Don Jon: Disappointment and Theology of the Body Gone Wrong

**Spoiler Alert** If you haven’t seen Don Jon and want to remain blissfully uninformed of the plot’s finer details, you might want to skip this post.

So. I saw Don Jon last night. Everyone in the film world has been raving about it. And rightfully so, it was a very well made film. (For whatever that’s worth, coming from an almost film school grad.) But what just destroyed it for me was the great, great potential this film had to so eloquently demonstrate Theology of the Body only to fall flat at the end.


Here’s a quick rundown. Don Jon is a guy living in New Jersey. The things that matter most to him are his apartment, car, family, church, body, girls, and porn. (Presumably, the latter 3 being vices.) It’s the story of a guy with a serious porno addiction. He goes to confession every week, reciting the exact number of times he watched porn and had sex out of wedlock. He falls in love with a girl from the club. (Of course it Scarlett Johansson.) They even wait a whole month or so to have sex. She catches him watching porn once. He says it was an email, just a joke from his buddies. She makes him promise one thing – no porn. She catches him again much farther down the road. 46 porn sites in one day. They break up. He meets an “older” (Julianne Moore) woman in the class he’s taking because Scarlett Johansson made him, and she offers him sex and sex advice.

The whole film I thinking “Porn! Gender expectations! Theology of the body! Catholicism! SO many blog topics!!” So I will start with porn.

Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character has a real freaking problem. Every day, for sometimes hours a day he will sit in front of his computer, you know, watching porn and getting off. He often talks about how the internet provides something that a real woman is never able to quite provide. He says he “loses” himself with porn, something he can never quite get from a real girl. He says real women don’t often want to do the things he sees online. (Uh, no kidding.) Now I’m no moral police, but I’m pretty sure that porn can cause problems in relationships for this very reason. Science shows that porn is an addiction, like any other drug. It lights up certain parts of the brain that sex doesn’t necessarily affect. And for that, I think porn shouldn’t be taken lightly.

The gender expectations in this film are pretty heavy handed and hard to miss. Joseph Gordon Levitt expects his women to be in real life what he sees in porn, and Scarlett Johansson expects men to be like Channing Tatum in, uh, every rom-com. In short – women and men are people. Even though we have our differences, no one is perfect. Entering a one sided relationship is unhealthy and problematic. When they are in the store buying curtain rods, Scarlett tells him that he can’t buy mop pads because she would be embarrassed. She said he should never be cleaning and that when they lived together he would never touch a vacuum. The men in this film objectify and categorize women based on their “hotness ranking”. (I’m quite aware this is a real life thing too.) But something about it in the movie seems even more grotesque. Scarlett Johansson and her girlfriends are all about controlling men so the women have the power in a relationship. They are impressed and even jealous that Scarlett has led him along for so long without doing the deed. It shows true dominance over the man.



Julianne Moore’s character (with the help of the sister who basically never talks) explains that all of his sexual relationships, both in real life and with the internet, have been completely one sided. Scarlett only cared about controlling him to her liking, and Jon only cared about pleasing his sexual hunger. The only way to lose himself in sexual union with another woman is to lose himself in her, and for her to lose herself in him.


“The lust of the flesh directs these desires [of personal union], however, to satisfaction of the body, often at the cost of a real and full communion of persons.” JP II

And maybe this:
“Man and woman’s call to form a communion of persons “is the deepest substratum of human ethics and culture”.

I know many men and women that swear up and down a wall that meaningless sex is not only doable, but preferable. I’m sorry, culture, I ain’t buying it. Sex is so much more than personal satisfaction. Why do you think it’s the one thing that has the power to make another freaking human? But I admit, this is just my personal opinion.

Lastly, the Catholicism in this film was anything but subtle. Every scene his cross necklace was obvious. His bedroom and parent’s home was laden with Catholic images. He went to confession every week to pay his penance (although I hope people don’t think that’s really what confession is like. I rarely get “10 Hail Mary’s and 10 Our Fathers” – it’s more like “Practice gratitude by thinking of all the things you’re blessed with and spend some time in prayer”. But whatever.) And every time, every reconciliation, he was forgiven. That is the point of reconciliation. Even someone who watches porn upwards of 15 hours a week, can still be considered a “good Catholic” (that is, if you’re truly sorry, which he wasn’t.) That message was great. If you are truly seeking faith and forgiveness, you will receive it. But ultimately, in the end of this film, he fell away from the church. And in my humble opinion, unnecessarily so. When he finally asked the priest behind the confession where his numbers came from for penance, there was silence. Joseph’s character stopped praying at the gym. And he even fell in “true love”. Not the “marrying kind of love, but just losing himself in another person love”.  (Because who needs marriage?)

Talk about disappointment for this movie-goer. I thought just once, finally! The church won’t be reflected as this evil association out to get modern society!

I instantly resented any church that has left anyone in the dust, left them unsatisfied, left their inquiries unanswered. This is why people fall away from the church. They hear white noise when they really want answers. WHY does the church encourage reconciliation? WHY is marriage a sacrament? WHY do you teach what you teach about sexuality?

So all in all – Don Jon was a very well made film. Editing was spectacular. Sound design? Amazing. Acting? Spot on. Joseph Gordon Levitt, with this film, has made his mark in the film world with a very stylized technique. And maybe Gordon Levitt himself felt let down by the church and maybe that was his message.

But for me, personally, I was really dissatisfied with the end. Because the whole film was leading to a nice Theology of the Body punch at the end. And it kind of did. The ending was all about why sex is so much more than personal satisfaction. But not only did he fall away from the church to discover this, the message was still, overwhelmingly that sex was not about marriage. Because why have marriage when you can just have sex?


6 responses to “Don Jon: Disappointment and Theology of the Body Gone Wrong

    • Wow. What’s crazy is all my life I assumed porn was something guys just did. I thought it was part of life and I had to accept that anyone I was involved with in a relationship would watch porn. I now realize it can point to a much bigger problem.

  1. Pingback: #011 – Addictions With Don Jon | Reel World Theology·

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