By Sam White
Much like Steve McQueen’s Shame (2012), Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut Don Jon focuses on sex addiction and its effect on the self and relationships. While Shame is a much darker film as it focuses on a man’s unhealthy relationship with sex, Don Jon manages to be both unflinchingly honest and undeniably poignant in its examination of porn, gender, and relationships.
As Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt manages to encapsulate the stereotypical image of New Jerseyan masculinity. His performance starts off as cartoonish, but as the audience is introduced to his relationships with Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore, and the intensity of his addiction to porn, Levitt turns from caricature to complex. This complexity is revealed in a way that is not heavy handed and the film still manages to keep its witty and clever edge.
Throughout the film, is clear that Jon has a problem with porn. It is also clear that our culture has a problem as well. From advertising that sexualizes that female body to porn that creates unrealistic and damaging ideas towards sex, Don Jon holds both our culture and Jon himself accountable. Most of the pornographic images in the film are of women, which is very intentional as it speaks to society in the commodification and the female body and how accessible these images are in the digital age.
However, the film turns especially moving when masculinity and femininity in relationships is critiqued. The dynamic of gender performance in interpersonal relationships is examined and the raw vulnerability that is left shows Levitt’s talent as both a filmmaker and an actor. Although Johansson’s character showed a real lack of development, Levitt’s scenes with Moore are among the standouts in the movie.
While the film examines a negative relationship with sex through the lens of porn, I am interested to see what the film could have done if it expanded upon what a healthy relationship with sex looks like. It is necessary to ask how we can be more receptive to our own and our partner’s needs in a healthy and communicative way that is not bound by patriarchal, damaging and repressive limitations.