helps illustrate.

Poignantly, the thing that ultimately pulls Jon out of this life funk is when he drops the façade, breaks the cycle and starts to open up to people. This includes a woman whom he initially had little interest in, as well as with his friends.

There’s a lovely scene towards the end where, growing increasingly irate and isolated, his friend comes round uninvited and forces him to discuss what’s bugging him, without the bravado. The irritation dissipates as he opens up to his friend and you can see the visible relief of the character.
It’s a sweet moment with a character that was initially rude and reluctant to chat, and shows just how important human interaction is.

It’s scenes and moments like this that really made me enjoy the movie, and ultimately made it a kind of feel-good movie, despite the dark subject matter that could have very easily veered towards sordid and depressing.

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