There's A Single Nuance to the Movie Jonathan
Jonathan could have been a lot more interesting than it really was. But alas. IMDB
2.8Overall Score
Reader Rating: (8 Votes)

It’s fascinating when you go into a movie thinking one thing, and you come out with something completely different. That’s exactly what happened to me today with the movie Jonathan. I mean, we have a quasi-famous actor playing the lead role of Jonathan/Jon in Ansel Elgort. Don’t recognize the name? That is the lead in the movie Baby Driver, Fault in Our Stars, Divergent, etc. And the female co-star is Suki Waterhouse, of The Bad Batch fame. So it isn’t lacking star power. But it is also an incredibly experimental feeling movie. 

What is the movie about? Jonathan spends half the day awake, and half the day asleep. While conversely, his “brother” Jon, spends Jonathan’s sleeping time awake. All in the same body. Yes, you are right, that is a very Black Mirror/Twilight Zone sort of a premise. Which, truth be told, is what drew me to the movie. Tech-enabled-MPDs? Ok, yes please. Black outs and confusion about what is happening on the other side of your life? Sure, totally, yes please. But the movie didn’t go in the direction I expected it to go. Like in a What Happened to Monday sort of thriller sort of a way. Instead it was a deep dive into the nature and feeling of Multiple Personality Disorders and their effects on the people involved. And while there was a thriller aspect to the movie, and there was a surprise twist at the end, I’m not going to bate you into seeing this movie with those two details. Rather, watch this movie if you are intrigued at the idea of an in depth, deep dive into the idea of a scientifically “controlled” MPD, as a way of talking about the deeper issues here. Here, just watch this and decide:

Alright, fair enough. You’ve gotten your fill. Now you need to leave, and go watch the film and then come back and discuss the deeper issues going on here. Fair enough.

Quick Jonathan Movie Walkthrough

This movie is all about the relationship between Jon and Jonathan. Two “brothers” living in the same body. Basically a multiple personality disorder regulated by “science” instead of Psychology. And it took me a little while to figure this out – because, yes, I am slow – Jonathan got from 7am to 7pm. And Jon gets 7pm to 7am. And it is expected that Jonathan sleeps from 4pm to 7pm. And Jon sleeps from 7pm to 10pm. I think. I believe they are both aiming for 3 hours. Or something. 

As the movie rolls, and the conflict is established as being a tidal tug of war between Jonathan and Jon, we learn that there were once three personalities at play here. But the Doctor, Dr. Nariman, (played by Patricia Clarkson of Playing by Heart fame… ok, so none of you know that movie, but I adore it. Check it out and I’ll give you five bucks for your time. No, that was a lie. There will be no money exchanging hands for me giving you a fantastic movie tip. So stop begging. Geesh. I mean, honestly, it just took me two minutes to look her up, read through her movie credits, NOTICE that she was in one of the best movies ever (ok, so I said that in a valley girl voice… it is nowhere near the best movie ever) and then share it with you. If anyone should be dumping cash on anyone, its you, on me! Glad we finally got that settled. So do you mind, can we keep moving with the discussion about the movie for heaven’s sake?) – uh, where was I?, oh right – killed off one of the three personalities to make room for the two thriving personalities. How did she do this? I have no idea. But the point we are supposed to take away here is that, she can do it again.

Now is that a threat? Is it a promise? Not sure… but the entire movie seems to hang over a precipice that we aren’t seeing clearly. Jonathan and Jon seem to be struggling with life/life balance. Jonathan would like to move up in the world of architecture where he is killing it. But he can’t, because he can’t put in the hours. And Jon? he’d like a real girlfriend without the chaos of making up stuff about why he can’t meet her during the day. I mean other than the fact that he’s a vampire. But Jon has been lying to Jonathan, and he’s been seeing someone. When that blows up, Jon takes off and stops communicating… uh, with himself. Which, they are supposed to do via video messages. (Which, we get the feeling that Jonathan, the anal one, has instituted as the program they are suppose to follow… along with all the other rules.)

