“It’s love, it’s not Santa Claus”
She just wasn’t the right person for you. It’s tough to realize it or accept it at the time because one is so infatuated and/or in love with a certain person. There are so many signals telling you that the two of you are not a good match but because of the good qualities in your significant other at the time, it’s hard to accept the truth. At the end of the day, all the heartbreak and moments of misery were totally worth it because they made you grow into a better person, one who will no longer make the same mistakes he or she made in their youth. That’s what (500) Days of Summer is all about.
Tom is so in love with the idea of Summer that he completely ignores all of the things that she has been telling him all along. From the get-go, she let him know what type person she was and what type of person she wasn’t. Tom was too blinded by the stunning beauty to actually take in any of what she was saying. While romantic comedies tell us that Tom and Summer should be together and/or belong with each other, any person actually watching the movie will realize that Tom and Summer are polar opposites and while the idea of the two as a couple is an attractive one, the reality of it says something completely different. In Tom’s eyes, Summer is perfection, but perfection has no depth. Summer’s not a girl, she’s a phase. Tom was just too close to the image to see the complete picture.
While the idea of soul-mates may be something straight out of the movies, one can be very happy with numerous people. But then what happens when the relationship runs out of steam? Then you just have two people who really aren’t that compatible. That’s what happens here. Only Tom is completely oblivious to it and instead Summer is forced to be the dickish voice of reason. While no one in the film is a villain, Summer, at times, is painted that way. But really she did nothing wrong as she had told Tom from the start that she wanted nothing serious. Where the audience is almost forced to hate her comes towards the end of the film. We as an audience, especially in romantic comedies, have been trained to believe that the two main characters will end up together no matter what, which is obviously not too realistic. Here it hits very close to home. We find out that there will be no happy ending for the two as a couple as it is revealed, in one of the most memorable movie scenes of all-time, that Summer is now engaged. Tom angrily walks off, tears in his eyes and heartbreaking music playing.
The film then enters its darkest phase as Tom in inconsolable. Everything that made him smile, now makes him depressed. Then one day, it’s all over. He finally accepts what Summer (and the audience) have known all along. Summer just wasn’t the one for Tom. In a final brilliant scene between the two, closure is reached. Tom sincerely wishes the best for Summer as he wonders (as do we) how this impulsive and somewhat cold woman will be able to maintain a loving relationship. She does let him know that he was right all along though and love is possible for even the greatest cynics. Tom goes off on his journey, with his head up and gets to walk away from Summer on a positive note. While the lines hurt (“I just knew what I never knew when I was with you” or “You never wanted to be someone’s girlfriend and now you’re somebody’s wife) they were needed.
Then when you least expect it, Summer is over and here comes Autumn (literally). Some will complain about the final scene and feel that it was too predictable and/or wasn’t needed but I feel it was both welcome and needed. Things do happen like that (it happened to me). You finally meet the person you actually know you should be with, have an instant connection and realize that the previous relationship, while both fun and miserable at times, shouldn’t have gotten to you so much. You realize it was merely a stepping stone to something greater. It was also needed because not only did it bring out good things, it also brought out many negative things and lessons of what should no longer be repeated. It brought growth. It was fun while it lasted, but ultimately it was not meant to be. You were just the last person to actually know this. I’ve had my heart broken before. Truly, truly broken. But when I look back at me in my heartbroken phase, it’s pretty hilarious, because it felt so much more extreme than it really was.
The beauty of this film is that it is very personal and gets me thinking about my own relationships and my own life. We’ve all hit rock bottom but at the end, there is always Autumn. The fact that this film can get me to go on and on about so many things or have me go in depth about so many things is a testament to what a great film it is. I didn’t even mention many of my favorite scenes like the dancing in the streets sequence, Summer crying while watching the end of The Graduate, etc. I could go on but really 900+ words probably is too much and I most likely have lost several of you by now. Maybe I’ll do a part two eventually that analyzes some other theme/aspect of this wonderful film. The fact that I can do that is a very good example of why this is at the top of my favorite movies list.
(500) Days of Summer follows the story of Tom Hansen as he falls in love with his new coworker, Summer, and copes with their subsequent breakup. The story is presented as a nonlinear narrative, indicating in what order the events take place by displaying a given number out of five hundred (the amount of days that Tom was occupied with Summer) preceding each scene. According to one of the film’s writers, this story is based on a past relationship of his. While a dominant reading suggests that the audience is meant to sympathize with Tom throughout his rather tumultuous relationship with Summer, I propose that Summer is the victim of their relationship, representing merely a fantasy for Tom, and his disregard toward her results in the end of their relationship.
Throughout the film, an unseen narrator provides exposition. I believe that this narration expresses Tom’s inner dialogue. The use of storytelling through narration suits Tom’s idealistic sensibilities. Pairing this narration with whimsical music suggests that this information isn’t necessarily accurate, leaving the verisimilitude (McCabe, 19) of this film up to scrutiny.
