What Christians Can Learn From “Don Jon”

*Disclaimer: I wrote this years ago, and a lot of my perspectives have changed—so don’t take this too seriously. If you want to know how thinking about these topics can evolve, feel free to get in touch.*

image credit: iamyourtargetdemographic.wordpress.com

“Don Jon” is a pretty sexualized film, but that shouldn’t stop Christians from learning from it.

A Modern Day Don Juan

The story of “Don Jon” centers on actor/writer/director Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, Jon Martello, a slick, stylized New Jersey guy who only cares about these things: “my body, my pad, my ride, my family, my church, my boys, my girls, my porn.”

When his womanizing leads him into a steady relationship with Barbara Sugarman (played by Scarlett Johannson), Don Jon gets caught using pornography. This leads to a series of conversations with Barbara, Jon’s bros, his priest, and some other characters who affect his thoughts about love and sex in different ways.

“Don Jon” and Truth

Statistically, most guys (and a third of ladies) view porn regularly, so the subject matter isn’t anything different than we’re used to. The film’s rated R, so what it actually shows is limited, but gets the point across.

Note: I don’t think pornography is okay. I’m not diminishing its destructive nature, morally and relationally. It demeans women and devalues the sacredness of sex. The reason “Don Jon” should be discussed is because it looks at the topic of love and sex and porn in a way unique to most other media portrayals.

If all truth is God’s truth, Christians shouldn’t be shy about pointing out truth in popular culture or any other context. God is a redeemer who enters in to the mess of humanity and reclaims what belongs to Him. God is all about rescuing people from darkness, deception, and brokenness, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn from these types of things we encounter.

“Don Jon” is a film not all Christians should watch, but those who won’t be distracted by prolific sexual references and images should – for the sake of being honest about sex and pornography.

What Christians Can Learn From “Don Jon”

1. Religion Is Empty

Jon is a devout Catholic. Every Sunday, he’s in a church service and makes his confessions to the priest. His confessions aren’t shallow and insincere, either. They’re brutally honest and specific about how many times he had sex outside of a marriage commitment, how many times he watched pornography and masturbated, and other vices he exhibited, like anger. And like a disciplined Catholic should, Don Jon rehearses his Our Fathers and Hail Marys to precise detail (which pairs fittingly with his weightlifting workout routine). To Jon, it’s all part of his cycle.

There’s a profound difference between practicing religious rituals and digging into a relationship with God. Jon’s personal life was messy, but he presented himself all cleaned up by outward appearances. This serves as a sobering reminder for those of us Christians who like to pretend we’ve got it all together, when in reality, we’re all flawed and in need of Jesus’ grace.

2. Any Obsession Is An Idol

Don Jon’s obsession is pornography; that’s no secret. He even says at several points in the film that he likes porn more than sex with an actual person. Not only does the film reveal the deceptive and destructive nature of pornography, it shows how other not-so-uncommon things become idols, too.

  • For Jon’s father, it’s watching football religiously.
  • For Jon’s sister, it’s text messaging incessantly.
  • For Jon’s mother, it’s having a happy family, which includes the hope of Jon finding a girl to settle down with and raise a family.
  • For Jon’s bros, it’s finding a woman hotter than the last, and taking her to bed.
  • For Barbara, it’s an emotionally-perfect relationship in which she can manipulate and control Jon.

Pornography is just one of the easier vices to see and call out. We can all say pornography is morally bankrupt, but few of us are willing to look at our own lives for what we obsess over, and what idols we’ve built to devote ourselves to rather than worship Jesus. God should not be second tier; only He deserves to supersede everything else in our lives.

3. Relationships (and Sex) Are Two-Sided

Jon’s selfish obsessions with body, car, etc. translate to a very selfish sex life, as he pays no regard to how the woman he’s in bed with feels. He has to be told by a character later in the film that porn isn’t real and sex with a person should always be more significant than explicit images on a screen.

Sex is more about the relationship than the pleasure.

The reason pornography is so terrible is because it robs sex of the very context in which it’s designed to flourish. In a way, the film actually faintly echoes the praise of sexual intimacy God created for marriage. It may not go far enough to address marriage, but it does show porn is destructive and sex is about a spiritual connection that requires a relationship.

Mature relationships should always move from one-way to two-way connections. Relationship takes two people giving up their right to be number-one. They’re about serving each other rather than doing what’s best for only one side. And selfless serving is a topic all Christians seeking to follow Jesus should be versed in.

4. Everyone’s Looking For More

Don Jon is a character who lies to every person except his priest. And when one Sunday, Jon confesses he only slept with a woman and was able to stop masturbating to pornography, he grew frustrated that the priest didn’t congratulate him. He wanted approval, but on his terms.

Throughout the film, there are subtle nods that Jon felt torn between his promiscuity and his uncertainty about living with little direction in his life. He sensed there was some sort of connection between the actions he was taking and his standing with God. Did Don Jon want the priest to give him more spiritual guidance? Was he actually yearning for direction from a mentoring figure or a church exercising spiritual authority?

Everyone is spiritual. It’s just a matter of how honest we are with ourselves, and where we seek direction for our lives.


Did you see “Don Jon”? What can people learn from a move like this?



8 responses to “What Christians Can Learn From “Don Jon”

  1. Hey John I came across this post and it really intrigued me. I did watch the movie, after reading your post, and as a happily married and deep lover of Christ, I was so frustrated by religions response to his struggle (clearly someone needs to reread James 2). What furthered my frustration, was even after he won is bout with his addiction to porn, religion still told him he wasn’t good. We never conquer sin, it’s the reality of our bodies, but the church needs to celebrate when we take on our demons. Jon is a hypocrite, we all are, and the sooner we as the church feel comfortable talking about it and celebrating the tiny wins we get in this life, the better we start reflecting Christ’s work in us. Thanks so much for the post.

    • Well said. I agree completely – the Church should talk more about issues like pornography that are destroying lives, and how Jesus speaks into our messes. I’m glad to see what seems like a shift in thinking about how to address sexuality and spirituality, and how they’re connected.
      Thanks for the reply.

  2. This may be your best yet. It’s amazing to me how culture is beginning to recognize and even call out the destructive behavior of pornography. It’s no longer just the religious who see the harm. I see society moving this way with films like this and “her”. I’m considering sharing this with my youth staff. Well written.

    • Thanks so much, Spencer! That’s kind of you.
      I’m eager to see “Her,” because technology, faith and sexuality are all more closely connected than we ever thought they would be.
      I hope it provides helpful thoughts and discussion for your staff.

  3. Really well written, John! I appreciate your deep insight into the film. What you had to say is very perceptive and true. Those were all things I took away from the film as well, but wasn’t able to articulate, so thanks for pointing them out.

  4. Great article, John. I always enjoy your take on modern entertainment and pop culture (still appreciate your series “The Gospel According to Macklemore”). This posts’s no different. Not sure I’ll see the film, though I think if I do I’ll have a better lens to view it through. Keep up the great writing.

    • Thanks, Adam.
      The Gospel According to Macklemore posts are still the most popular pages on the site. We should be eager to engage culture and art to explore the truths found embedded in the stories that surround us, because it’s a way to point people to God as the author of truth.
      Thanks for reading.

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