Porn is a many-splendored thing. So Don Jon thinks, anyway.
Don's no twilight-lurking loner who never leaves his apartment, though. He has a job. He works out. He goes out with his friends on Saturdays, attends Mass with his parents on Sundays. And women seem to love the guy. Or, at least, love his body. It's not like Don has a hard time finding female companionship.
They just happen to be a poor substitute for the relationship he has with his computer.
"I don't gotta say anything, I don't gotta do anything," he says, for it to be there for him. Always. Sexual satisfaction is a power button and a website away.
Then one night at a club, he sees a new girl—a "dime," his friends say. His regular moves don't work on Barbara like they do with others, so he decides to dust off his "long game." He asks her to dinner. They go to a movie. Before he knows it, they're introducing each other to their friends, having dinner with each other's parents. And as the two of them dine and dance and smooch and caress, Don builds up hope that Barbara could be the one—the flesh-and-blood Aphrodite who could replace his laptop lover.
Then, one night, Barbara asks to come over, and the two gorge themselves on carnal passion. But after sleeping with her, he doesn't sleep. From the other room, he hears another siren call from his computer. Lift the laptop lid, and Pandora's pleasures will spring forth, dreams and fantasies and lurid imaginings pieced together in pixels.
Barbara is beautiful. She is willing. But she can't compete. And so Don cautiously, gently, leaves the bed and walks to where his true lover waits.
Don Jon is, in its own comedic and salacious way, a morality tale—and it tells the same truth that Plugged In's been yammering on about for years: The entertainment we ingest, particularly when it's sexually charged entertainment, can be incredibly damaging.
We see that damage in Don, a porn addict unable to see women as anything more than objects of sexual gratification. For him, Barbara is less a girlfriend and more a collection of anatomical parts designed to quench his sexual thirst. The dinner, the movies, the conversation—all just foreplay for the main event, in Don's mind. Barbara, despite her flesh-and-blood status, is never more than a fantastical porn star to him. And in some ways, she is just as virtual and untouchable as the women he watches on his screens.
But Barbara has her own issues. If Don looks at her as a sex object, she sees him as a vessel for her own romantic fantasies: She pressures him to change for her. And when Don begins talking about how he cleans his apartment—something that's really important to him—she shuts him down because it doesn't fit with her idea of who and what a man should be. Each objectifies the other in his or her own way. Both fulfill their own wants and needs while completely missing the person they're with.
None of this is "positive," of course. But the story these negatives tell is a powerful one. And Don Jon uses them to convict us with the truth that relational connection—real connection—demands more from us than a mere mating dance. That sexual satisfaction is more than a physiological state of being. That to find intimacy, be it physical, mental or emotional, we must look past ourselves and into the souls of others.
Don attends Mass religiously, as it were. And we sometimes see Don and his family sitting through Mass, looking a bit bored. (Don's sister constantly texts during the service.) But every week Don confesses his sins—tabulating both his sexual exploits and his encounters with porn for the priest in the confessional. And every week the priest gives Don several prayers to recite as penance for his sins, which Don dutifully says while lifting weights or working out. Once, when he questions the priest's assignment, the father tells him that he simply must have faith.
Don Jon's addiction is graphically realized onscreen. Countless porn clips are shown—edited just enough to keep the movie on the R side of an NC-17 rating. Audiences see dozens of exposed breasts and backsides (sometimes being handled or jiggling suggestively). The women are in various sexual positions and involved in assorted sexual acts, and many of them, when they are wearing something, wear outfits designed to tempt and titillate. There are exposed sexual movements, audible moans and gasps.
Don Jon director and star Joseph Gordon-Levitt says it could've been worse. After his movie was screened at the Sundance Film Festival this January, he trimmed several porn clips for the movie's theatrical run. "The Sundance cut was us pushing it past where it really ought to be, and I think it was sort of distracting to audiences," he told the Los Angeles Times.
For the record, it still is.
And then he adds in the movie's more "traditional" sex scenes (and there are several of them). Various acts are depicted, featuring movement and obvious orgasms. Writhing (naked) bodies are seen in shadow and silhouette, with Barbara, with an older woman named Esther and others. In a hallway, Don stimulates himself on Barbara's clothed backside, leaving an embarrassing stain on his pants. (Don later goes through his laundry and finds semen stains on several pairs of pants.)
Porn and masturbation are frequently discussed. Don is often shown in the act of masturbation, either partly or completely nude (with framing and obstructions and camera angles hiding his midsection). The completion of his self-stimulation is often signaled by a tissue being dumped in a trashcan. Narrating his story, Don tells us that the most times he's climaxed in one day is 11. And Barbara once walks in on Don while he's "participating" in said activities. He promises to never do it again, but he lies. And when Barbara searches Don's browser history and discovers that he visited 42 porn sites that day, she breaks up with him.
