A Wrong Model

An Essay Of The Film: Don Jon


Jon and Barbara at the movies

Many are the ideas about romantic love, personal relationships and the ‘perfect couple’, which have been studied through centuries and by different disciplines like literature, painting, music, theatre and now films and television, in each of these there has been at least one artwork by which a special bonding between the receptor and the main figures was formed, determined by the likes, dislikes and perception of life of the audience for it is in these interests that our consciousness lays and wherefrom a connection can be created with the world of fiction that is before one.  In our intimate consciousness, secret and shy, is where we put our hopes, desires and dreams therefore, it is vulnerable to believe stories that reflect that which the hidden desire is looking for. The problem is that when a profound need is linked with a schematic figure, one might ignore the possibilities that a whole life can assume, looking for just one thing.

          Media has created schemes that survive due the needs and desires of the audience, that in some level are a common ground within society however, these schemes have become fantasies covered in the bitter-sweet hope of perfection and denial of our own human essential characteristics.  Sometimes we look for the way to fulfil those schemes outside of our own selves and lives, like in stories and films. Don Jon is a movie that shows how believing blindly in those models can bring us not only disappointment in what we believe but also frustration for the things that we cannot achieve because are essentially a fiction or the confusion of our imagination. When the media and its stories are followed more seriously than they should, the conflict becomes an inner battle between the acceptance and improvement of our own realities and the search for a world setup to ease the mind. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon, offers the possibility of understanding this statement through the features of Jon, his life routine, the depiction of who he imagined it would be the perfect girl for him, their schemes, how they affected their relationship and the amazing surprise of the behaviour and attraction of the common self.

          Don Jon is the story of a young porn addict who tries to let himself loose through his sexual fantasies and his ideas about women, after falling in love with Barbara, who represents externally the perfect woman according to his standards, he realises that in order to achieve his main desire he has to trust in someone on the outside of his ideals and beliefs. The movie opens with an intro that shows a cartoon of a very sensual female cat and a little squirrel losing his eyes over her –we may as well say this is Jon depicted as an unreal character going after another unreal character–, then runs a sequence of pictures of what it has been set by television as the perfect female beauty, which is essentially sexual. Immediately Jon is depicted in front of his computer telling the audience (in voice off) how and why he likes porn, adding the main reason for him to do it. Afterwards, the list of his cares is presented:  ‘his body, his pad, his ride, his family, his church, his boys, his girls and his porn’, clearing up that he is a master in the practice of seducing women.

Jon: Yeah I’m not gonna lie, this sound (his laptop turning on) gets me as hard as a fucking rock but I don’t like to go too fast right off the pad, yeah I really work my way into it. Nice and easy, so I start off with some stills… then, once I’m getting into it I start looking for a video, I never actually touch my cock till I find the right clip, then once I do… good bye, for the next few minutes all the bullshit fades away and the only thing in the world is those tits, the ass, the blow job, the cowboy, the doggie, the money shot, and that’s it, I don’t gotta say anything, I don’t gotta do anything, I just fucking loose myself.

This short sequence rounds up Jon’s target in life, almost as a symbolic comparison the computer turns on just as him, for the basic task of searching for the perfect woman who gives him the possibility of loosing himself. A few seconds later the audience already knows that Jon spends his time with different women over the weekends, he and his friends assess them by their looks, showing no care whatsoever for the claims of other women who went out with them before. Like in most situations one may perceive something as real based in his previous experiences related to that object, for example: if one has always and ever seen one race of dog, one will assume it as the only possibility of that being called ‘dog’ however, this thought is limited by the lack of knowledge of other races and by the circumstances that have presented only one race of dog. In Jon’s case, the routine he keeps of watching porn –mixed with the education he had at home– has affected his perception of the ‘perfect woman’ and what she should do. In the world he goes into when he turns on the computer women have perfect bodies and are utterly pleasing, there is no need to do or worry about anything else because there is no judgement and no care for reciprocity in the dark privacy between the illusory woman and Jon, the only one that matters at that particular moment is him. When he comes out of that world his reception is set for a certain sort of woman but as he tries one and another, he falls into the frustration of not finding the woman he has made himself used to.

          Finally he meets Barbara, a woman who spins his head off. She is the perfect embodiment of his ideals of a woman: a great body, fit and athletic, and a beautiful face, ‘she is a diamond’ in appearance, like the girls he was used to watch on internet therefore, he feels automatically attracted to her. Barbara is another example of how one can become fixed on realities based in influences from the outside, in this case the media. She is very fond of romantic comedies in which the characters have a certain love routine:

Jon (Voice Off): I don’t watch too many movies, I used to watch them a lot when I was a little kid, before I could get my hands on any porn, ‘cause back then if I wanted to see a really hot girl my best bet was to watch a movie […] But now, I don’t really see the point. I don’t know, I guess I’m missing something because most people… eat that shit up…the pretty woman, the pretty man, love at first sight, the first kiss, the break up, the make up, the expensive wedding, and the drive off into the sunset. Everyone knows this is fake but they watch it like if its real fucking life.

Jon is narrating this routine, whereas they go to the movies to watch a romantic comedy that leaves Barbara utterly bedazzled about what she sees on the screen. When they come out, she is really convinced that the main characters were in loved and that he –the protagonist– ‘is a real man’. So Barbara, just as he does, has a different addiction with a similar goal: to fulfil her ideas of love and relationships, following a pre-set stereotype of a couple. Both of them take refugee and comfort in their addictions from the fearful reality they seem to live, hoping to find that which they have become used to through the screen. Barbara is a character situated in the opposite side of what is expected in a relationship, whilst Jon is focused in finding the perfect woman through sex, she desires to find the perfect man through a fairy-tale relationship. So, the influence of the media can be found in any situation or extreme related to one particular theme, it is the desire of the subject that opens the possibility for the latter to be influenced from any angle. 

