Is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s “Don Jon” a Feminist Film in Disguise?

by Eloise Giegerich
I know you didn’t think it was possible, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt just got more delightful. When addressing his new film Don Jon, in which he plays the title character and makes his feature debut as a writer and director, Gordon-Levitt was quick to quash the buzz about the movie being focused simply on pornography. Despite the film’s rom-com branding, its intent couldn’t be farther from the familiar gauzy plots of its counterparts. Instead, Gordon-Levitt uses the common themes of sex and comedy as a lens through which to explore the oft-overlooked concept of a society seduced by fictional ideals.

In the film, his and Scarlett Johansson’s characters are victims to the romanticized images projected on their respective screens (porn for Gordon-Levitt’s Jon, and sappy romance flicks for Johansson’s Barbara.) Neither is entirely satisfied with reality, because neither really knows what it is—crafty consumerist advertising has them lusting after a fantasy.

And, according to Gordon-Levitt, the source of this fantasy doesn’t matter—the effect is always the same: “I think whether it’s rated X or approved for general viewing audiences, the message is the same: you’re taking a person—in our culture it’s usually a woman—and reducing her to a thing, to an object for your consumption. I think plenty of mainstream media is equally guilty of that as pornography.”

This parallel between the power of mass media and pornography has long been an interest to Gordon-Levitt. When he was a popular TV star at 14, magazines were demanding he pose on their covers to attract the attention of teen girls—girls who, unbeknownst to them, were subscribing to media objectification through their love for and devotion to the mythical-teenaged-boy-dreamboat-celebrity-unicorn that was young Joseph Gordon-Levitt. So, as rad as your ~vintage~ Joseph Gordon-Levitt Tiger Beat poster was, you also were, in some ways, a victim to media exploitation (beautiful memories forever ruined, I know, I know…). 

In a recent chat with Details, Gordon-Levitt discusses the inspiration for Don Jon, and essentially confirms that he and his mom are the best humans ever: “You see a woman on a screen, and you reduce her to a thing—a sex object, and that’s something I’ve been aware of my whole life. My mom was very active in the feminist movement in the ’60s and ’70s, and she was always very keen to let my brother and me know that this is a very common thing that happens in the media. So in a lot of ways Don Jon is an homage to my mom. It’s me writing a comedy about the wisdom that she wanted to instill in me.” 

Don Jon is in theaters now. Check out the trailer below: 


Thanks to TIMEDetails and YouTube

Images via  Details and Washington City Paper.


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