A Deep Dive into 500 Days of Summer
The Take (@ThisIsTheTake), a YouTube channel dedicated to exploring popular film and television, recently did a video about 500 Days of Summer and whether or not it’s been misinterpreted by audiences. (You can watch it here.)
Now, 500 Days of Summer just so happens to be one of my favorite movies, so naturally I was intrigued. And while The Take brought up some interesting and valid points in their video, I don’t agree with all of them.
So, here’s my take on whether or not the movie is misunderstood.
My Take on 500 Days of Summer
500 Days of Summer is billed as an anti-romantic rom-com. A movie set out to challenge common fallacies about love and romance typically perpetuated by movies.
It tells the story of a man, Tom (played by the incredibly well-cast Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who falls in love with a woman, Summer (Zooey Deschanel in all her adorkable adorkableness). While it’s inevitable that the two will end up in a relationship together, the movie tells you right upfront (within the first 5 minutes, actually) that it’s decidedly not a love story. And that you, the audience, should not expect a happy ending.
Instead, what you get is more of a breakup movie.
Tom, recently dumped by Summer and stewing in the misery of his heartbreak, looks back on the 500 days they spent together. The story of Tom and Summer’s relationship, then, is told non-linearly. It’s also told exclusively from Tom’s perspective. Tom, then, is seen as the hero – he’s the one we’re supposed to root for and empathize with. Thus Summer is the “bad guy.”
The Take argues that this is the film’s biggest misconception. But is that true?
Is Tom Really the Hero?
Tom is a hopeless romantic, an embodiment of the “nice guy” trope. Summer, on the other hand, is a free spirit who doesn’t believe in the so-called fairy tale of love. It’s a fairly familiar premise and we’ve seen this theme of Opposites Attract over and over again on screen. Two seemingly mismatched people that are destined to be together (Ross and Rachel, Jack and Rose, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, to name a few).
In reality, opposites don’t attract. We’re far more likely to be attracted to people who are similar to us.
But, as an audience, we’re conditioned by countless movies and TV shows to believe that Tom and Summer will overcome their differences. We think that Tom will somehow convince Summer that true love does exist. That the girl who thought she wanted to be independent would change her mind once the right guy came along.
So, even though Summer continuously tells Tom throughout the film that she’s not looking for a relationship, we (like Tom) don’t believe her.
When Summer does eventually break up with him, he’s heartbroken. And, we, the audience, are left empathizing with him. According to The Take, though, we shouldn’t be.
After all, Summer did tell him that she didn’t want a relationship. And she said that the whole time, never giving him any indication that she’d changed her mind. As the movie flashes across timelines, we also see signs of her discontent – their early infatuation is juxtaposed with their later incompatibility.
It should, then, be fairly obvious to Tom that she’s unhappy. He shouldn’t be shocked when she dumps him. The fact that he is just goes to show that he wasn’t truly listening to her.
All of this is true, and thus far, I agree with what The Take had to say.
It was unfair of Tom to expect Summer to be someone else and to then become frustrated when she didn’t meet those expectations. He did fall in love with her based on the idea of her rather than who she really was. He didn’t listen to what she was telling him. Instead, he believed what he wanted to believe.
Does This Make Tom the Bad Guy?
However, I don’t think that makes him the villain of the story. It makes him relatable.
He might not be morally right in feeling betrayed by Summer – she didn’t actually do anything wrong – but we can certainly understand why he feels that way. In spite of all her earlier insistence on not wanting anything serious, she does later get married. Just not to Tom. His instinct (and, perhaps to some extent, our instinct as an audience) is to assume that everything she told him before was just a lie.
It’s a completely illogical assumption, just as it was illogical for Tom to believe that Summer was The One even when she continuously told him she wasn’t. But when it comes to love, are any of us really logical?
Love and romance are based on emotions – you can’t reason your way into love just like you can’t reason your way out of heartbreak. We often ascribe meaning to things based on our own feelings – we latch on to every sign indicating that he cares and ignore anything that contradicts that. But, we, like Tom, don’t do that because we’re inherently bad people.
We do it because love makes us all idiots.
So, is it fair that Tom views Summer with such contempt? That he blames her for breaking his heart when, really, it could’ve been avoided had he listened to her? No. Of course not.
But is it relatable? Is it something that most of us have probably done? Yes. Absolutely.
We’ve all hated an ex at one time or another – even if they “technically” didn’t do anything wrong. When someone hurts us, it’s easier to hate them. In some ways, it’s healthier that way. To prevent an influx of self-loathing and insecurity, we see them as the bad guy. And we’ve all been the bad guy in someone else’s story. And that’s OK.
500 Days of Summer isn’t telling us that Summer is a bad guy, then. It’s just telling us that she’s the bad guy to Tom. After all, maybe that’s what he needs to believe in order to move on.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!