It’s Superficialman!

September 30, 2013

Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) takes a break from watching porn in “Don Jon.” (Relativity Media/AP)

It’s a little awkward to sit down with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and talk about porn. But for “Don Jon,” the new movie he wrote, directed and stars in, you kind of have to. Jon, played by Gordon-Levitt, spends a lot (A LOT) of time watching porn, which means the audience does, too — often while Jon narrates exactly what makes his favorite Internet interaction so great.

“My editor and I had to watch a lot of porn,” Gordon-Levitt says. “And we had to match the clips you see with the voice-over, so when he talks about an ass, you see an ass.” At the same time, the film had to stay this side of an R rating. “So you don’t really see that much, but you think you saw a lot. We cut away at a lot of …” He pauses. “Climactic moments.”

The montages of porn take on the role of ritual in the film. Jon is a guy with certain fixations: He goes to confession and Mass weekly; his apartment is fastidiously neat; and he has his masturbation routine down to a science (to the point where the “bonnnng” of his computer booting up is foreplay).

His workouts, his Sunday dinners with his family, his clubbing — “all of these things are a way for him to be not fully present,”

Gordon-Levitt says. “There’s no actual connection — not to people, not to religion, not to anything.”

In a different movie, Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), a woman Jon dates, would be the girl to replace his Internet exploits. What the movie slyly does, though, is give Barbara her own electronic fascination, which Jon calls “girl porn”: romance movies. (A representative example of one is hilariously parodied by Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum.) The movies Barbara likes, Gordon-Levitt says, “commercialize relationships, just like porn does. She gets her expectations of what a real man is” from romances and is disappointed when Jon can’t be her own Channing Tatum.

“A lot of movies, a lot of media as a whole, reduce people to commodities,” says Gordon-Levitt, last seen in “Lincoln” and “Looper.” “And it’s harmful, mostly to women, but to men, too, because it means we start looking at people as being not fully human.”

“Don Jon” wrestles with that. It’s funny and there’s romance, but it’s not a rom-com; there’s compulsive behavior, but it’s not a movie about triumph over addiction; it’s raunchy and has a lot of boobs, but it’s not a sex comedy.

What Gordon-Levitt has done is make a film about how fake movies are and use it to say something real.

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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Tracy Krulik · September 27, 2013