Monday, May 5, 2014

I Watched Don Jon So You Don't Have To

When I first saw previews for Don Jon - a movie somewhat about p*rn addiction, written and directed by Joseph Gordon Levitt, I felt compelled to see it. One, because I thought it would address the real problems of p*rn in our culture. Also because Levitt is an actor I admire for what seems like a genuine persona. I had hoped he had good intentions in the concept of the film, in part to get society to think about the devastating impact of p*rn.

The trailers for the film bring up one argument, the suggestion that romantic comedies are perhaps as damaging to the female psyche, and relationship expectations as p*rn is to men.
That is what caught my attention. That the movie might address strong impediments to male-female relationships in this day and age.

My friend and I made tentative plans to see it, and in the meantime, I saw that Sister Helena Burns wrote about it on her movie review blog I was eager to see what a Theology of the Body, and media scholar would say about it (and curious as to whether said Sister would see such a film).

Her clarification from her blog post:
The more I read about the film, the more I realized I could NOT go see it (and not because I'm a nun, but because I'm a human being). A simulated porn montage is featured along with “strong graphic sexual material and dialogue throughout, nudity.” Porn is simulated sex and this film contains simulated porn. These are definitely postmodern times. Therefore, this “review” of “Don Jon” will be my second “historic” review, i.e., the second time I have “reviewed” a movie without watching it.
That made me realize, that I too, could not unsee such images.
As a single woman, teetering on middle age, it's enough effort to not focus on all the s*x I'm not having in my life - no point leading myself into temptation. I shared that concern with my friend, who agreed she also didn't want see images she would want to unsee - so we passed on that film when it came out.

But behold, it popped up on my Netfix feed months later, making me reconsider. Admittedly by now, I was distanced from Sister. Helena's warning.
I prayed about it, and determined that the combination of own media background and years of exposure, and my jaded nature as both an old maid and an old journalist, that I might be objectively immune to the images. If I found I was not so immune, I would abandon the film.

So I'll tell you what you missed and didn't miss. Yes, I may spoil the story - since I'm saving you from seeing it yourself!

There are lots of graphic images, which go by quickly and not for too long - almost entirely of women. The images are shocking mainly because they are so contrived as p*rn. One can't help but think that such relations within the covenant of marriage, a respectful Catholic marriage, wouldn't be so contrived and ridiculous.
They were not arousing or offensive to me, partly because they were so stupid and partly because it causes a woman to compare her looks to those "actresses".  (That's a major turn off!)

What was offensive was the portrayal of Jon's weekly confession. Over and over he admits his sins to the priest who orders three Hail Mary's as penance.
I hated that it might give the impression to non-Catholics, that confession is actually that mindless. That confession might be seen as motivation to continue sinning, instead of it's real, redemptive qualities.
I hated that the priest in the movie never called Jon out on his lack of contrition - that he's not the least bit sorry for his sins which are treated as a habit. He's not trying to reform, and in his mind and culture, its a justifiable habit.

What I did appreciate about the movie was the real admission that men, addicted to p*rn, do prefer it to actual intercourse, which is the most disturbing truth.
Gentlemen, that should be your first clue that it's wrong and harmful to your soul as well as to your body.

As the Don Jon character says, with p*rn, he completely loses himself. With a woman, it was somehow never good enough. Not enough to lose himself.
The viewer can surmise, it's because he treats sex with various women, and even his steady girlfriend, as a wham bam - heated, yet impersonal experience. In that manner, it's just a bodily function, which is completely disturbing.

He meets an older woman, played by Julianne Moore. When she catches him watching p*rn on his cell phone, she calls him out on his addiction. She learns he prefers p*rn to intercourse, and challenges him further.  Moore's character, a widow, explains to him, specifically, that's part of the problem. You're supposed to lose yourself in another person. Not in yourself.

Don Jon tallies his porn free days, and reports back to the confessional. When the priest again prescribes penance, he's shocked. Doesn't he get points for his "sacrifice"?!

Eventually, he learns (from Moore's character) how to "make love". How to lose one's self in the one you care about. This is still off the mark from the true purpose of intimacy. Within the bonds of matrimony, intercourse is not a device to get lost in, but to honor your spouse. Yes, we're allowed, nay, expected to enjoy it. But losing oneself is not the objective, unless in reference to complete giving.

But these scenes, I'll admit, not so surprisingly, were a bit arousing. Perhaps I put my chastity at risk by watching the film, but by doing so, I can confirm it's further proof that graphic, mad, crazy images aren't what sex is about. Knowing that the intimate scenes are a truer expression of what sex should be - I guess I felt validated that p*rn doesn't cut it for me.

It's really not meant for human consumption. It damages relationships. It breaks what binds a couple together. So do, I believe, cheesy romance novels or worse, which also set women up to be disappointed in reality, to be disappointed in men who don't have writers. (Sorry folks!)

In all, it was a well-produced film with a compelling story. While I don't recommend it to a wholesome person trying to live chastely, I can see where it may be a starting point for those people who already indulge in p*rn. Perhaps it can start conversations, between friends, or spouses. It may spark inspiration that they too, can give up this damaging vice, and find their way back to meaningful relationships. If so, the effort may be worth it. Sometimes, someone has to speak the language that the deaf can understand.