But when Jon takes off, and disappears on Jonathan (sorry, that sounds weird to type out… SEEING AS THOUGH THEY ARE THE SAME PERSON! woah. Loud alert much? gah. Sorry. Should have warned you yelling would commence.) Jonathan tries to reconnect with Jon, via dating his old girlfriend. Which, she seems a little weirded out about… which is fair. But then, Sukie Waterhouse – a woman that can carry an entire movie as an cannibalized amputee in the Bad Batch – gets discarded like last night’s Raman, and why? Because she played her purpose. She McGuffined her way out of a useful role in the movie. Because she could have been the one unifying thing in Jonathan’s/Jon’s life. But instead the movie flips to a kill or be killed plot line between the Jays. 

My Problem With The Plot of Jonathan

I’ll get to the actual ending in a minute, but I have to get something off my chest first. This movie kicks off with a plot straight out of a Black Mirror episode. Science has learned to cage, and confine multiple personalities. That should cause us wonder. Right? Dr. Nariman has cracked the code on the human psyche. Who’s to say we can’t add personalities for different situations or different societal requirements. (This is an amazing idea for a Black Mirror, if any of the shows producers would like to talk to me about selling the idea your way, don’t hesitate to ask!) You could decoder ring in an aggressive personality for purchasing a car. Decoder ring in your meek personality for mother-in-law visits. Your anal retentive self for your work as an accountant. (Accountants, I really don’t want to hear it from you. Yes, I was playing to stereotypes. I get it.) 

But instead of utilizing this clever conceit in any sort of real way, the writers decided to head down the well worn donkey cart path, in order to discuss personalities and dominance. Ok. Meh. Alright. Basically Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, minus the interesting murder bits. And oh wait, that was written in 1885. Personally, I was CERTAIN, this movie would be about how Jonathan2 was a spy, or in possession of an Atom bomb or something. And it would be about Jonathan1 trying to figure out why his life was circling the toilet bowl. Or better yet, J2 only existed because of a futuristic time traveling technology he keeps using. But, yeah, none of that super cool stuff started happening. But nope. But as a discussion of personality types and dominance it did say an interesting thing or two… so why don’t we talk about said bits?

The Ending of Jonathan Explained 

As both J’s learn more about the other, their tightly wound, and thoroughly controlled arrangement begins to unravel. Jon finds out that Jonathan is sleeping with Elena… and so he gets a shiner, and shacks up with some girl, and doesn’t leave on time. Jon trashes Jonathan’s work space and gets Jonathan fired by scrawling LIAR on his desk. And Jonathan learns that Jon wants to be removed, he even tries to commit suicide. But when the Doctor talks to Jonathan about the ensuing chaos, Jonathan learns that he is the one that is struggling. The anal retentive one is actually the one that is shrinking and dying. And that is the surprise of the movie – the right hook – that the put together one of the movie is actually the one that is dying. And when the two are fighting at their most intense, Jonathan even shackles himself to keep Jon from running away. Because, apparently, their times are drifting, and terrible things are now happening, with dangerous potential consequences. Or something. 

Now, instead of staying manacled, Jon is now able to flip in and out of Jonathan’s time at will. And Jon has decided to toss themselves off the top of the building. And that is where the denouement heads – a struggle for life or death. And eventually, Jonathan realizes, that although he has stopped Jon from jumping, he is dying, shrinking, and vanishing. Jon is heading to the airport, and through their taxi driver, they continue talking until Johnathan completely disappears. But when he gets back into the car, he hears Japanese on the radio, and asks to have it turned up. 

Get it? 

The last third of the movie is all about Jonathan’s fear of being eradicated. It is about his desire to return back to his closeness with Jon. It isn’t about Elena, or about these other women. It’s about their relationships together. But ultimately, Jonathan is killed. Or is he? I mean, Jon can speak Japanese now, and only Jonathan was the one taking the lessons. So ultimately they merged. Right? That was the clever twist on the twist. First we learn that the guy with the job, and the aspiring architectural career is actually the weaker of the two personalities. The next thing we learn is that he is going to die. And finally we learn that he didn’t die at all, but that instead, they merged to become one person. Of sorts. 

Final Thoughts on Jonathan

I wanted Jonathan to be more than it turned out to be. I mean, after all, we have Mr. Baby Driver, and Miss Bad Batch at the helm (Hey, while I’m at it, where did she end up to at the movie’s end? She seemed to be forcefully ejected from the script when her usefulness as a conflict driver was up. That frustrated me a bit.) right? And we have a fantastic science fiction setup. And all we need is a half decent plot to drive the action. But instead we get some complications with their scheduling. And ultimately we learn that they merged. Which, strikes me as a bit simple. But I did like the commentary on our definition of strong. That our “vulnerable” artists, our passion riddled, weak minded, might actually be the strong among us. That they are the ones that can handle more chaos and more stress than the rest of us. It was an intriguing comment. But that’s why I watched this movie? Really? 

