“All men watch porn”, says Jon Martello (Joseph Gordon Levitt), protagonist and ladykiller extraordinaire in the new movie, “Don Jon.” Preferring the comforts of pornography to those of real women, Jon eventually comes around to realizing life is better outside of the comforts of his life immersed in digital stimulation. His main motivation, as he says, “is to lose myself,” in porn, something he isn’t able to achieve during sex with women.
“Don Jon” does a fantastic job of looking at the very 21st century problem of many men: that widely available, at-your-disposal porn of all varieties has grabbed a hold of men, and provided a convenient escape from the trappings of having to deal with women. It looks at the ways men compartmentalize their sexual needs. Jon has the things that are most important to him: church, family, his girls, his guys, his car, his apartment… and his porn.
Having relationships is messy, as Jon has found out with Barbara (Scarlett Johansson). At first, the “dime,” as she’s referred to (meaning a “10”) is “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever laid eyes on,” croons Jon. Over time, he gets trapped in a bad relationship, after Barbara catches him using porn a second time, and lying about it. She dumps him, and he’s back to watching porn and picking up women with his buddies at the local club.
What I liked is that it portrayed the idea that porn as this very secretive world for men, and misunderstood by women, like Barbara. Porn is clean, strings free, and allows men to immerse themselves in a world to “get lost in.” It provides men the same variety as, say, women experience with shoe shopping, but also comes with many costs. Esther, played by Julianne Moore, is an older woman who Jon meets in night school, and teaches him that porn is quite artificial, at least the porn that he finds stimulating. She teaches him that you can get lost in sex with real women, and not just artificially-created, instant porn. Jon learns how to have intimacy in his sex with Esther, after being dumped by Barbara, and learns that sex is multidimensional and part of making contact with someone else. Instead of just focusing on meeting his own needs during sex, he learns that to lose himself is to also open up to giving sexually to his partner.
I think it’s easy for men to get lost in the one-dimensional quality of porn use, and forget to actually connect with real women. Men who are in relationships often leave a neglected partner feeling rejected and frustrated, as men withdraw and hide behind their laptops or devices to watch it. There’s a lack of real human connection, which for many men can be difficult, confusing, frustrating and can set them up for feeling like failures.
“Don Jon” opens up the secret world of men and pornography in an honest way. It brings the conversation to the table about porn use versus connecting with real women, and about how selfishness and prioritizing our own needs first leaves us alone and disconnected.