First-time writer/director JGL on porn, feminism, and gender

Plenty of eyebrows rose when America’s boyfriend, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, announced he was working on a movie about porn addiction. JGL stars in his first outing as writer/director in Don Jon, playing a hyper-sexed, heavily-accented worshipper at the altar of GTL (gym-tan-laundry), with a porn addiction so ingrained that he prefers PornHub over a Snookified ScarJo. (This is the same kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun, teary-eyed Smiths fan who couldn’t get over Zooey Deschanel, right?)

“I want to tell a story about how people treat other people more like things,” JGL told the Dig. “For me personally, that comes from having grown up as an actor. Actors in our culture often get treated like objects on a shelf. And not just actors; I think we all have a tendency to experience this.

We pigeonhole each other, put each other in boxes with labels, and don’t really pay attention to who we’re actually talking to.”

I thought we were here to talk about porn? Okay, tell me more about this objectification.

“I think the media plays into that. It’s something that I’ve always paid attention to and intrigued me. The [film's] whole opening credit sequence is stuff throughout media: TV shows, movies, commercials, music videos, red carpet, et cetera. All of the above.

I think all of these images serve to teach us that, especially women, are these shiny, pretty things.”

When asked if it was a comment on the pornification of culture, Levitt responded “That’s one way to put it. I thought it’d be a funny way to get at some of these questions, to have a relationship between a young man who watches too much pornography and a young woman who watches too many romantic Hollywood movies.”

But it’s alpha male “Don” Jon Martello—not his porn problem—that’s the center of the film’s attention. “It’s definitely a protagonist-structured movie. Even when you’re seeing the movies Barbara’s (Scarlett Johansson) watching, you see it from Jon’s perspective more than from her perspective.”

“He’s a Don Juan, a classic literary character. He’s different than other Don Juan stories in that traditionally, they’re tragedies where in the end, the protagonist is destroyed by his shortcomings. I’m more of an optimist, and I like to think that people can change. Even a Don Juan-type of guy can change.”

So, the world of Don Jon is soaked in testosterone and bad cologne for a reason. “Both Jon and Barbara are striving very intently towards the dominant norms of what their gender is supposed to be. They’re both disappointed.

If you spend all your time and effort trying to fit into a role rather than find what’s unique about yourself or your lover or your present situation, you’re bound to be disappointed.”

Were gender roles an issue for young Gordon-Levitt? “Me personally? No, my mom brought us up instilling in my brother and me the values of the feminist movement. But sure, I’ve encountered it from people I’ve known. That’s part of day-to-day life. People assume you’re this or that, whether it’s because of your gender or because of your job or any other number of things. They’re always going to try and put you into boxes.”

Now the question on everyone’s (okay, my) mind: does JGL have a beef against porn?

“I think it depends. I wouldn’t make such a sweeping generalization. It depends on what particular medium you’re talking about, and the viewer. Esther (Julianne Moore) gives [Jon] a Danish porn film.” Was it was modeled after the I Am Curious (Yellow) set of Swedish porn films from the late sixties? “I can’t say I’ve seen those. I had friends who helped us with the title.”

A likely story.

DON JON | RATED R | 9.27.13


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