SXSW 2013: ‘Don Jon’ is a look at objectification in all its forms

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Don Jon
Directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Written by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (screenplay)
US, 2013
Gender roles can be a land mine of a topic. The subject matter is riddled with opinions that no one can agree on. It is a topic that perforates and polarizes. However, most can agree that objectification plays a large role in unfair assignments. In his directorial debut and also as writer and star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s brings a film that seeks to capture what is wrong with objectification in its many manifestations. Although Don Jon tells a story that touches on these broad societal conflicts, it is, at its core, an emotional story about growing out of oneself and learning the ability to differentiate between the idea of someone versus the person itself.

The film centers around the eponymous Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the modern lothario, quick tempered, stereotypical male. He holds few things dear in his life of which consist of his body,  his apartment, his family, his faith, and his pornography. Throughout the film, he encounters two very different women: the seemingly perfect Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) and Esther (Julianne Moore), the chronically crying, pot smoking night college student. All running at odds with his addiction, Jon struggles to find happiness in the relationships around him.

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When Jon meets Barbara, he believes to have become a new man, finally finding his happiness through a genuine, functioning relationship. However, this relationship quickly devolves, and it leaves Jon questioning his perspectives and priorities. Along the way, he begrudgingly befriends Esther who affects him in a vastly different way than Barbara. The film charts a trajectory for Jon’s development that is not always painless, resulting in a film that goes in very unexpected directions.

Through these women, the film opens up to commentary on the self. The introduction of these women shed light on many different symbols throughout the story. The largest being pornography. Jon’s addiction is an extension of his tendency to objectify. It is the MacGuffin for Jon’s discontent. It is an extension of his tendency to objectify. In describing physical encounters with women, he describes them through an amalgam of body parts rather than anything of depth. Nothing satisfies Jon as much as the one-sided contrivances spewing from his computer. This is iterative throughout his life. works out in solitude at the gym, fit to just work on himself; all his mother wants from him is the ideal wife and children; his father, played charmingly by Tony Danza, wants him to love football; he attends church and confessions in a rote manner, going through the motions.

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However, the film also tackles the objectification of the modern day relationship. Barbara is obsessed with the ideals perpetrated in vastly popular romantic comedies and the princess castle birthday parties.  She believes that a real man will do anything for his girl and that a real man does not clean. In effect, she too objectifies men as much as Jon does women. Jon began his addition to pornography in his formative years, creating the source of his inability to connect. Barbara also suffers from this truncated growth due to the expectations and societal dictations of how relationships should work versus how can work. This results in people who engage in one sided relationships, falling for the idea of the other person rather than the genuineness of them.

There is a multitude of symbols and commentary, but the film is also a great time with lots of laughs and plenty of emotional depth. Gordon-Levitt displays incredible insight as a writer and a playful style of directing in his first triple threat debut.

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