Sexual discussions are raw and crass, involving oral sex, sexual positions, body parts and techniques. Sultry dancing and heavy makeout sessions are shown. Don's father leers at Barbara and touches her rear. A woman gives Don a DVD of an old 1970s porno.
The movie also bombards viewers with other, more everyday sexualized images—magazine covers, busty talk show guests, Carl's Jr. commercials—to illustrate how much sex saturates our society. Women are rated and objectified. A little girl puts on lipstick, suggesting how early sexualization begins.
Violence also factors (briefly) into this subject of sexuality. In a film clip, we see a woman skewered by spears: One pierces her breast, the other has punctured her skull and eye socket, and her eyeball hangs off its point.
Don punches the window out of a car and comes to Mass with a bloody hand.
Crude or Profane Language
More than 120 f-words, and close to 50 s-words. Jesus' name is abused at least 25 times (sometimes with the f-word), and God's is misused another 10 (several times with "d‑‑n"). We also hear multiple uses of "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "b‑‑tard," "h‑‑‑," "c‑‑k," "p‑‑‑y" and "t-t," to create an incomplete list.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Several characters smoke marijuana. Esther talks about getting high often, and suggests Don should've smoked weed before they had sex (instead of after) since it might've relaxed him. Don works as a bartender, and we see people drink wine, beer and other drinks. Don tells Barbara that they were both "wasted" when they first met. He denies his addiction by talking about someone he knows who uses crack cocaine.
When it comes to the problematic elements we detail here at Plugged In, many of our readers tell us that they place "sexual content" on a higher plane than all the other issues. Indeed, many of us have an easier time dealing with flying bullets than exposed breasts. And, at times, I've wondered why.
Don Jon has taught me at least part of the answer.
When we speak of Satan, we sometimes refer to him as the Lord of Lies. Sin can almost always be characterized as a lie—a perversion of God's intention and the truth of His plan. It's true, for instance, that food is necessary and good. It's a lie that more food is, therefore, better (leading to the classic sin of gluttony).
The lies told through sex can be more pervasive, more corrosive, and more insidious than the lies told through any other temptation. And the Bible tells us that sexual sins actually fall into a special sort of category—that of sins against our own bodies (1 Corinthians 6:18). So seductive are these lies that it can be hard at times to tell them from the truth.
In Don Jon, the sexual sin of porn is exposed as the lie it is. A promise that can never deliver, a hunger that can never be sated. It is empty, like all sin—a diabolical corruption of one of God's most beautiful and holy gifts.
"The s‑‑‑ they do here, they're not pretending," Don tells Esther, defending his habit.
"Of course they are," she says with a smile.
And of course they are. The sex seen in porn is as fake as an Onion article—a lie that has very little in common with real sex, much less the godly art of making love while in the arms of a wife or husband. And the lie, Don Jon says, turns us in on ourselves, making us creatures who rely on ourselves, physically, mentally and emotionally, to satisfy ourselves, even when we find union with another.
That's not healthy. Moreover, it's not God's design. God is all about intimacy—about us drawing closer to Him, about us loving and caring for one another.
(And it's a big one.)
… in exposing one lie, Don Jon buys into another. It decries the wrongness of the non-intimacy of online pornography while disavowing the wrongness of the intimacy between two people who are divorced from commitment. From the very idea of covenant marriage.
The film makes it clear that Don and Esther share intimacy. But they avoid the word love. They reject, certainly for now, the notion of marriage. Indeed, the movie goes so far as suggesting that marriage itself is part of another lie—the romantic, happy-ever-after "lie" that Barbara buys into.
For Don, sex with Esther doesn't feel sinful—not like porn. It feels different. Better. Cleaner. But in truth, the sin is still there. The lie is still leading. Don's priest knows—but Don never accepts—that he has merely escaped the tyranny of his passion in exchange for the despot of his emotion. And emotion, when we let it exclusively lead us, can take us astray just as surely and swiftly, leaving us stranded in a wasteland just as empty. It's not just the absence of porn that, when things go wrong, keeps us tethered to one another—that keeps us intimate.
It's commitment. It's marriage.
And there's still one more thing that plays out like a sinful lie in Don Jon: In exposing the lie of porn, it splashes tons of the substance of that lie up onscreen. Even as its characters tell us that it's empty, the images that flicker around their words continue to seduce and sing their siren song, leaving, for some, the already weakened moral beached and bereft of meaning.