The “Summer” Effect
This scene depicts Summer as larger-than-life. Tom imagines this romanticized version of Summer before he formally gets to know her. By projecting his fantasy of the perfect woman onto Summer, Tom renders her incapable of conveying her thoughts or emotions without throwing his own “rose-colored lens” over it. Summer then “operates as a projection of male fears and fantasies” (McCabe, 19).
The dominant reading of this film sees Tom as a sympathetic character. Many women have idolized him as a “dream guy” because of his vulnerability and sensitive nature. While he’s sometimes overly idealistic, his undying belief in true love is admirable. Tom’s love interest, Summer, is depicted as the manic pixie dream girl trope; spontaneous, independent, free-wheeling, and most importantly: the answer to the poetic male protagonist’s dreams. However, Summer remains aloof toward him throughout their relationship, rarely opening up to him, and frequently appearing melancholy. She becomes increasingly more aloof as the relationship progresses toward its end.
This narrative reinforces negative stereotypes and legitimizes unhealthy attitudes regarding women, presenting Summer in a less-than-flattering light by presenting only Tom’s point of view. The dominant reading paints Summer as emotionally abusive, for being flakey, unwilling to commit, and constantly spurning Tom’s affections. Tom’s opinion of Summer versus the reality of the situation never really gets resolved, and she remains one of the most inconsistent women the audience has ever encountered.
I first watched this film many years ago, and found myself feeling dissatisfied with the dominant reading of this film, feeling that I had overlooked something important. Returning to this film, I was in awe of just how absurdly the characters behave. I no longer pitied Tom’s character, but found myself sympathizing with Summer’s character, or lack thereof since we hardly get to know her. However, I found myself enjoying each problematic feature within the film, especially those pertaining to sexist attitudes.
Tom expresses both hostile sexism; characterized by the belief that women are intimidating and attempting to “trick” or “use” men, and benevolent sexism; characterized by the belief that women need to be protected or put on a pedestal. These behaviors play on the fear of women holding power over men, or castration anxiety (Mulvey, 840). On day 1, we see Tom admire Summer as she’s introduced at an office meeting. On day 3, Tom participates in disparaging “women like Summer” with his coworker, Mackenzie. Mackenzie describes Summer as an “uppity, better-than-everyone, super skank.” Tom laments that “pretty girls think they can treat people like crap.” Tom has had no personal interactions with Summer at this point. Tom and his friends continue to insult Summer whenever her presence creates a point of contention in Tom’s life, using words such as “skank”, “bitch”, and “whore” to describe her. Because of the attitudes toward Summer, the audience is left with the impression that Summer is very fickle and unstable, all the while subjecting Tom to emotional turmoil as he copes with their failing relationship.
Tom’s character is sensitive and romantic, but he also has very low self esteem, frequent mood swings, and little-to-no self control once his emotions take hold. He is overly critical, in part due to his idealistic nature, and is rather controlling in his relationships. When upset, Tom has a flair for melodrama, smashing plates, interacting with strangers rudely, and screaming on a bus (see clip: I Love the Way She..). Tom’s behavior is incredibly unhealthy. At his worst, Tom reveals a certain narcissistic attitude, rejecting reality and substituting it with his own. Tom’s volatility lends a clue as to why Summer is less-than-willing to recognize their relationship as a committed one.
I Love the Way She…
You Make My Dreams
This scene, intended to show that Tom feels on top of the world after sleeping with Summer for the first time, displays just how narcissistic Tom can be. He imagines that the world revolves around him, seeing Harrison Ford as Han Solo winking at him in his reflection in a car window. Tom rarely addresses Summer outside of the context of her relationship together. At one point, he suggests a greeting card idea at work that states “I LOVE US.” This implies that he loves the idealistic relationship that he desires rather than actually loving Summer.
In the conclusion of this film, Tom and Summer encounter one another at a park. Tom and Summer have swapped roles in this scene, with Tom stating that he’s stopped believing in “destiny” or “true love” while Summer admits that she has become a believer in love. Tom admits that he doesn’t understand how Summer was capable of falling for someone and marrying them so quickly after denouncing the concepts of love and commitment. Summer leaves him sitting on a park bench, pondering the mystery of her change-of-heart. In the closing scene, Tom meets a woman named Autumn and asks her out on a date. The calendar flips from day 500 back to day 1, indicating a new start, or perhaps an indication that Tom is about to repeat the same process all over again.
(500) Days of Summer. Dir. Marc Webb. Perf. Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. 20 Century Fox, 2009. DVD.
McCabe, J. (2012). Structuring a language of theory. Feminist film studies: writing the woman into cinema (p.19). Columbia University Press.
Mulvey, Laura. (1999). Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Film Theory and Criticism:Introductory Readings (p. 840). New York: Oxford UP
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