Music

Don Jon’s surprising stance on porn

Josh Larsen

For a Hollywood movie (albeit a small one), Don Jon takes on odd stance toward pornography. The film is actually against it.

This isn’t to say that Hollywood is strictly in the porn business, just that the exploitation of sexuality is one of its more reliable revenue streams. What’s more, who in the movie biz would be so gauche as to suggest that a personal habit might be harmful? To each his own, right?

Well, apparently Joseph Gordon-Levitt believes otherwise. The actor, who most recently appeared in Looper and Lincoln, has chosen an unusual story for his first feature as a writer and director. In Don Jon, Levitt stars as the title character, a single stud whose life consists of working out, masturbating to pornography, prowling nightclubs for one-night stands, going to church to confess said sins and having loud pasta dinners with his family. The more time we spend with Jon, however, the more we realize how pornography has progressed from habit to obsession.

Don Jon, it should be said, is a comedy. Gordon-Levitt does a fairly broad Jersey Shore routine in the lead role, while the explicit snippets of actual porn that we get are mostly used as visual punch lines, deflating any erotic power they might have. Yet even in Jon’s self-parodying voiceover, in which he brags about his sexual prowess, we see glimmers of the truth that the movie is after. “I don’t have to say anything. I don’t have to do anything,” Jon says when explaining the allure of porn. “I just f*&#in’ lose myself.”

Who in the movie biz would be so gauche as to suggest that a personal habit might be harmful?

There’s a telling syllable in that last sentence – the emphasis on self. For what Don Jon reveals about watching pornography – and it’s worth noting that this is something Christians rarely discuss when voicing their opposition to it – is what an anti-communal activity it is. As an older woman, played by Julianne Moore, puts it after she and Jon strike up an unlikely friendship: “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.”

Oddly enough, the movie brought to mind a book I recently read, James V. Brownson’s Bible Gender Sexuality. In it, Brownson writes:

Sex is not simply about the satisfaction of desire. To make such a simplistic claim would be the equivalent of the Corinthians’ claim, ‘Food for the belly and the belly for food.’ Sexual desire is, in this sense, radically different from other bodily desires, such as hunger, for example. If I am hungry, I can find food on my own and satisfy my hunger. Sexual desire, on the other hand, requires another person, and if sex is to achieve what the body most deeply longs for, one must enter into deep communion with the other – the kind of communion that the Bible speaks of as a one-flesh union. In that union, one relinquishes self-determination, and one’s own happiness is bound up in the happiness of the other.

Now, Brownson is discussing intimacy here within the context of marriage, and so it’s important to acknowledge that Don Jon is still a long ways from a traditional, Christian understanding of sexuality. The implications of “sex out of wedlock,” as Jon puts it in one of his weekly trips to the confessional, aren’t even considered.

Yet the movie still argues in favor of a baseline that’s been lost in our porn-soaked culture. (One of the funnier bits is a parody fast-food ad that features a bikini-clad model rolling around on a beach with a fish sandwich.) If we’re going to reclaim sex as the good thing God means it to be, then making the case that it’s better when shared between two human beings who are making eye contact is a decent place to start.

Topics: Movies, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Home & Family, Sex