The new film “Don Jon” starring and written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (and hopefully its planned sequel “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”) have the potential to do more to combat the epidemic of sexist porn and sex addiction than all the “feminist porn” movies, books and women’s studies classes put together. The film is so well done and so entertaining that you might not notice that it is a feminist film or that it deals with intimacy disorder.
In the title role Gordon-Levitt plays a shallow young man whose life is anchored by strong ties to his family, church and male friends. He is not a sleaze or a loser, he likes to keep his apartment sparkling clean, and he’s a nice guy with a lot of charm and innocent warmth. It’s just that he inhabits a social world in which the sexual objectification of women and the search for sexual hook-ups are the norm. He is also a hope-to-die porn addict, which he confesses to his Catholic priest every Sunday but which he fails to identify as a real problem. He has no idea what intimacy is let alone intimacy disorder.
The story is one of a man whose consciousness is raised through meeting and connecting with Esther (played by Julianne Moore), a totally present and very spiritual survivor of great personal tragedy. The theme of the film is stated toward the end: that intimacy is losing yourself in someone else not losing yourself in fantasy.
A lot of the film is taken up with the funny and poignant attempt at a relationship with Barbara, a woman he lusts after but who withholds sex. Scarlett Johansson gives an amazing performance as Barbara, the sexy, gum-cracking, love addict who wants to mold a relationship to match her fairy tale fantasy of the great love. As this relationship develops we see that both Jon and Barbara are totally intimacy disordered. Neither one really knows how to get to know another person or how to move forward in a genuine courtship.
In the Julianne Moore character, Jon finds an ancient goddess archetype, who approaches him in a night class which he is taking to please Barbara (i.e. to get in her pants). In case there is any doubt that religion and spirituality are not necessarily the same thing. Jon goes to church every Sunday with his family and confesses his “sins” of pornography/masturbation and sex out of wedlock with hilarious honesty (“35 times in the last week”) and while he performs all the resulting Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s diligently, he never evolves one inch until he meets his de facto spiritual guide.
Gordon-Levitt, unlike the character he plays in the film, has feminist consciousness in his DNA. He is the son of non-observant Jewish progressives. His father was at one time the news director for KPFK and his mother ran for U.S. congress in the 70’s in the Peace and Freedom Party. Gordon Levitt is quoted as saying:
“My mom brought me up to be a feminist. She was active in the movement in the 60s and 70s. The Hollywood movie industry has come a long way since its past. It certainly has a bad history of sexism, but it ain’t all the way yet.”