Fanatic Cinematic: ‘Don Jon’: Porn and life lessons

Movie columnist Alex Leininger on Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut

“Don’t talk about vacuuming in front of me!” “Why, what’s wrong?” “Why? Because it’s not sexy, that’s why!” As I heard this line, I couldn’t help but wonder. Why aren’t vacuums sexy?

Have you seen the sleek new design of the Swiffer WetJet? Have you ever tried getting rid of apple juice stains without the help of its ultra-suctioning magnificence? I think you might just be jealous of its dual-nozzle sprayer and strong-grip pole, so back off.

No, I’m not attracted to a household appliance. No, cleaning is not a romantic activity. But why does everything have to be? Welcome to the world of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, “Don Jon.”

There’s something about this “everything is romantic” way of thinking that makes me super uncomfortable. Not everything is going to imitate your limited edition “Gone With the Wind” DVD, and although the lives we live are all uniquely beautiful, they certainly do not always appear that way.

If you’ve ever ridden a smelly, graffiti-infested subway, did it make you want to jump up and wed the nearest hobo to your left? When you contracted a gross virus and spent all day groaning and vomiting, did you take an immediate headshot for your profile on Match.com? No, you didn’t. Life isn’t alluring all the time.

In “Don Jon,” Jon Martello’s (Gordon-Levitt) friends call him “The Don” because of his ability to womanize successfully every weekend. Jon is the exaggerated form of a New Jersey meathead, only caring about his body and what he does with it.

Somewhere in a string of promiscuous weekends, he meets Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), a “dime” that catches his eye like nobody ever has. After weeks together, the two realize that their connection may have depth to it. However, Jon’s connection with Barbara, no matter how great, is hindered by his other true love: porn.

Yes, Jon is essentially Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino. The metaphors and symbols laced throughout the movie are well hidden behind its “Jersey Shore” exterior and superficial dialogue, but they are truly there.

For starters, the film is a great commentary on expectation versus reality. You know those pictures on the Internet that show a pristine, fully-functional product on one side and its dumpsterrific ugly twin on the other? “Don Jon” highlights the differences between what we expect and what we actually get, and it can be shown in both material and abstract ways.

With all the porn that Jon watches, his mind transforms the fake and unrealistic images he sees into his expectation for reality. He forms an addiction to pornography because the bar he sets is too high, and his expectation that actual encounters should be just like porn is never fulfilled. The movie brilliantly (although explicitly) explains and shows a very real phenomenon plaguing our world today. It’s just like when you order a cappuccino and get a crappuccino instead, am I right?

Another concept that “Don Jon” illustrates, albeit briefly, is the concept of religion and confession. In the movie, Jon is seen going to church every Sunday, and describes himself as a religious and faithful man. However, it’s interesting to point out that before every church scene, Jon is seen speeding in his car, yelling and cursing at other drivers and even getting into confrontations. Transition from these unflattering images to images of Jon walking up the church steps and confessing his weekly sins, and you’ve got a good representation of hypocrisy.

Obviously, the movie isn’t trying to bash on religion, nor is it trying to say that every religious human being must be 100 percent sinless. The church scenes serve as the looking glass into Jon’s transformation as the movie goes along. We see very quick, dismissive confessions at the beginning of the film, contrasted by thoughtful, inquisitive confessions near the end. Pairing the church scenes with Jon’s relationship with Esther (Julianne Moore), we can see a touching, coming of age story.

There are a lot of things that could potentially irk you while watching “Don Jon.” Maybe you’ll feel like vacuum cleaners are given a bad reputation. Maybe you won’t like the way reality is shown in a negative light. Both arguments are valid.

Just know this: Reality changes, and it often starts by you changing yourself.

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