When I first saw this film, I felt so sorry for Summer. Yeah, of course, I felt sorry for Tom – I mean, how could you not just want to cuddle up to a heart broken Joseph-Gordon Levitt? But it was Summer who always had my full sympathies. ‘Summer the heartless bitch’, ‘Summer the player’, ‘Summer the SLAG’, were all titles that I saw flying about soon after the film’s release, however, none of these titles were appropriate in my eyes.
Instead, I read the hipster classic as a tragic story of unrequited love, rather than a story in which the cute and innocent Tom gets played over by the girl of his dreams. In my eyes, ‘(500) Days of Summer’ is about how you can’t help who you fall in love with or, in this case, who you don’t fall in love with.
For starters, let’s get one thing straight: Summer consistently tells Tom throughout the film that she ‘doesn’t want anything serious’. She feels uncomfortable with titles after the divorce of her parents and ‘doesn’t believe in love’ as a result. She gets angry when Tom gets into a fight on her behalf, proving she doesn’t want Tom getting hurt for her sake.
Tom, however, is her polar opposite. He has spent his life searching for ‘the one’ and is a hopeless romantic. A match made in heaven, am I right?
Something that we must remember when watching ‘(500) Days of Summer’ is that it is incredibly hyperbolic. Not only this, but it is told entirely from Tom’s point of view. The almost music-video style scene in which Tom wonders the street to Hall & Oates’ ‘You Make my Dreams Come True’ is both adorable yet completely absurd. Tom emerges from his apartment block after having enjoyed a night alone with Summer with a grin stretching every muscle in his face. Evereything and everyone around him is perfect: the sun is shining; everyone is smiling; everyone is wearing blue (a nod to the colour of Summer’s eyes); everyone is dancing and everyone is happy. I mean there’s even an animated bird taken straight out of a Disney princess film for crying out loud. Seem too good to be true? That’s because it is. All of this serves to highlight how much of what Tom remembers is an exaggerated version of their relationship. While it can be assumed Summer’s assertion that ‘we’ve been arguing for months now’ is an exaggeration, as the film progresses, it is clear that the pair’s relationship hasn’t been quite the dream Tom initially remembers it as, and that you shouldn’t believe its fairy-like perfection, either.
After Tom’s sister tells him ‘next time you look back, you should look again’ we clearly see that Tom was blinded by his love. He was ignorant of Summer’s feelings and consequently embellished reality. Take the scene in the record shop, for example. When Tom initially remembers it, he only remembers Summer’s quirky appeal and obsession with Ringo Starr. But when Tom ‘looks again’, he remembers Summer’s wistful behaviour: she seems awkward and is trying to avoid him. As the Regina Spektor song that underpines the film says ‘you never ever saw it coming at all’ – Tom didn’t expect the end to come because he wasn’t looking for it. Indeed, a strong theme of the film is ‘reality vs. expectations’ (as highlighted by the split-screen scene which directly juxtaposes Tom’s wishes for a perfect relationship with Summer to the realities of her disinterest in him), showing how Tom confuses between his ‘dream’ of Summer and her ‘reality’: he wants the relationship to work so much that he overlooks many of her faults to suit his expectations. Come on now, you didn’t think Tom could be that perfect did you?
As a result of Tom’s idolisation of Summer, she often appears an image of quirky perfection but also two dimensional. We are never given true insight into Summer’s flaws and even by the end of the film she is still a fairly mysterious figure. Indeed, Marc Webb (the director of the film) stated that ‘Summer is an immature view of a woman. She’s Tom’s view of a woman. He doesn’t see her complexity and the consequence for him is heartbreak. In Tom’s eyes, Summer is perfection, but perfection has no depth’. Webb again highlights Tom’s naivety and how Summer continues to remain ambiguous due to his idolised perception. Certainly, Tom epitomises everything about teenage lust: he sees only perfection and no fault.
However, Summer’s reaction after her and Tom see a screening of The Graduate proves that she is more than just two dimension. We have already been told by the mysterious Narrator that Tom sees The Graduate as portraying true love, and it is Summer’s tears after the pair leave the cinema that proves her feelings for him. Like how Elain and Ben’s relationship is doomed in The Graduate, Summer realises how her and Tom’s relationship is also doomed, and realises the pain she is going to cause as a result.
Certainly, it is a poignant scene in which Summer and Tom are reunited on their beloved park bench at the end of the film. The fact Summer returns to this spot without Tom highlights the impact he had on her life: while Summer may not have been in love with Tom, it is clear she did, indeed, love him. With there being a vast, and unfortunate, difference between the two.
While I have given into some critisicm of Summer since I first saw the film (I mean come on Summer, you could have at least invited Tom to the wedding), I still maintain that this is the true message of ‘(500) Days of Summer’: love is unpredictable. You can’t help it if you fall in love with the cute girl in the lift who happens to like ‘the same bizzaro crap as you’, in just the same way you can’t help if you fall in love with a guy who comes and sits at your table as you sit reading. Tom’s naivety and innocence means that he has an elevated, ‘Hollywood’ style view of love: he believes that his life should evolve around love rather than just be a single part of it. Love doesn’t always last forever nor is it perfect, which is what Tom fails to realise. ‘(500) Days of Summer’ teaches us that if you enter a relationship expecting it to be perfect, then it is bound to fail, because nothing can ever live up to the expectations of our imaginations. And this is something that Tom has to learn the hard way, however unfortunate.
Words by Juliette Rowsell