Brainflow Feed

That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, they revolve mostly around films.)

Don Jon

Sunday, September 29th, 2013 5:36 pm—Film

Don Jon (USA 2013, Comedy/Drama), Writer/Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Don Jon is the feature film debut from writer/director Joseph Gordon-Levitt. In it, he plays a New Jersey guy named Jon who’s addicted to porn, not to mention church, cleaning, road rage and bedding women—the rituals that get him through the week (or day, as the case may be).

Jon is sexist, shallow and one-dimensional. So, not surprisingly, he winds up with sexist, shallow and one-dimensional Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), whose addiction to romantic movies feeds her unrealistic expectations of the opposite sex just as much as Jon’s addiction to porn feeds his.

The relationship plays out as you might expect. And then Jon gets to know Esther (Julianne Moore), who’s older and far more self-aware than either Jon or Barbara. She has rituals of her own to get her through the day (to lose herself, as Jon might say). But they don’t stop her from trying to make a connection to Jon.

There are two reasons I’m writing about Don Jon: First, because it’s part of a long line of exceptional work from Gordon-Levitt, and an early indication of what he might become as a director. Second, because, in spite of its focus on porn and countless close-ups of women’s bodies, the film offers a welcome counterpart to some of the other pop media out there today—the kind that doesn’t bother to show a different angle.

I have a particular piece of pop in mind, but I’ll get to that a little later. For now, it’s first things first.

In case it needs to be stated, Gordon-Levitt is a highly prolific and unusually gifted actor. He’s been in tons of first-rate films, including Brick (see the Brick review from December 2012), Looper (see the Looper review from October 2012), Inception (see the Inception review from October 2010), 50/50, The Dark Knight Rises and Lincoln.

He’s also founder of a really cool open-collaborative production company called HITRECORD. They’re putting out a slew of fascinating, high quality pieces, including books and even a forthcoming TV show. (Check out this call for artists for a documentary segment on unity.)

As a fan of Gordon-Levitt’s work, I was eager to see Don Jon. And I wasn’t disappointed. Already, with his first feature film, he comes across as an assured director with a strong grasp of visuals and editing. It’s not like he’s a rookie; he’s been on sets for nearly three decades and has already directed several short films. Still, Don Jon is an impressive first feature.

I’m looking forward to seeing Gordon-Levitt go further into creating mood through cinematography, and develop more complex storylines. But as it stands, Don Jon presents a lovely character arc, as Jon stumbles through romantic entanglements, and offers poignant observations on how we treat one another and the dangers of falling prey to the influence of popular media.

Which brings me to my secondary point. Because Robin Thicke’s idiotic song Blurred Lines certainly doesn’t deserve to be front and centre. It’s the kind of thing I hate so much that I wouldn’t normally give it any space on this blog. But it came to mind while I was watching Don Jon, so here it is.

I’d heard bits of Blurred Lines on the radio, and let it play because it’s catchy. But when the lyrics sank it, even just those approved for the radio stations I listen to, I tuned out; something about wanting a “good girl” who still likes to “get nasty” was a little off-putting.

Then, when the damn thing got stuck in my head again (“‘Catchy’ is not a redeeming quality,” says my wise buddy ACR), I looked the lyrics up and was totally appalled. The original version is beyond sexist; it’s misogynist and threatening. I’m thinking of one line in particular, but the whole thing is just grotesque. Now when it comes on the radio, I always change the station, never mind how addictive the beat.

Anyway, I was really appalled and wanted to see what kind of reaction others were having to Blurred Lines. So I went online and found an interview in which Thicke acknowledges that his song is degrading to women, but says that it’s okay because he’s married and has respected women all his life. How big of him.

If that kind of “context” is going to carry any weight, it has to be established within the song. Take Eminem’s Love the Way You Lie, a far superior listen; yes, it’s got references to violence against women, but its lyrics have a clearly ironic tone. And by including the woman’s voice (Rihanna’s, no less, a woman who has borne evidence that abuse is no joke), he brings her perspective into it, redefining the lyrics and underscoring the irony.

Coming back to Don Jon, I’m not sure exactly at what point in the film I was reminded of Blurred Lines. But when Gordon-Levitt took care to show that people—of both sexes—are more than just their appearance, it made me very grateful that we also have men like him contributing to popular culture. And that he understands the importance of losing yourself with a real-life human being, one you can look at, but also one who is able to really see you.

Here’s to more insights like these, from Gordon-Levitt and all artists who want to create works that will bring people together, rather than further divide, isolate and objectify.

*            *            *

“You better lose yourself in the music, the moment… You better never let it go.”
– Eminem, Lose Yourself

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