Don Jon
This month I received a phone call here at the church from a man wanting to know if we hosted 12-step groups. I told him we did have one, which met weekly, and he asked if we would consider hosting another group. As I began to get into the spiel about working through the buildings and grounds committee, and the Session, the man told me he was talking about a different type of anonymous group: sexual addiction, specifically online porn. I remember speaking to my Building and Grounds Chairman about this after choir practice, and his response was classic: “I don’t even know what to say to that.”
Well, Joseph Gordon-Levitt knows what to say about it. He’s the writer, director, and star of “Don Jon,” yes, the movie about the guy addicted to online porn. He’s the one wiling to talk about the elephant in the room of contemporary Americana , and predictably, he chooses to do so with a lot of sleaze and grunge humor. So before you go running out to see this one, fellow churchgoers, be forewarned: not only is the subject matter indelicate in the extreme, the treatment is decidedly raunchy, the language is egregiously atrocious, and the only redeeming social value is that at the end, at the very end, it goes for…..redeeming social value.
Jon (Gordon-Levitt) is a 30-something single guy. He cares about only a few things: keeping his little apartment clean, driving the right kind of car, hanging out with his two best buddies, and his routine: besides his job (which we hear almost nothing about), he works out regularly and keeps himself fit in the gym. He goes out every Saturday night to a club with his buddies, who ogle (and rate, on a scale of one to ten) the girls. Jon is such a hit with the ladies that they call him “Don Jon”: he’s handsome and confident; he’s a good dancer and he’s unafraid to show them some physical affection. But, almost predictably, after bedding them, he’s not interested in wedding them. But he does feel a little guilty. So, every Sunday morning, he goes to Mass with his family: Mom, Dad, and little sister (also grown). He confesses his sins to the priest, including how many times he has had sex out of wedlock that week, and how many times he has masturbated that week. He then happily receives absolution from the priest----for his penance, 10 Our Fathers and 10 Hail Marys, and he’s done. After church, the family eats lunch together at the parents’ house, Dad and son in their muscle shirts, Dad yelling profanely at the television about a football game, Mom cooking and serving and whining about where are her grandchildren, and silent Sis texting on her phone, all tough-talking New Jersey-ites. One big happy family.
Then Jon meets a real 10, a “dime,” as his buddies call her, Barbara (Scarlett Johansson). He falls in love with this beautiful blonde, and she’s interested, but she demands a few improvements: never lie to her, quit the online porn, take a class at night school, and get a maid to clean the apartment. She obviously has very specific ideas about what her boyfriend will be like (the fact that she withholds sex, for a while, only entices him more, because this is a new experience for him). Jon does everything she asks, except…he can’t quit the online porn. And he can’t admit he’s addicted to it, even to himself. He also meets an older woman in the night class, Esther (Julianne Moore), who cries for no apparent reason, and when she catches him watching porn on his phone during class, she’s unafraid to talk to him about it (another new experience for him).
At this point we are dealing with the seemingly intractable complexities of a very awkward and difficult subject, which in itself is commendable. The fact that Mr. Gordon-Levitt kind of takes the easy way out is understandable: just get interested in a woman as a real person, and quit objectifying her as a sex object. Yeah, we all knew that.
But is it really that easy? I kinda liked his persona better when he was doing his prayer penance in between pull-ups and sit-ups, and cussing at the traffic on his way to church service, and confused by his own contradictions, unable to explain to anyone why he’s so compulsive. Now that’s a complex character, who doesn’t insult us by having all the answers.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas