What Don Jon Teaches Us About Love, Sex & Selfishness

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS

As promised, here’s the follow-up to my post on why Christians should consider watching Don Jon. Here I’ll discuss the film’s significant scenes and themes. 

Like I said last time, Joseph Gordon-Levitt describes Don Jon as being about “a boyfriend and a girlfriend; he watches too much pornography, and she watches too many romantic Hollywood movies.” With this film, Gordon-Levitt wanted to explore the way media affects our expectations of real life. (NPR) In doing so, the film examines broader issues of sexuality in general. 

A synopsis before we get started:

Jon describes his ordinary world this way: “There’s only a few things I really care about in life. My body. My pad. My ride. My family. My church. My boys. My girls. My porn.” He and his friends often pick up girls at the club, but when he sees Barbara (played by Scarlett Johansson) in a red dress at the bar, he finds she’s hard to get. Eventually, she agrees to date him. Things go well for a while – until she catches him watching porn and dumps him. After that, he begins a relationship with Esther (played by Julianne Moore), an older woman he met in his night class. He tells her what happened with Barbara and she points out he might have an addiction to porn. Eventually, she helps him realize his self-centered perspective on sex. Jon meets up with Barbara to apologize, but realizes during the conversation that she was also selfish. In the end, it is through his relationship with Esther that he starts to understand that sex has always been about loving another individual, rather than finding personal pleasure.

Porn is part of a self-centered sex life.

First of all, I’d like to point out that while Jon is undoubtedly addicted, pornography is not the only contributor to his broken views on sexuality. His root issue – just like all of us – is that he is self-centered, joseph-gordon-levitt-in-don-jon-movie-8and not surprisingly, that attitude bleeds into his sexuality. That’s why I say porn is part of a self-centered sex life. 

The movie shows other aspects of Jon’s attitude by how he and his friends pick up girls for one-night stands, and how they rate women’s attractiveness based on a one to ten scale. Even his conversations with his father about Barbara prove that his whole paradigm about the opposite sex is hanging on physical appearance, rather than on a woman’s worth as a person.

A particularly sober scene is at the dinner table with his family. Jon and his father are absorbed in the TV behind them, which is playing a highly-sexualized advertisement. Meanwhile, the camera pans past the mother and sister who are both attractive, normal-looking women. The question this scene asks is: how are the women in our life supposed to compete with the gorgeous models the media has taught us to expect?

Later in the film, we start to see some examples of how pornography in particular has affected Jon’s perspective on sex. In one scene, Jon admits to Esther that he actually enjoys porn more than sex. She responds with a question:

ESTHER

Well what is it? What do you get from porn that you don’t get with sex with an actual person?

JON

I lose myself.

A few scenes later, Esther confronts Jon with the truth. What he was missing in real sex was what he was searching for in porn: the experience of losing himself.

ESTHER

Honey, I’m gonna be honest with you, cause that seems like what you want. Look, the way you have sex is totally one-sided. It’s like I’m not even there… You said you want to lose yourself in sex. If you want to lose yourself, you have to lose yourself in another person, and she has to lose herself in you. It’s a two-way thing.

Porn is selfish because it’s one-sided. It takes out the relational aspect of the physical act, removing the other person from the equation in favor of yourself. But in order to truly enjoy sex, Jon finally realizes, the focus has to be on someone else.

It’s selfish to demand a Hollywood boyfriend.

Jon isn’t the only one who is self-centered, though. Barbara has developed unrealistic expectations for the men she dates, partly due to the influence of the Hollywood romances she loves so much. On their first date, they go watch “Someone Special,” which is obviously a spoof on the typical chick flick.

In the voiceover, Jon narrates the cliché plot we’ve all seen a million times:

JON (VO)

The pretty woman. The pretty man. Love at first sight. The first kiss. The break up. The make up. The expensive wedding. Then they drive off into the sunset. Everyone knows it’s fake but they watch it like its real f***ing life.

Afterwards, Barbara gushes over the film:

BARBARA

She was the most important thing to him. He gave up everything for her. It was meant to be. I love movies like that, you know. He’s such a real man.

In Barbara’s eyes, a “real” man is modeled after the Hollywood boyfriend, who gives up everything for the woman he loves. But the problem with her perspective is that it’s one-sided: she expects the men she’s dating to give up everything, while she gives up nothing.

