Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) believe two different things about love. Tom believes in the one and true love. But Summer likes being on her own; she doesn’t want to be anyone’s anybody. So like any great love story, they inevitably fall in love and Summer becomes a believer in true love, thanks to Tom’s efforts, right?
Well, yes and no. (500) Days of Summer is, as we are warned right off the bat, not a typical love story.
(500) Days of Summer is full of laughter, and even in its saddest moments, it is a truly joyful celebration of life. Director Marc Webb, who previously has worked on music videos, gives the film a rhythm and life all its own through deft use of the soundtrack. Conventional cinematic techniques pop up in unconventional ways – split-screen, and even a little emotional animation. Yet, with all this fun happening onscreen, the movie still raises some serious questions about the very nature of love.
At first, the film appears to skip randomly from day to day. But there is a reason to all this skipping, giving us a fuller picture of Tom’s emotions and messing with the conventional expectations of the romantic comedy genre.
As the film progresses, so does Tom and Summer’s relationship. They continue to grow closer, though Summer maintains a casual attitude while Tom falls completely in love with her. Then comes the inevitable breakup, which leads Tom on a downward spiral until he meets Summer again on the way to a co-worker’s wedding. They have a great time and Summer invites Tom to a party at her house. Finally, Summer has realized what she is without Tom and they are going to live happily ever after! Wrong.
Tom hits rock bottom, gorging himself on Twinkies and whiskey, and finally makes his way back to work where he writes greeting cards. Love has left him a jaded cynic; in a board meeting he explodes into a monologue on the way that popular culture has deceived people to believe in true love: “It’s these cards, the movies and the pop songs. They’re to blame for all the lies, the heartache, everything.”
But though Tom’s speech decries the pop songs and movies that contribute to an unrealistic notion of love, the movie appears to confirm this mentality, with one important caveat. As the trailer warns us, there is no happily ever after, no wedding stopped by a passionate decree of love, no perfect ending. Hurt and heartache still exists, and in that regard, (500) Days of Summer is one of the most realistic recent depictions of romance I’ve seen. Sometimes, for no other reason than life, things don’t work out.
But we shouldn’t forget that Tom and Summer have both brought good things into each other’s lives. Tom showed Summer love in a new way, which she finally realized at the end of the film. Summer injected Tom’s life with a newfound excitement and their break-up led to him finally following his dreams. Not every failed relationship is a failure. Life moves on, leaving an indelible mark that should be embraced and not just forgotten, even as difficult as that may be. When Tom eventually breaks from his stifling job, it may be prompted by anger, but can anyone imagine him quitting at the beginning of the film? He has become a new, more confident person due to their relationship.
The film’s view of love is still a bit lacking. Love in (500) Days of Summer is felt intensely, but when that feeling leaves, so does the love. While this mentality pervades our culture, it rings somewhat hollow here. Without commitment, is love really love?
(500) Days of Summer certainly doesn’t have all the answers about love, but it does pose some important questions about commitment and the emotional toll of casual relationships. It would be easy for a film like this to veer off into an utter condemnation of love, but it clings to the hope that love might just be right around the corner, regardless of past experiences. Even if summer has left a scar, autumn is just around the corner to offer a healing breeze.