          Later in the film Barbara seems to expect from Jon the sort of behaviour that she had watched in movies, ignoring the positive things he actually did for her and only taking into account the faults that were not acceptable according to her preconceptions. The expectations that one might hold related to certain ideals defined by one’s intention of believing in a particular thing might also make us blind to anything that does not fulfil the entire scheme of what one is hoping for, limiting the range of experiences and therefore of self-knowledge and interaction with other people and hiding behind the curtain of illusion the beauty, often cold but honest, of a reality that can be accepted, modified or improved by us if recognised. At some point, both Jon and Barbara realise their own delusions, but it is a flaw hard to accept:

Jon: All right, first of all, everybody watches porn, ok, all guys! Any guy tells you he doesn’t watch porn is fucking lying…

Barbara: You are so full of shit!

Jon: Second of all…

Barbara: You are full of shit!…

Jon: Second of all! You know damn well we do it all the fucking time!

Barbara: Yeah, I know we do…

Jon: Whenever you want!

Barbara: So what the fuck is wrong with you, what the fuck are you doing, ha!.  How you watch that shit?

Jon: I don’t know! Ok, I don’t know! How you watch all the stupid fucking movies that you watch?

Barbara: How do I watch movies? What are you taking about?

Jon: Say, you probably watch that shit as much as I watch porn

Barbara: What are you saying? That has nothing to do with anything

Jon: I’m just saying…

Barbara: Ah, Jon! Movies and porno are different, Jon! They give awards for movies…

Jon: They give awards for porno too…

Barbara: Oh, shut up! Shut the fuck up.

The voluntary addictions to their ‘ideals’ are revealed to one another as imperfections and become the deathly poison for the relationship. They are not only looking for someone else to be like they wanted, but also each of them is trying to be who they thought were supposed to be. Barbara is the good, responsible, beautiful and difficult woman, whilst Jon is a strong man, with a good home, a good family and good beliefs. In each of these areas he endeavours to superficially get what he was supposed to be getting. Even though he is a nice guy, his priorities are sorted out according to what he thinks he wants and not to what he really needs. The gorgeous woman and the rest of his life are notions given by the bombarding media and the education he got at home, which is important to him, as shown in the film. In life, these sort of schemes are part of patterns that we absorb from many places around us, the influence is continuous without even noticing it and it is only by the reflection of our own experiences and awareness of our reality that we can really pursue our dreams within the possibilities of becoming real.

          Jon, alone and frustrated by his own deception, took refuge in porn again. But a woman, Esther, comes to his life through brief and uncomfortable encounters. One could say she represents the honest, unattached woman, without fixed expectations, liberated from the anxiety of the endless search, rather getting along with what was present and open to everything and nothing. Like someone who lives day by day, it is this quality of easiness and awareness what allows one to receive experiences without judgement and prejudices, because there is no predisposition to anything, one can accept or reject what happens and manage it consciously. In the film, Esther didn’t have a ‘plan’ when approaching to Jon, and when she happens to get closer she talks to him about certain realities:

Esther: Ok, is totally unlike the stuff that I imagine you watch everyday, that stuff is not healthy.

Jon: What do you mean is not healthy? How do you know?

Esther: Oh my god, please! That’s stuff is ridiculous and it’s nothing to do with actual sex, that’s, that’s why you’re having troubles with real women.

Jon: Oh I get off fine with real girls

Esther: Yeah, yeah, you definitely do…

Jon: Yeah, I just couldn’t get up beaten with my eyes closed.

Esther: But didn’t you tell me last week that you liked porn better than real sex? Oh, honey I ought to be honest with you, cause it seems like that’s what you want. Look the way you have sex is like totally one-sided, its like I’m not even there, I mean look, it’s fine with me, I’m not complaining, it just so happens that meaningless sex is something that I want in my life right now, but…but you said that you want to loose your self in sex, if you wanna loose yourself, you have to loose yourself in another person and she has to loose yourself in you, it’s a two-way thing.

This is the first time in the film that someone talks frankly to Jon about relationships,  she reveals the truth about his delusions. He finally is able to recognise his situation and improve it, but not in a magical way, but with awareness and self-conscience. He finds in Esther the space to be who he is, without expecting or thinking about a future. Just enjoying the moment as it is. The relationship with Esther is not ‘ideal’, she had her own issues to fix and he kept being imperfect however, they found a way to enjoy each other, spend time together, have fun and loose themselves in the other. The idea of a ‘perfect relationship’ is appealing when there is fear of conflict, when there is a resistance to confront or accept the other, whether it be as a reflection or as the contrast of oneself, in any case, reality might be overlooked in order to free the path for illusions that come from a faraway cave where sometimes one runs to along the way of life.

          Even though this film gives a good example of how media might affect the schemes and expectations of people towards love and relationships, it cannot give a definite sketch of what a relationship should be, so it must not be taken for granted that the only solution to a relationship is the one that Jon found in the end because we would be falling into the mistake the film served to exemplify, bringing only frustration and deception. Films represent certain aspects of reality and have been made in such a way as to attach the audience to the story however, the end of the story must stay by the end of the movie, perhaps a message, an opinion, even a point of view could be taken from the film, but one should be careful of not giving up into the fantasy and stop living the excitement of one’s real life, which doesn’t mean that one cannot achieve dreams, hopes and desires, rather they might be found in the unexpected possibilities of an open mind.


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