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.
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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