While inelegant, heavy-handed, and simplistic at times, the overall message of the movie Don Jon is a good one. Written, directed by, and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this film takes us on a tour of sex and relationships in modern times. In the beginning we see Levitt’s main character, Don Jon, watching porn constantly, sleeping with a new woman every night, and complaining that real sex never measures up to the porno standard. He then enters into a relationship with Barbara Sugarman, played by Scarlett Johansson, who plays by the old fashioned rules dictated by female “porn,” aka romance movies. She holds off on sex and begins grooming him to be the perfect financial provider. Once they do have sex, Don Jon slinks off to masturbate immediately afterward, and continues to rely on internet porn to achieve his sexual highs.
The message Gordon-Levitt beats into us like a dead horse is simply Porn is Men’s Porn, Romance Movies are Women’s Porn and neither one shows any form of real connection or intimacy. Eventually Barbara discovers Don Jon’s porn history on his browser and leaves him for being a “pervert.”
Enter Esther – a recently widowed “cougar” played by Julianne Moore with whom Don Jon eventually begins an honest sexual and intimate relationship. The fact that Moore is a widow points to the way that the romantic fantasy of finding someone and living happily ever after without a hitch is also always a lie, because eventually one person dies and one way or another we all lose.
While this might seem sad, we believe that the message of the movie is actually quite hopeful. The relationship between Don Jon and Esther is not dictated by the trajectory of meet-date-cohabitate-marry-breed-die. They are exploring their connection in the moment and Don Jon begins to experience the vulnerability, depth, and freedom, as well as the arousal that comes from the authentic erotic connection available in this relationship. We found the message in Don Jon to be infinitely more hopeful than either porn or rom coms – it offers us a glimpse into what’s possible if we stay true to ourselves and our relationships in the present moment.
Don Jon points us to a vision of sex and relationships that aren’t based on the rom com’s promise of forever happiness or porn’s perfectly uninterrupted, faked orgasm trajectory of male arousal to ejaculation. Sure, once in a while it’s fine to go ahead and get our porn or romance fix as long as we realize that they are fantasies, not reality. In reality, there are no guarantees of happily every after or hot sex forever, there are just two (or more) people experiencing the ups and downs of life, and the joys and frustrations of the places we meet and the places we miss each other. When we can do this with love, honesty, and room for disappointment, so much more is possible.