Arts movie review

Love in the digital age

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut questions the effects of society’s perception of sex and love


Don Jon

Directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Julianne Moore, Scarlett Johansson, and Tony Danza

Rated R

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In his directing debut, Joseph Gordon-Levitt tackles the complex issues of our illusions about sex and true love. Gordon-Levitt also stars as the titular Jon Martello, nicknamed Don Jon by his friends for his ability to pull “dimes” every night at the bar.

But sex, even with hot women, doesn’t compare to Jon’s love for pornography. Everyday, Jon sneaks off to his computer to watch porn, sometimes even after having sex. He smugly confesses his sins of sex out of wedlock to a priest, and is quickly absolved by saying Hail Marys, freeing him for yet another week of debauchery.

He’s perfectly content with his life until he meets Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), a “perfect 10” who refuses to have sex with Jon until he can become a hero like one of her favorite romance movies. Jon willingly tries to rise to the challenge, attending night school to earn a promotion, and hiding his porn addiction when he realizes that Barbara is disgusted by porn. Secretly, even he hopes that a relationship can cure him of his addiction.

Yet Barbara’s love for romantic movies is just a different form of addiction that affects their relationship as well. She expects her life to be just like the movies, but this lifestyle certainly has a cost. When Jon tells her that “She’s the most beautiful thing [he’s] ever seen”, she’s so happy that her life seems to be following a script that she doesn’t realize that she is only an object to Jon.

Gordon-Levitt doesn’t shy away from showing us that the objectification of women in pornography has become deeply entrenched in mainstream society. In one scene, he features a real Carl’s Jr. ad that shows a topless woman on a beach eating a burger, barely more than a slab of meat herself. He intersperses clips of hardcore porn with Jon’s sex life as a jarring reminder that Jon’s appetite for easy gratification can’t be satisfied by real women with needs and feelings.

Yet these pornographic clips also feel exploitative and unnecessarily shocking. Instead of using this time to consider Jon’s evolving attitudes towards love and sex, we are forced to endure a seizure-inducing flurry of images of nude women, stranding the final act from the rest of the movie.

And only Jon gets to have an epiphany that changes the way he thinks about the world. For a movie that highlights the stereotypes of the ways that men and women react to illusions of love, it seems unfair to only allow Jon to have a revelation. Like many other movies, Don Jon only seriously considers the plight of males in a digital society. Don Jon is certainly a valiant effort by Gordon-Levitt, but it’s still not quite enough.