Throughout their relationship, we see how many demands Barbara makes. In one scene, she uses the promise of sex to manipulate Jon into taking a night class. In another scene, she prevents Jon from buying cleaning supplies because the thought of him cleaning his apartment isn’t “sexy.” After the breakup, Jon’s sister points out the flaw in their relationship:

MONICA

That girl, she has her own agenda. She doesn’t care about Jonny, she doesn’t know the first thing about him. She just wants a guy who’s gonna do whatever she tells him to. (To Jon) It is a good thing that she broke up with you.

While Jon’s porn addiction instigated the breakup, Barbara’s selfishness was also causing the relationship to crumble. Later, when Jon meets up with her to apologize, the following conversation conducts a perfect post-mortem of their relationship.

JON

You asked for a lot, a lot of different things. And then, I couldn’t do it all for you.

BARBARA

Well, when a real man loves a woman, he doesn’t mind doing things for her. Alright? He’ll do anything for her.

JON

Yeah, but don’t you think that sounds a little bit one-sided?

BARBARA

No, I don’t. But that’s why you like to watch those whores in those videos, cause you don’t gotta do anything for them, right?

JON

Yeah, that’s one-sided also. Definitely.

In the end, Jon and Barbara both contributed to the dysfunction of the relationship. Relationships simply can’t function if both people are selfish.

The best sex is selfless.

One of the most powerful scenes in the film is a sex scene near the end of the film. It takes place after Jon and Esther have had another difficult, but honest, conversation. Esther has also finally revealed the pain she’s been hiding: 14 months ago, she lost her husband and son in a tragic car accident. Because it takes place in the context of emotional vulnerability, the sex in this scene is markedly different from the sex in any of the previous scenes. The act comes from a completely different source: pure love rather than self-centeredness and gentleness rather than personal satisfaction. You can also see on Jon’s face that he is experiencing a pleasure that surpasses any of his previous sexual encounters: the pleasure of losing himself in another person.

The film ends with Jon’s reaction to this revelatory experience:

JON (VO)

While we’re doin’ it, all the bullshit does fade away. It’s just me and her, right there. And yeah, I do lose myself in her. And I can tell she’s losing herself in me. And we’re just f***ing… lost together.

Religion in Don Jon

There’s one last scene I’d like to pull from the film, and it’s one that is especially important for Christians to hear. Like I mentioned before, church is on Jon’s list of things he cares about. Every week, we see him attending mass with his family and entering the confession booth. In this sacred space, we get to see Jon’s initial complacency, quickly followed by shame, a desire to do what’s right, and eventually excitement as he triumphs over pornography on his journey to freedom. Unfortunately, however, the church seems out of touch with his internal transformation. Take a look at his visit to the confessional booth following his breakthrough with Esther:

JON

I told the father a while back that I stopped watching pornography, but that was a lie. I didn’t stop at all. Thing is, this week, I actually did stop. Totally. Just not doing it anymore. So.

He pauses, waiting for the priest’s response. He is greeted with silence.

PRIEST

Yes?

JON

Yeah! So that’s like zero for the week.

He pauses again, still expecting a positive reaction. Receiving none, he continues.

Other than that, I did have sex out of wedlock one time, but it was different. It wasn’t just sex, it was like… I don’t know, it’s hard to explain, but…yeah, that’s it, so. For these and all the sins in my life, I am sorry.

PRIEST

Ten Lord’s Prayers and ten Hail Mary’s–

JON

What, really? Same thing, no difference?

PRIEST

To the ministry of the church, may God give you–

JON

Wait, Father, I’m really sorry, but could you just tell me how you got to those numbers, please, cause I really thought there was gonna be a difference this week.

Another pause.

PRIEST

Have faith, my son.

This scene struck me because sometimes the church becomes so concerned with do’s and don’ts that it forgets true transformation happens in the heart. Yes, Jon was still having sex out of wedlock, but he was finally grasping the concept of sacrificial love that is so central the Gospel. But the church couldn’t look past the surface details to see that he was finding healing. The challenge to us is this: will we withhold our judgment and choose to look at the heart instead, like God does?

I think that’s why I wrote that last article defending Don Jon. Based on content alone, I probably should have condemned the film. But instead, I took the risk of watching it. In the end, I was surprised to discover that its heart was pure, or at least in the process of healing – just like Jon.

