Don Jon - Catholicism and Pornography

Don Jon - Catholicism and Pornography

Growing up in northern Jersey, we had neighbors from different parts of the world. Our neighbors across the street were from Portugal. They had a crab apple tree  in their yard that flooded our main street with mini rotten apples during peak season. Our next door neighbors were from India and I used to play with the two girls who lived there that were my age, Farah and Fatima. They lived with their parents and their grandmother. I lived in a fervent Italian Catholic household with a lot of hand signals and curse words.

With so much culture clash there would be a lot of harsh words exchanged between neighbors. When I was five years old, I did something terrible. I wanted to get into Farah and Fatima's backyard to retrieve my tennis ball. Without asking permission, I began hopping their wooden gate. To my surprise, there sat my neighbor's 80-year-old grandmother who started yelling at me in a language I could not decipher. Rather than being respectful, I sucked in a wad of saliva and spit in her face. It is probably the worst thing I have ever done and was actually the first thing I confessed when I made my first communion. Thinking about it now still turns my stomach upside down in horror. How could I ever do something so horrific? I didn't know what I was doing to that woman and didn't really have someone in my life to explain it to me. That wasn't the last time I did something that horrible. My mistreatment of women continued to happen...through porn. I would spit in the face of women every time I watched it and I did it without sufficient understanding of what I was really doing.

In Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt portrays a devout Italian Catholic from Jersey who struggles with porn addiction (Any clue why I wanted to Blog about it?). The film explores the addiction from a realistic perspective, successfully revealing the secretive lifestyle of the casual porn addict. In Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, he attacks lust embedded in the hearts of men.

“Every man watches porn,” Jon states in his defense.

I used to believe the same statement. I found myself staring into a mirror for most of the film, relating to Jon’s pornography struggle as a Catholic young adult and Jersey native myself. I remembered the compulsive need to watch porn every day, even for a few seconds. I suffered deeply from its desensitizing effects and carried the emotional scars with me for years. While Don Jon succeeds at presenting the seriousness of pornography addiction, it fails in its attempt to accurately describe the recovery process of those addicted, especially those seeking guidance from the Church.

Where the Film Succeeds
Don Jon’s opening credits peruse through a series of film clips showcasing the plethora of sexual stimuli streamlined in the modern media. We see shots of legs, partly dressed models, celebrity wardrobe
malfunctions, and naked actresses in horror films…all in the first 10 seconds. With so much exposure to sexual content it is not difficult to understand how men become addicted to porn. Gordon-Levitt uses real media to make his point, like the scene where Jon and his father obsess over model Nina Agdal as she molests a hamburger on the beach in a real life Hardee’s commercial, which actually aired during the Super Bowl this year…no one gets that excited over a burger! Jon’s father, played brilliantly by Tony Danza, is the first clue to Jon’s addiction. He inherited his addictive personality from his father, who obsesses over football. His rough demeanor and constant verbal abuse towards Jon’s mother is telling in the way that Jon objectifies all women. While the film focuses mainly on pornography, Jon’s real problem is his addictive nature. Like his father, he obsesses over the things he cares about.

“There’s only a few things I really care about in life: my body, my pad, my ride, my family, my church, my boys, my girls, my porn.”

Jon develops a routine, which is how the film is structured. He picks up a woman at a club, sleeps with her, watches porn, cleans his “pad”, expresses his road rage, goes to confession, has dinner with his parents, and hits the gym. That is the whole movie in constant repetition, with new scenes added throughout. It can be perceived as dull film making as nothing really happens to keep the story going. Yet, it is an intimate reflection of the life of a porn addict. Everything is on a routine that cannot be shifted. One’s life becomes more interesting in the fantasy world of porn rather than reality. So the viewer is forced to sit and watch Jon go through his weekly routine.
There are so many opportunities for Jon to walk away from his addiction, but he has convinced himself that relationships in pornography are real, thus destroying his chances of making it work with an actual girl. He falls in love with Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansen) who is flawed in her own prideful ways, but tries to push Jon into doing something more with his life. He starts going to school, quits the club scene, and falls in love with her. His view on women is so obscured though, that he cannot be satisfied with an actual relationship. So he sticks to porn in secret, watching it on his phone before he goes to class just to get a quick fix. When Barbara discovers his porn addiction after the second time she breaks it off. Confused by her disgust of him watching porn, it sends Jon on a downward spiral of depression, causing him to punch through another driver’s window on his way to mass. The first half of the film is enjoyable as it unravels the internal chaos that pornography stirs up in a person’s heart.

Where the Film Disappoints
The second half of the film disappoints as it attempts to explain how Jon recovers from his addiction….more sex. He begins sleeping with his much older colleague, Esther (Julianne Moore), who makes him aware of his porn addiction and teaches him how to make love instead. She shows him how unrealistic his views are on women and gives him some great words of wisdom about the need to truly see the other person…words of commitment, words of marriage. Magically, Jon is cured from his addiction after learning what it is like to make love to a woman and appreciate her alone. Sadly, this is not the reality of breaking this kind of addiction. Even within a marriage, a spouse can be used as an object for sexual pleasure. Jon goes to confession after this and tells the priest that his sins feel different. It would be a great opportunity for the priest to explain what has happened to Jon’s perspective on women, but all we get is silence.

This is one of the many problems with the film, the way that Gordon-Levitt presents the Catholic

Church. Jon goes to confession every week and confesses a lot of sexual sins, but the priest never discusses them with Jon. The priest never asks questions, provides spiritual direction, or gives any feedback to this young man who is confused by the real power of confession. He doesn’t understand that confession is not a magical wand used to wave over one’s sins and make them disappear. Confession begins in the heart. Jon is not sincerely remorseful of his sins until his final confession, but gets no practical advice. JGL presents the Church as silent on the issue of sexual addiction and I can tell you from my personal experience that the Church is anything but silent.

My addiction began when I was probably thirteen and lasted until I was about twenty four. I was like Jon, not understanding the damaging effects of porn. I, like many boys, collected Playboy magazine at the age of seventeen. They sent me a card in the mail for a 12 month subscription for only a penny an issue. What young boy wouldn’t take up that offer? Those twelve cents costs me years of emotional scarring, objectifying views of women, and an unhealthy addiction. When my girlfriend found my collection of magazines she was so devastated. I, like Jon, could not understand why. It was just porn, everyone looks at it right? That is the lie. My healing began after I started attending mass and through the sacrament of confession. Thankfully I had great priests who guided me along the path to recovery through resources like Theology of the Body. I started being attentive at mass, reading scripture, volunteering my time, caring for others rather than myself, and started taking classes to make my Confirmation. The Church helped me recover, not shut me out as in Jon’s case.

I think Don Jon is a great start for Joseph Gordon-Levitt as it presents serious themes that need to be addressed in our machismo/animalistic culture. I think he could have done away with the excessive amount of porn clips shown throughout the movie as it does not help those suffering from this addiction, but rather fuels it. Also, having a real porn site pay you for using their name in the movie doesn't help the overall message of the film. I would have loved to see more details of the emotional addictions presented in Johansen’s character. It would have made it a film about modern relationships and use rather than just porn addiction. Men and women use each other for different reasons, we don’t get to see the female side of the coin in Don Jon.

The person is the kind of good which does not admit of use and cannot be treated as an object of use and as such the means to an end.
The person is the kind of good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love (Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility).

A person can never be used as a means to an end, in fact the only proper response towards another human being is to love them. Pornography is not just in direct opposition to Catholicism, it opposes humanity.
Here are a few resources I recommend for those struggling with porn addiction or having addictive personalities.

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