Edited by- Dhananjai Kalra
500 Days of Summer is a movie about a boy who falls in love with a girl. It starts off with a cute split screen montage of both of them growing up which gets us thinking, “Ah look at these two children, destined to be soulmates one day” when a disembodied voice interjects with one of the worst spoilers of all time:
“This is not a love story."
Against a visual of the two all grown up, sitting on a park bench with their hands stacked on each other.
Did I mention she’s wearing an engagement ring?
Marc Webb, the director, describes the film as “a coming-of-age story masquerading as a love story.” This means that rather than reinforcing in the viewer naive romantic tropes, the movie completely disproves them. The romantic in you can find the love story, and the cynic in you can find the character development.
Tom believes in destiny and meant to be’s, and Summer “isn’t really looking for anything serious right now, so can we just be friends?” This is the perfect set up for yet another box office hit rom-com, but as we’ve already established, this movie is not one. It centrally revolves around the idea of Expectation, how malleable and dangerous it can be. To Tom, Summer is just another pretty face who works as an assistant for his boss at a greeting card company until he finds out – They both love the Smiths! Now to arrange for the catering at the wedding.
Expectations is like a dangerous little seed that is planted in our heads when we are very young. Everything we experience heavily influences our aspirations of the future. While this gives us direction as we head through the chaotic journey that is life, it also skews our perception of reality. It is in our nature to align everything around us to our intrinsic expectations in order to make sense of the world. In this way, Tom believes Summer to be The One™ and places her on a pedestal, even though she’s just another flawed, messed up human being. This discrepancy is what leads to the inevitable fall of the relationship.
Tom projects his expectations of a pixie dream girl onto Summer who he believes he can win over ( in spite of her clearly expressing her complete lack of interest in a relationship) and then run off into the sunset with, because that’s what’s supposed to happen right? Meanwhile Summer has a more grounded idea of love, or rather a complete disbelief in the whole idea of it, and shatters Tom’s illusion of a perfect relationship. Likewise, the viewer is coaxed into believing that the film is yet another sappy rom-com with a happily ever after ending until the rug is pulled from under us, revealing a devastating break up story. This subtly connects Tom and the viewer, making the movie watching experience even more relatable and memorable.
Upon my first viewing of the movie, I found it very easy to paint Summer as the villain. This is done so on purpose, for she represents the bitter truth of life - that expectations rarely align with reality and perspective is fickle. Once I came to terms with this knowledge, it was easier to pick apart which traits of Summer Tom exaggerated and those he skimmed over - the ones that made her seem more human. There is this one scene with flattering shots of Summer smiling and laughing while Tom talks about how much he loves these little things about her. Later, the same scene repeats but this time Tom rants about how he hates her ‘crooked teeth’ and her ‘annoying laugh’, both things he once loved about her.
As the movie progresses (I use the term ‘progress’ lightly here, for Webb uses a non-linear timeline to tell the story of Tom and Summer. It is an interesting technique using which he links two highly similar or contrasting events, even if they took place months apart. It symbolises how relationships are messy and human; and rarely, if ever, remembered chronologically) it shows, mostly from Tom’s point of view, how the relationship goes through a heady commencement, an ambiguous middle and tormented aftermath – at least for Tom. This gives the movie an air of suspense, something that mainstream movies from the same genre use climatic airport chases and ridiculous decision making of the characters to introduce into the plot.
By the end of the movie, however, Tom becomes highly skeptical of love. Summer gets engaged to a guy she met at a cafe, and the movie itself ends with Tom meeting a girl named - you guessed it - Autumn. All of which are unconventional moves for the kind of film 500 Days of Summer made itself out to be. However, this was its final trick up its sleeve - a play on shifting perspectives. It showed how completely human and inconsistent the characters are; that being hopelessly romantic or stubbornly cynical aren’t permanent traits but phases. Everything is constantly in flux, and the most we can do is adapt and live on.
In conclusion, 500 Days of Summer is a movie made to that dissect the traditional tropes of the rom-com movie genre, and it does its job well.
Every viewing of the movie gives the audience something new to think about, and makes one reflect on the concept of love, their expectations from it and how analyze how feasible they really are. It teaches us what and how to expect from life, but also to just let loose and live life as it comes. Most importantly it teaches us to not fall in love with the idea of love. To not stand too close to the image, or you won't be able to see the whole picture.