Short Film Friday: Noon

Happy Friday! Today we have an intense sci-fi short called “Noon” written and directed by Kasra Farahani. Farahani is a concept artist/art director/production designer who’s worked on films like The Case of Benjamin Button, Alice and Wonderland, and a bunch more well-known titles. Pretty cool, huh?

Vimeo summary: Noon is a scene from a completed feature screenplay. The short sets up the world’s unique premise and introduces our protagonist, Gray, a coyote numbed to the cruelty of the world and his part in it. We watch Gray struggle to salvage what humanity still exists within him when profit is pitted against morality.

Why I love it: I’m impressed with Noon’s production design, which is phenomenal for a short film. Farahani manages to create a highly-detailed and compelling universe in only 12 minutes. Pretty unique sci-fi idea, too.

 

Short Film Friday: Life Doesn’t Frighten Me

Happy Fourth of July! Here, have a short film.

Today’s short is a coming-of-age story called “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me” by Canadian writer/director Stephen Dunn.

Vimeo logline: On the eve of her thirteenth birthday, Esther Weary must come to terms with the realities of becoming a woman through her clueless Grandfather and his pet pug. Life Doesn’t Frighten Me is a coming-of-age comedy about a young woman’s exploration of ugliness and beauty.

Why I love it: Stephen Dunn is fluent in the cinematic language, using everything from props to sets to costumes to dialogue in order to create subtle symbols that support a moving story.

 

I’m a Christian and I Just Watched a Steamy Movie About Porn

Sexually explicit movies aren’t exactly my usual fare. As a home-schooled Southern Baptist missionary kid, I’m not one to seek out violent, crude or erotic films for their own sake. I don’t particularly like hearing cuss words and I find sex scenes just as awkward as the next person. But I do admire films that tell the truth about this broken world, especially ones that manage to do so without glorifying the darkness.

That’s why I admire Don Jon, a film about a man addicted to porn. While the movie is rated R for foul language and graphic sexual content, it contains a surprisingly truthful message. DonJonBanner1

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote and directed the film to explore how media affects our expectations for real-life relationships. He describes the film as being about “a boyfriend and a girlfriend; he watches too much pornography, and she watches too many romantic Hollywood movies” (NPR). He stars in it as porn-addict Don Jon, opposite Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore.

Meaningful message or not, many of you are probably still hesitant about the morality of exposing oneself to graphic images that can’t be unseen. I was, too. But after considering it for several weeks, I felt at peace with watching it. Before I did, though, I prayed for God to protect my heart and give me discernment should I need to stop at any point. 

The Bible is very clear that it’s important to keep ourselves holy for the Lord. In Leviticus 11:45, God says “you must be holy because I am holy.” However, I do think it’s possible to engage in candid conversations about sin while maintaining a pure heart. In fact, I believe Christians should make a point to watch and discuss some R-rated films. Here are a few compelling reasons why:

1. We need to confront sin directly.

There’s no getting around the fact that a lot of graphic material was presented in Don Jon. Porn, seductive dancing, sex scenes and crude sexual language were all shown on screen. At times, it was hard to watch. But then again, so is sin. don-jon

Much too often, we sugar-coat these issues or simply ignore them, but this film portrays broken behavior in all its ugliness. We are forced to look it in the eyes, recognizing its presence in our world, our families and ourselves. By confronting sin directly, we have a better chance of both identifying it and fighting against it. Sin doesn’t stand a chance once it’s in the light.

2. We need to examine ourselves.

We often talk about purity like we have to protect ourselves from being tainted by outside forces, but Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for that perspective: “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? …For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come…” (Mark 7:18, 21).

Movies often provide keen insight into human nature. So if a movie draws out unclean thoughts in us, we can’t blame it: it’s a reflection of ourselves. Let’s stop throwing Hollywood under the bus and take responsibility for our own dirt.

3. We need to listen to the world.

Filmmakers have long been called the philosophers of our time. As such, it’s extremely important that we think critically about what they are saying. We don’t have to agree, but we do need to understand. Then we’ll be able to join the conversation and maybe even extend a few answers.

We also need to realize that secular filmmakers can arrive at truth on their own, and do so surprisingly often. It’s refreshing to see them do this in the absence of clichéd religious language. If we give them a chance to tackle some big issues and take the time to listen, it’s likely we’ll learn something for ourselves as well.

