Hey Tom, look, I know you think that she was the one, but I don’t. I think you’re just remembering the good stuff. Next time you look back, I really think you should look again.
Not many movies have the balls to tell you up front how they’re going to end. Tom and Summer share a romance that winds up going south. We learn that before the opening credits even roll, but how are you supposed to invest in the journey when you know the destination? By conventional Hollywood rules, we shouldn’t find out if the boy gets the girl until the end of a love story. You know, fairy tales and happily ever after and all that jazz. Only 500 Days of Summer isn’t about whether it will work out between the main characters.
Our challenge as the audience is to be comfortable having all that information ahead of time. The reward is a much richer experience than you would have with your typical, sappy romantic comedy, and one that is equal parts poignant and humorous. When you get right down to it, that’s what a relationship brings to your life: a genuine connection with another person that provides joy, laughter, and eventually in most cases, sorrow.
And let’s just say it’s a little easier to be up to the challenge when you see Tom’s plight and can clearly picture yourself.
Summer informs Tom very early on that not only does she not want a boyfriend, but she doesn’t even believe in love. “Relationships are messy and people’s feelings get hurt,” she says. Considering that Tom possesses a rather different viewpoint on the matter, this should be a warning to him that a courtship of Summer will be disappointing at best and disastrous at worst. Of course, the caveat is that our hearts never plan on falling in love and because Tom is already in deep with Summer before this conversation ever takes place, he completely ignores the warning signs, if he even notices them at all. Love is as intoxicating as Crown Royal and leaves you with a much worse hangover.
When things turn messy and Tom winds up getting hurt, as both Summer and the film told us he would, the problem isn’t so much that she dumped him. I think there was always a part of Tom that saw that coming and was anxiously awaiting for the hammer to drop. The real issue is that there’s no tangible explanation for why his dreams were dashed and he has to come to terms with a reality that he doesn’t understand. Heartbreak can be agonizing that way. When you aren’t ready to move on, it’s all too eager to embrace you in a cocoon of depression and haunting memories of the times that were good.
The genius of 500 Days of Summer is the order in which those events unfold. Not from happy beginning to bitter conclusion, but scattered throughout from one extreme to the other. Tom finds himself consumed by these instances of unrequited love, only to constantly drift back to specific moments that encapsulate why he fell so hard for Summer in the first place. Our broken hearts simply don’t allow our minds to view things objectively or coherently, instead focusing on what might’ve been or how things may have played out if we had said this or done that. We are convinced that there are decisions that could’ve been made differently and we are overwhelmed with regret. Tom isn’t perfect but we forgive him for any trespasses, because there’s a little bit of Tom Hansen in all of us and we’ve all been there before.
Or maybe you haven’t. If so, you’re probably wondering what the big deal is or why I’m reviewing a movie that is seven years old. To me, that’s one of the most precious aspects of film. You can love a movie or hate it following an initial viewing, but sometimes along life’s journey, you come back and see it in a brand new light. Am I saying that only those who have loved and lost will truly grasp the significance of those 500 days? Not at all. Back in 2009, I was a babe in the woods when it came to dating and still found Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel to be sincere and the film’s message to be profound. You think that Tom’s arch hinges upon whether or not he can win Summer back, but in actuality it’s about whether or not he can move forward as a person without the object of his desire. Can he accept the way this turned out and still be happy in the end?
I think that’s a dilemma that we all face at some point in life, and a girl is just one of many forms that it can take. That’s why I loved this film when it first came out, but it really hits home when you look inwards and feel Tom’s pain.
That’s why I love it even more today.