As Tommy Wiseau once said, entertainment is a process of learning, and to me, learning comes in many different forms, even if it’s learning that you didn’t know as much about a subject as you thought you did. (500) Days of Summer purports not to be a love story, but a story about love. The thing that makes it stand out from other so-called ‘love stories’ is that it doesn’t merely show two individuals finding each other and living happily ever after, but instead deconstructs what is, from outward appearances, a perfectly normal relationship. I don’t think many people can claim to be an authority on love or relationships in many different ways, and to see how ideologies of relationships can contrast is not only interesting but highly thought-provoking. At many points during this film, there were scenes that seemed to correspond to my own personal life, or the life of a friend. I too know someone who was rejected, with the rejecter claiming they weren’t interested in relationships only to get engaged weeks later.
Our protagonist is Tom, played by the marvellous Joseph Gordon-Levitt, an actor who continues to grow on me. In this film, I can personally relate to him very well; he has low self confidence, he believes that love is a real thing that will happen to him one day and he falls for women too quickly. The romantic interest is Summer, played by the ravishing Zooey Deschanel. I dislike when films choose beautiful actresses to play the roles of supposedly ordinary-looking women, as it just doesn’t fit – I’m looking at you, Anne Hathaway in One Day. This film gets it right; Summer is a very beautiful girl, who gets a short intro saying how she turns heads on buses and gets better deals on apartments based on her looks. As a result, she is more confident and cocky than girls you might usually meet, but not to the point of being bitchy. She doesn’t believe in love, and just sees relationships as things that happen without much meaning. It’s this dichotomy that really drives the film philosophically. Can either of them be right? Are they both right?
Let’s face it, romance in films is shit. How many times have you seen the formula: guy meets girl; guy falls in love with girl; guy eventually gets girl (after some possible troubles); the end? What about when an action film randomly ends with the male and female leads kissing, without their having ever mentioned any desire to each other beforehand? It’s rather demoralising to see film character after film character have their way, making my romantic endeavours seem rather puny in comparison. It’s a good thing I don’t pay that much attention to what films tell me then. Still, it’s refreshing to see, in (500) Days, a relationship whose ideals don’t match up to those imposed by countless Hollywood writers. For example, when a lout hits on Summer in a bar, Tom feels compelled to stand up and deliver a fist right to his face. Contrary to expectation, Summer is not only nonplussed, but actually disappointed in Tom for doing so. Her reasons are multifarious, but aren’t unclear. It’s great to see a more realistic reaction to the situation than just pointless crowd-pleasing sex. Speaking of sex, there is a amazing musical scene set the day after Tom first makes love to Summer, replete with dancing pedestrians and animated bird. Having been there myself, I can easily relate to that sense of elation and say that I felt the same way too. Good on you, movie!
Nevertheless, one of the main aspects of the movie is that the two break up, an act they show near the beginning of the film, which occurs somewhere between Day 282 and Day 290. It’s pretty raw, but seems just as ordinary as any other break-up, especially when we haven’t seen what’s come before. Nevertheless, throughout the movie, Tom fumes at having been dumped, believing that she was the one. He coincidentally meets her again, and realises he still has a connection with her, and she invites him to a party. In an amazingly well-put-together scene, the film shows the universe of Tom’s expectation alongside the reality of the party. No points for guessing which one has the ‘better’ outcome. Though from outward appearances it may seem gimmicky, it again corresponds to aspects of my life, and hence makes complete sense.
The final scene containing the two characters happens after Summer gets married. Ever felt afraid of running into your ex? The conversation naturally drifts into Tom saying that he doesn’t understand how Summer can suddenly get married, when she broke up with Tom for not believing in love and relationships. Incredibly, and satisfyingly, her answers are exactly the same sort of bullshit that I’ve heard from other people when trying to explain their reasons for leaving: “It’s not you it’s me,” “It just happened” etc. If the excuses made sense, it wouldn’t be realistic. Incredibly though, the dichotomy of the ideology of love has been completely reversed. Summer now believes in fate and love, while Tom has become disenfranchised. Excellent. I will admit that the couple’s very last exchange brought to the verge of tears, simply because they said it so truthfully and selflessly, a true act of humanity.
Unfortunately, the scene after that left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth, although I do understand the decision to put it in. By this point, the audience are aware that there is no redemption for Tom and Summer, which is how it should be. Relationships don’t always work out. Nevertheless, the next scene sees Tom asking out a new girl, coincidentally called Autumn, as the days counter reverts from 500 back to 1. The scene suggests that Tom can only finally get over Summer by finding a new girl, which isn’t always an option in reality. If I could magically find a new girl, that’d be amazing, but realistically, I have to look for other ways to cope. I personally would have liked to see Tom consoling himself by telling himself once and for all that Summer is not a necessary part of his life, and that singledom is a viable option. But that wouldn’t be ‘happy’, would it?!
All in all, I found this to be a once-in-a-blue-moon interesting and thought-provoking romance film. In a sadistic way, I prefer seeing onscreen breakups to onscreen romantic bliss, if only because there is usually a lot more of one than the other. This is a film I could take ideas away from and challenge my own perception of what makes a relationship. It’s a one-sided film, with everything seen from Tom’s point of view; I’d quite like to see a companion piece, to fully understand just how Summer sees the whole thing, and maybe her ‘bullshit’ replies would finally make more sense. These two pieces together could unlock a wealth of philosophical insights into love and relationships, but alas, we merely see the one side here. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this film very much; the ability to compare a Hollywood film with my own life is rare but useful. Thank you very much Emma for the recommendation!