Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Don Jon [2013]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars)  RE.com (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (O. Henderson) review
AVClub (A.A. Down) review

Don Jon [2013] (written/directed and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt) IS DEFINITELY NOT FOR KIDS.  It's definitely an R-rated movie and I struggle to imagine any conceivable reason why a Parent would want to take a minor to the film.  That said, readers of my blog would know that I do seek to reward originality and youth and here I simply have to applaud the originality of Levitt's re-imagining of the legendary Don Juan in the person of "Don Jon" a young, buff, blue-collar New Jersey (as "Jersey Shore") sex/porn addict, who early in the film, in the spirit of both the legendary character and of an addict who, of course, doesn't yet see himself as such unabashedly seeks to present to the audience THE CASE _FOR_ PORN :-).

And his "case for porn" is quite simple: Real relationships with real women (and real people in general) are, well, much more complicated than, well, porn.  And therein actually lies the simplest indication that there's something inherently wrong (sinful) with porn.  Sin, be it lying, cheating, stealing, or even murder is almost always "a short cut," a chosen attempt to avoid the pain that is often required to do things honestly/right.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself ... ;-)

Anyway, Don Jon (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) presents himself to the audience as one who lives by a set of simple values:  He loves "his boys" (his buddies), he loves "his girls" (who he picks up and sleeps with), he loves "his ride" (car), he loves "his Church" (where despite picking-up and sleeping with at least one random, good-looking girl a week, plus of course his hours of watching porn, he goes to Confession each week) and he loves "his Porn" (in which he "loses himself" after a long hard day, or even after having sex with the random woman he's picked-up and brought home...  Yes, no matter how gorgeous/willing said random woman was, she didn't seem to satisfy him the way his Porn did...).

Now there will be both Catholics and perhaps especially non-Catholics that would find Don's weekly excursions to the Confessional (after week after week of more-or-less-obviously unreflective debauchery) appalling.  Here I'd like to say that Levitt is overly simplifying things.  I'd find it hard to believe that a Confessor would let someone like Don off that easily.  After all, at minimum, the Penitent is supposed to show remorse and Don more or less obviously does not.

At minimum, _I'd_ ask Don "Why do you look at all that porn?  After all, don't you know that at minimum you're watching (and presumably getting off watching) other people breaking the 6th Commandment?"  "Well who cares?"  "Well, if you DON'T CARE, I CAN'T GIVE YOU ABSOLUTION."  And if said Don started getting into the question of "I DO CARE but ..." THEN there begins a basis for a dialogue that could end with a Penance and Absolution.  But bottom line, the Penitent has to show/indicate remorse.  So as delightfully Don Jon's character is otherwise drawn in this film, I do have object to the way the Confessional scenes were portrayed. 

Similarly, the story's resolution leaves much to be desired from a Catholic moral perspective.  It's probably not much of a spoiler alert to say that at the end of the film Don "leaves his porn behind" ... to enter into an uncommitted but presumably monogamous sexual relationship with a woman.  Yet, while I'd agree that the Confessor's response to Don's objection to the Priest's not "lowering" his Penance when Don proudly tells him that he's left porn for an uncommitted if presumably for the time being monogamous relationship, is "lame," the priest was fundamentally correct.  To be in an uncommitted if monogamous sexual relationship with someone is still (as mentioned above) "a short cut" (and hence a sin).  Here Pope Paul VI, writing in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae was right that sex only attains its full purpose when it takes place in the context of marriage and is open to the creation of new life.  Anything less, is well, less (and hence, at least to some degree necessarily sinful).

So while contemporary society might applaud Don's decision to "leave porn" and enter into an uncommitted monogamous sexual relationship with someone, the Priest was right, Don was still not where he should be.

But even if Levitt's film IS NOT ANYWHERE NEAR PERFECT from a Catholic Moral Perspective, what a discussion piece it makes!  And then the other characters, including Don's parents (played by Glenne Headly and Tony Danza), Don's gum-chewing / ever texting younger sister (played by Brie Larsen) and the two women, one younger, one older (played by Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore respectively) who "complicate" poor simple Don Jon's life are ALL EXQUISITELY and often HILARIOUSLY DRAWN. 

If nothing else, Don Jon [2013] deserves a screen-play (original or adapted?) nod ;-)


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