Filling The Void (On “Don Jon” and “Her”)

The movies I saw last weekend made me worry about modern-day and future relationships.

In Don Jon, Jon (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is addicted to pornography and Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) is addicted to her view of “perfection.” Jon can’t enjoy real sex, no matter how beautiful the woman might be, because his expectations are completely unrealistic due to all the raunchy porn he watches.

Barbara lives in a similar fantasy world. She’s obsessed with being the perfect housewife and tells Jon she’s losing her sexual attraction to him when he says he likes to clean his own house. I don’t know what the hell she’s talking about. Nick vacuuming the floor gives me butterflies.

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It was hard to decide who had it worse in Don Jon. In the end, Jon meets Esther (Julieanne Moore), an older woman who teaches him how to make meaningful love instead of the empty, pornstar-like banging he was used to. He even apologizes to Barbara about his excessive masturbation in the past. She, however, is the same deluded woman she was at the beginning of the movie, hardly hears a word he says, and walks off in a huff to meet her next Ken doll.

Joseph Gordon Levitt, the writer and director, is a self-described feminist and wrote the movie to criticize the unrealistic expectations porn and rom coms have created. His film had a happy ending: A grown, intelligent woman taught Jon the error of his ways. I can only hope the movie influences the cat-callers and grab-assers to acknowledge and end their rape-culture mentalities.

I continued the Scarlett Johansson streak and saw the haunting and beautiful “Her,” a story of a man so lonely he falls in love with his operating system. The movie is set in a time that looked like it could be present day or the near future. It’s a time so impersonal that Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is employed at “BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com,” a service where complete strangers write love notes that will then be attributed to the person who bought it.

Theodore writes the letters with flowing ease, yet has no one to send his own love letters too. So he opts for phone sex with strangers and then purchases an operating system named Samantha.

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Almost everyone in the movie is obsessed with his or her personal technology. The wide shots of hordes of people walking by in their own bubble; talking to the person (or operating system) in their ears and hardly raising their heads to look at the world around them reminds me of the scene you’d see if you stopped in the middle of Kent State’s esplanade at 12:15 p.m.

After Theodore tells his ex-wife Catherine (Rooney Mara), a woman he still clearly loves, that he’s seeing someone (ironic – only hearing, really), Catherine asks who the girl is, and he tells her it’s his operating system. Tears spring to Catherine’s eyes and she tells him Samantha’s perfect for him since he never could deal with real-people emotions anyway.

Just as Don Jon opted for promiscuous sex and Barbara chose deluded housewife mentalities in place of a real, fulfilling relationship, Theodore chose the comfort of having a nonhuman cyber girlfriend over dealing with his leftover emotions and obvious love that still burned for Catherine.

So many distractions like technology, promiscuity and drugs make it entirely possible to keep your mind off of dealing with pain or love for a long time. But as Don Jon and Theodore finally realized in the end, letting your guard down and entering meaningful relationships is a much more fulfilling way to live your life in the long run, even if you do get hurt along the way.

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