About Don Jon

Don JonWhen I first heard about the subject matter of Don Jon, a new film written by, directed by, and starring child-star-turned-very-successful-adult-star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, I was thrilled. Gordon-Levitt was taking on porn addiction! Astoundingly, the very existence of porn addiction is often considered  “controversial,” and is questioned as a true malady.

Then I saw that Don Jon, was a comedy. Hmmm. Downplaying the gravity of porn? Probably not. In interviews, Gordon-Levitt seemed pretty intent on examining the damage done by unrealistic media images of the human body, sex and relationships. But he knew that no one is going to see a film upbraiding porn users. He’s going to entertain, or as Oscar Wilde said: “If you’re going to tell someone the truth, make them laugh. Otherwise they’ll kill you.” So far so good. I started thinking I might even be able to watch this film.

The storyline unfolds thusly: Don Jon—a nickname–(Gordon-Levitt) is a “Jersey Shore”-esque Casanova but prefers his daily dose of porn to the hot babes he picks up at clubs. (An online “Entertainment Weekly” article noted that most porn addicts are NOT picking up hot babes at clubs.) Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johannson) is just such a hot babe that Don Jon picks up at a club, but she’s addicted to her Hollywood love stories in which men are hopeless romantics and attentive to a woman’s every emotional need.

The more I read about the film, the more I realized I could NOT go see it (and not because I’m a nun but because I’m a human being). A simulated porn montage is featured along with “strong graphic sexual material and dialogue throughout, nudity.” Porn is simulated sex and this film contains simulated porn. These are definitely postmodern times. Therefore, this “review” of “Don Jon” will be my second “historic” review, i.e., the second time I have “reviewed” a movie without watching it. (My first ever non-review was “Magic Mike” www.tinyurl.com/NunReviewsMagicMike.) So perhaps you could say I’m reviewing the subject matter, context and conversation surrounding “Don Jon.”

Many new films are dealing—from various perspectives–with porn/the porn industry. (How could they not—with its overwhelming prevalence today?) Lovelace, The Look of Love, Masters of Sex (TV).  All this just goes to show the mainstreaming and normalization of pornography. Porn is now accessible (available everywhere, any time), abundant, affordable (free), anonymous and…acceptable. Even expected.

Is Gordon-Levitt’s flick doing what Flannery O’Connor prescribes: “to the hard of hearing you shout,” or is porn in a category by itself, something so terrible and desacralizing of the human person that we cannot SHOW porn to cure porn? I applaud Gordon-Levitt for addressing this elephant in the middle of the room, and the film is getting rave reviews from many quarters. In interviews, Gordon-Levitt expresses Karol Wojtyla’s “personalistic norm” very well: “If you’re comparing your lover* to a checklist, that’s not romantic—that’s consumerism. What’s romantic is finding the nuances and the details that are unlike anybody else.”

I do not doubt Gordon-Levitt’s altruism, but showing porn to critique porn can be like tobacco giant Philip Morris not hesitating to sponsor anti-smoking campaigns (as they do): because there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Even the mention/sight of a cigarette triggers cravings in smokers. Oh, and a real porn site paid to have it’s URL featured in “Don Jon.” In the end, it’s strictly business, I guess.

What is the solution for our thoroughly “pornified” culture? There is only one: Theology of the Body. The body reveals God and reveals the person.

1. See the body and beauty rightly.  (Porn automatically excluded.)
2. Reclaim human relationships. “We must find a new way of relating to each other as persons.” –Pope Benedict XVI

*3. Sex is only for the married because the language of sex says: “you alone, forever.” And a baby that may result from sex ideally deserves to be raised by their own Mom and Dad. In Theology of the Body, sex—the verb—is called “the marital embrace.”
4. “Heal wounds.” –Pope Francis     www.ReclaimSexualHealth.com

5. Repeat as needed.

Sister Helena Burns, fsp belongs to the Daughters of St. Paul, an international congregation of religious women dedicated to spreading God's Word through the media: www.pauline.org. She gives workshops to teens and adults on media, philosophy, and Theology of the Body and is the movie reviewer for The Catholic New World, Chicago's Catholic newspaper. You can follow her excellent blog, HellBurns at hellburns.blogspot.com.