Joseph-Gordon-Levitt-i-Don-JonI definitely drew some profound truths from Don Jon. It taught me about the consequences of unhealthy sexual lifestyles and convicted me about the damage of self-centeredness in relationships. Most importantly, it taught me about the joys of selfless love, sexual and otherwise. All from a movie with porn in it.

My point is this: please don’t discount a movie because of its rating. You might be missing out on a priceless conversation about life and truth. 

Don’t give up on Hollywood just yet.

Disclaimer: I fully respect your decision if you don’t think you should see Don Jon. I recognize there are times when Christians should avoid certain kinds of content when they are vulnerable in a particular area. But either way, I don’t want you to miss out on this excellent study of human intimacy. In a later post, I’ll summarize the important scenes and messages of the film.

Short Film Friday: She’s a Fox

This Friday’s short is a classic 80s coming-of-age story called “She’s a Fox” from writer/director Cameron Sawyer.

Vimeo logline: It’s 1987. Infatuated with the hottest girl in school, sixth-grader, Cameron, puts everything on the line – including his mullet – to win the girl of his dreams.

Why I love it: It’s 1987. The excellent production design and typical storyline leave no doubt about it. What a feat to capture the nostalgia of the era so well!

If You Haven’t Read Jasper Fforde, Remedy This Egregious Error Immediately

Thursday Next's map of the book world.

Click for Thursday Next’s map of the book world.

Now that it’s summer, I’ve finally found time to enjoy a collection of incredible novels by some of my favorite authors. Allow me to introduce you to one of the best: Jasper Fforde. Let’s take a look inside his amazing brain.

In all his books, Fforde creates a world where the utterly ridiculous is accepted without question. If you’re a fan of outrageous plots, unlikely characters, witty dialogue and lame puns, this is the author for you. Fforde is most famous for the Thursday Next series, a zany mashup of fantasy, sci-fi and literary nerdom. The first book, The Eyre Affair, introduces Agent Thursday Next, who must enter the book world to investigate the kidnapping of Jane Eyre. You can also expect a number of surprises in later books, including a smattering of cameos by famous literary characters and an ingenious use of footnotes.The Big Over Easy

Fforde also has two clever spin-off murder mysteries featuring a variety of nursery rhyme characters. The first “Nursery Crime” novel is called The Big Over Easy, in which Detective Jack Spratt and Sergeant Mary Mary investigate the death of Humpty Dumpty. In The Fourth Bear, they tackle the mysterious disappearance of Henrietta “Goldilocks” Hatchett.

Interested yet? Here are even more reasons to love Jasper Fforde:

He has a small kingdom of websites related to each of his books. Styled after the horrendous websites of the early Internet (clip art and all), Fforde created micro-sites for Thursday Next’s SpecOps agency, The Goliath Corporation, and the Cheese Enforcement Agency (yep). He also has a wealth of “Special Features” for each book, a link to his social media sites called “Twitface,” a letter from his mother, and an emergency escape button in case your boss walks by while you’re on the site. I’ve happily wasted a good many hours on Jasperfforde.comThursday Next

He painted a real car to match Thursday Next’s infamous ride. Many of Fforde’s protagonists seem to have a common obsession with ugly and/or unreliable cars. I mean, just look at this thing –>

He’s multitalented. Before becoming a full-time writer, Fforde worked in the film industry. How crazy is that? He even has an IMDb profile listing his work on movies like The Mask of Zorro. Fforde continues to exercise his visual creativity by practicing photography. You can check out his excellent work on Instagram.

Other reasons: He lives in Wales, drives a smart car and flies an antique biplane.

All this to say: I love Jasper Fforde’s crazy stories, hilarious imagination, and everything else about his magnificent, creative soul. I just found out he’s coming to Austin for a book signing in October, so I’ll be at the front of the line with my stack of books and a giddy smile, ready to meet this person who’s brought me so much joy. I hope you get the chance to go on one of his adventures, too!

Short Film Friday: Alone Time

Well, I guess it’s actually Short Film Saturday. Oops. I’m currently traveling (this post is brought to you from beautiful Minnesota), so I’ve been a little scatter-brained. Speaking of traveling, here’s a short film about vacation from director Rod Blackhurst.

Vimeo logline: A young woman, stressed by her busy and continually crowded New York City existence spontaneously retreats to a solitary lake deep in the Adirondacks.

Why I love it: The gorgeous scenery in this film brings you on vacation right along with the main character, but what I love best is the wicked twist in the last 10 seconds.