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7 Responses

  1. deKev

    I was hoping for a more detailed explanation for the final scene, which had me confused for who’s who, who’s saying what and why, where do they go from there on… but I think you hit it on the nail when you said the main conclusion to take away is that the 2 personalities have merged somewhat, rather than one dominant personality thrives while the other withers to the point of non-existence.

    I have to disagree with you though on the film needing to have a more exciting plot a la What Happened To Monday?. For once, I’m glad to have watched a movie with absolute zero violence either on or off screen, give or take a black eye or slit wrist. The premise alone, coping with MPD by body timeshare, if you will, is fascinating enough that almost any kind of plot will suffice, IMHO.

    In any case, I think the film is purposefully set out to play with a low-key, low-stakes tone (that suits the largely charisma-free Baby Driver actor down to a T, I have to say), a tone that is consistent throughout its running time, broken only by those fleeting moments when Jon flips in and out of Jonathan’s consciousness, moments that prove to be doubly jarring as such.

    Finally, I think it’s a missed opportunity that Jonathan was learning French (I’m pretty sure it’s not Japanese like you said, ahem) instead of a Scandinavian language, because that would mean a precursor of Jon’s intrusion into Jonathan’s subconscious and the subsequent merger, knowing that Jon has longed for the land of the midnight sun.

    • Taylor Holmes

      Hey there Kev,
      Your points are valid. And I understand where you are coming from. You also have read enough of my reviews to know that I am not looking for special effects, or big bang-ness. I really thought this was going to be a great movie for the first third, first half. But when I realized all we had was an internal struggle, and one minor “trick” at the end, it didn’t really hook me. I don’t think I even said this in the review, but I also think that Ansel Elgort, who is a big name star, shows just how hard it is to play two distinctly different characters on the screen. What Happened To Monday is ludicrous, now that I’ve watched a decent star trying just two. Or better yet, J.K. Simmons in Counterpart (that is a fun mind bender I’ll talk about soon enough.)

      This thing had all the hope in the world for me. I liked the internal struggle. I liked the low-keyness of it. I enjoyed the technology. This basically is a Black Mirror episode. (He would have had to throw himself off the building to match a Black Mirror ending though!) But it just felt like it was ultimately a weak showing for an experimental flick. And yet, I just gave the movie Still a better rating I think, and it is pretty simple too. Hrm. Maybe it just caught me on a bad day. Hahahah.

      You are making me reconsider my rating. Maybe I’ll change it, and also add it to my THiNC. recommendations list just based on your feedback. Which, I’ve never done before. So, kudos to you for making me rethink it. Also, thanks for the tip on the language. I’ll fix that. Thanks Kev.

  2. Steve Rodick

    It was French, btw (however, Jonathan’s level of French mastery was no where near being able to understand the French spoken on the radio … what with his at-home French lessons working on “He is handsome” and “the second [one] [door] on the right.”

    There is another possible ending meaning: the character who survived was the “third” personality – the one that Dr. Nariman “terminated” when the Hero was nine years old.

  3. Lena

    It was French. Not Japanese. The fact that you missed this detail by such a long shot, (the two languages are wildly different), and that the taxi driver states what the language is when he asks him if he speaks it, makes me wonder what other nuances you’re missing in this film.

    What I am trying to say is I don’t like the arrogant tone of your review and I think you have a lot to learn about just how murky and deep the Human Experience can get before taking such absolute stances as you do in this review.

  4. Steve Rodick

    Has anyone else been bearing witness to a very TESTY July the Fourth 2019 week ?
    My wife, my friends, my children, my clients are all seemingly having a tough holiday week.

    I’m looking forward to see another Film with Elgort in it.
    Tried plowing through the BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB, but couldn’t really get into it.
    Tant pis.
    (if you know your Francais)

  5. Kikka

    …What if Jon is the only personality left, and he misses Jonathan so much, that he looks for his memory in every little detail?
    What if hearing French tapes (that Jonathan used for studying) triggers an emotional sweet sensation of nostalgia/saudedades of him?


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