Seamus Matlock on the challenges facing Joseph Gordon Levitt’s film.
After a huge opening at the Sundance Film Festival, rave reviews from movie critics, and Oscar talk surrounding it, Don Jon’s only failure seems to lie with the American people. After three weeks it has only brought in a measly 22 million and can’t be given the blockbuster status it seemed destine to obtain. This seems a bit curious since the director, writer, and lead actor, Joseph Gordon Levitt, is one of Hollywood’s rising stars, and Scarlett Johansson also gets major screen time. The production certainly doesn’t seem like it is geared towards critics instead of fans, a fault that plagues many movies, so what’s the problem?
The problem is that Don Jon is about porn, masturbation, and more generally the over sexualization of our culture. It dives into problems never yet explored on the big screen. And while being adventurous can work to some movies’ advantages, when that adventure hits like a dagger into the audience’s unspoken insecurities, it normally isn’t a crowd pleaser.
Don Jon boldly attempts to show that anyone who buys into the Miley Cyrus, Maxim, porn at a click of a button culture is degrading himself or herself by being controlled by relationships that don’t exist and fantasies that aren’t real. Levitt tries to encourage viewers to experience real love, the kind of love that exists between two people face to face who mutually care about each other.
The movie begins with Jon explaining how he “slays” girls every weekend, works out every day and has a sweet pad and cool ride, but yet his favorite thing to do is masturbate. Jon then goes into descriptions of his masturbation techniques so vivid that members of the audience can’t help but laugh and squirm in their seats at the same time since in the backs of their heads they know they can relate.
The movie then continues by showing how underneath all the glamour Jon is still a man lost in the world around him, looking for some tangible, positive thing to hold on to. One weekend that positive entity walks into his local club, as Scarlet Johansson makes her first appearance and struts across the screen. The rest is history as Jon slowly finds more happiness through his personal relationships instead of through a computer screen.
Of course, there is a little bit of a twist at the end but I won’t ruin that here. When the movie is over and you walk out, a wave of conflicting emotions overcomes you. You don’t know if you should be happy, chuckling over the bevy of comedic scenes you just witnessed, angry, after your cultural norms were spitefully displayed by Levitt, or guilty, after seeing some of your daily sins put on screen.
The compulsion to try to forget everything you just saw and run to confession hits you at the same time. These intense moral battles are a direct result of Levitt’s masterful work, but are also probably the reason why the movie wouldn’t be seen by nearly all the people it should be.