On ‘(500) Days of Summer’ and Love and other Fairytales

“I love how she makes me feel, like anything’s possible. Like life is worth it.” -Tom Hansen

(500) Days of Summer isn’t just a movie, but an unflinchingly accurate portrayal of everything about romance and dating in today’s America. Soul-searching questions like, “What is love?” and “Is love a fantasy?” and “When do you give up?” are all on display. The film is as charming, humorous, and honest as any I’ve seen. It’s so honest that it hurts.
Summer is a postmodern movie for a postmodern world, complete with a narrative that jumps to seemingly random days throughout the couple’s relationship, in no particular order. The audience is thrown through a roller coaster of ups and downs, twists and turns as Tom Hansen falls in love with Summer, and Summer–well, Summer does whatever the heck she wants.

It’s a movie for hipsters by hipsters, with a science lab’s stock of chemistry between the two leads, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, and brilliant directing by Marc Webb. A Sundance official selection, Summer is a special movie by any standard. There seems to be no acting, because the two leads are so freaking talented, and the writing is unadulterated genius.

Tom Hansen’s life is forever changed when he meets the girl of his dreams at his dead-end job. They immediately form a special bond. But several months later, when Summer reveals that she’s never felt for him what he so obviously feels for her, Tom is unwilling to give up. “I don’t want to get over her, I want to get her back,” he boldly declares. As serendipity draws Summer and Tom together again and again, he tries to figure out the maze his life had become and wonders where it will lead, if anywhere.

I won’t say anything more, because I don’t want to spoil anything, but suffice it to say that this movie is worth anyone’s while. Anyone who has loved or been loved can relate to this sweet, unpredictable relationship on display. It might hurt to watch, but I bet you won’t be able to turn away, try as I did the first time I summoned the courage to watch it. I’ve yet to watch another movie like it.

In the opening break-up scene, all the emotions of a troubled relationship are on display when Summer starts a heart-breaking revelation over pancakes and sausage in a small diner. “I think we should see other people,” Summer says. Tom is dumbstruck, while Summer justifies herself, “I mean this thing, what are we doing?” Fumbling for words, Tom says with a heartbroken expression, “I don’t know, who cares, I’m happy, aren’t you happy?” The contradictions build when Summer says, “But we fight all the time,” and Tom retorts, “That is bull****” As Tom angrily gets up to leave, Summer pleads, “Tom, don’t go! You’re still my best friend!” (What guy hasn’t heard that line?)

From the very first scene, we see what seems to be so common in young romantic relationships: The frustrated lover, and the conflicted counterpart. While the “lover” is committed to a dream of unity, the counterpart is unsure if this is what he or she wants.

Flashback to Tom and Summer’s first “date” when their company all goes out to a local bar. The two had just recently met, but they quickly are engaged in a deep conversation. “I’m happy being on my own,” Summer announces, having been prodded by a drunk employee about her love life. “But what happens when you fall in love?” Tom asks. Summer smiles. “You don’t believe that, do you?” Tom counters, “What? It’s love, not Santa Clause.” Noting the high divorce rates and messy nature of most relationships, Summer concludes, “Love’s just a fantasy.”

Although Tom rages against this notion all through the movie, the miserable life he leads eventually leads to a climax at the place he works: a greeting card publisher. “We do a bad thing here,” he tells his co-workers. “People should be able to say how they really feel, not words that some stranger has put in their mouths.” It’s as if Tom has come to the conclusion that love, as that which has been advertised in television, books, and movies, is just a work of fiction: a fairytale. He’d been tricked. Summer was right. Right? But as we learn in the final few scenes of the movie, that isn’t really the point the movie is trying to make.

With each viewing, I pick up on some nuance, some new theme or moral. Some new irony. I love and hate Summer, because she’s perfect yet enigmatic, and I love and hate Tom, because he represents the ridiculously hopeless romantic in all of us. With this movie, there is no in between. You’ll love it or hate it, but most likely, you will love and hate it.It’s true that relationships are oftentimes driven by ridiculous expectations that are planted by modern entertainment and fanciful stories, but the basic idea of true love is not.

I suppose that chances are that if you’ve ever been in a rocky relationship, you’ll enjoy this film. But you’ll also hate it for the same reasons. Whether you want to experience the sting heartbreak along with the delightful charm is up to you. But I promise once you join in this special cinematic journey, you won’t be able to look away.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

NOTE: The movie discussed above is rated PG-13 for sensuality and some language, including some crude dialogue.

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One thought on “On ‘(500) Days of Summer’ and Love and other Fairytales

  1. Pingback: The Amazing Spiderman: Rebel With a Cause | muse of Odin

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