(500) DAYS OF SUMMER: The Harsh Reality That Is Love

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER: The Harsh Reality That Is Love
source: Fox Searchlight Pictures

What makes the perfect film about love and romance? Maybe it boils down to the perfect ending. Two love birds finally come together and kiss. No matter what stood in their way, they managed to overcome it. It always is a story about two individuals and their unapologetic love. We have raised the story of Romeo and Juliet to be the perfect love story. No matter the drama, their love was true. It is a perfect example of what everyone wishes for: meet a special someone, fall in love, and then spend the rest of your life with them.

Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer takes a different approach. It is a love story at heart, but denies being one. Moving away from the perfect romance, it aims to show the emotional mess that is love. As the title shows, it is about 500 days about being in love. Can this film pull off the highs and lows of a relationship? Does it avoid familiar clichés, or is it a victim of romance tropes?

This Is Not A Love Story

Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a man who believes in love at first sight. One day, his boss Vance (Clark Gregg) introduces his new employee, Summer (Zooey Deschanel). After realising they share the same interests, he falls madly in love with her. Trying his hardest to win her over, they finally end up dating. After some time, though, their life starts drifting apart. As much as he still loves her, after awhile she seems to have lost interest in him. Their relationship ends and Tom falls into a deep pit of despair. With the help of his friends and family, he ends up coming out of it and starts rethinking his life.

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER: The Harsh Reality That Is Love
source: Fox Searchlight Pictures

You might think that revealing the end of Tom and Summer’s relationship might be a spoiler for (500) Days of Summer. Yet, the film does the same thing. The film goes out of its way to ensure you know that this is not going to end well. In the beginning, we get to know both Tom and Summer, who have quite distinct views of love. The narrator gives away that this is a story about boy meets girl, but not in fact a love story. There is no cliché of a misunderstanding so that they can come back together again at the end of the film. Tom and Summer just start drifting apart from each other without a true reason.

While we do follow the story of how these two end up dating, the film has the tendency to jump back and forth. We see them while they are dating and after they broke up. The 500 days mentioned in the title becomes a recurring element. It allows the viewer to keep an overview of where we are in their relationship. The film keeps moving back and forth through time while telling the story; it is quite unorthodox, but perfect to show how different yet similar these highs and lows can be.

All About The Characters

One of the most interesting elements of (500) Days of Summer is Tom’s journey. We follow him through the struggle of getting together with his love interest. As viewers, we can smile at those moments when he feels as if he had found true love. Yet, we are also reminded that his joy is fleeting. Tom is the everyman. He studied to be an architect, but is stuck at a greeting card company. He seems displeased with his life, but tries to enjoy the small things to avoid the bigger issues. Gordon-Levitt’s performance is great, as you feel every heartbreak and every moment of joy.

Zooey Deschanel as Summer is the perfect casting. She seems like that perfect gal that wants to settle down. Her voice is soft and she just seems to enjoy life. Adventurous in nature, she makes you believe you can do anything. Yet, as much as she seems to be the perfect one, she avoids the cliché, as she does not want to be “the one”. Her emotions and feelings sway. You feel as if her heart belongs only to her. Tom is just a way to waste time – just an adventure for her.

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER: The Harsh Reality That Is Love
source: Fox Searchlight Pictures

The film has a great supporting cast. Tom’s sister, Rachel (Chloë Grace Moretz), is the moral centre. While being much younger, she points out the flaws in Tom’s delusion when it comes to Summer. It highlights how we tend to ignore those we love, when others warn us. His best friends, Paul (Matthew Gray Gubler) and McKenzie (Geoffrey Arend), also highlight the range of romance. Paul is the one who has found true love in a high school romance, while McKenzie is a man who prefers being single. It sets Tom as the man in the middle; he who wishes romance, but will not always succeed.

Creative Storytelling and Filmmaking

(500) Days of Summer is a unique film, as the story unfolds in unlinear, so the viewers have to watch the romance and heartbreak at the same time. In the middle of the film, after Tom slept with Summer for the first time, we are thrust into a brief musical number. It comes out of nowhere, but shows the way someone feels after their first night with someone they love. The film goes out of its way to be different, and it wants us to be in Tom’s head as much as possible. We start to remember how it was for us, as he talks about the way Summer is always on his mind.

A scene that highlights this film’s creativity is the one about expectation and reality. Tom gets invited to Summer’s party months after their break-up. Like any of us, he has certain expectations of how the evening will go. At that moment, the film splits the screen into two sequences. On the left we see his expectations and on the right, reality. Naturally, expectations see him falling in love again, while reality is much harsher. Small touches include the distance between both characters changing between scenes. With Regina Spektor’s “Hero” playing, the inevitable reality unfolds before our eyes.

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER: The Harsh Reality That Is Love
source: Fox Searchlight Pictures

There is another small touch that highlights the differences between Summer and Tom. Keep a lookout for the colour tones of both characters and their environments. Tom wears browner tones, while Summer, befitting her name, has lighter colours. The way they dress already gives us a distinct difference in where they stand in life. It also highlights how they fit into their environments.

How Time Changes Perspective

Here is a bit of a personal introspective into the film. The first time I saw (500) Days of Summer was shortly before I dated my first love. Up until that point I was Tom, and I lost myself in the ideal of a true love. I watched the film with the naïve belief that it will not always be like this. Yet, I understood that love is a fleeting thing. Still, I could not help but believe that my experience could be quite different. A few weeks after I saw this film, I fell in love. I ended up avoiding the film, because I feared the inevitable.

In a way, life imitated art. I went through similar events as Tom did, over a course of two years. It was scary how similar it felt to what I saw shortly before I fell in love. After the relationship came to an end, I watched this film often. I had to accept that romance is a difficult thing, and no film truly made that clearer for me than this one did. The worst part was that Summer keeps reminding me of the girl I fell in love with. They wore similar dresses, which should have been a warning sign.

Conclusion

After going though something similar, (500) Days of Summer takes on a different role. It is a reality check hidden within the most beautiful and the bleakest moments in romance. It is a beautiful and creative film to watch. Every actor is on point with their performance, and you cannot help but feel for Tom. Just as unique each romance is for the characters in this film, so will the experience be for the viewers. The cautionary tale that I watched may just be a joyful look at love for others. Just like romance, a film can be quite an experience.

I consider this my personal favourite film of all time. From a filmmaking standpoint, I adore it. Just the small touches, like the characters or colours, make it a great experience. Also, it avoids tropes and clichés by showing us how beautiful and harsh love can be. Tom is the perfect protagonist for those that have gone through it and those that still may. Summer is the one girl we all wished we could fall in love with, but also the one we fear the most. (500) Days of Summer paints a beautiful painting of the harsh reality that is love.

Was there a film that ever felt too real for you? Which film do you think breaks conventions the most?

(500) Days of Summer was released on August 7th, 2009 in the U.S. The film is available on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Release at various retailers.


Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
Joseph is an Austro-American media and communications student currently living in Austria, who grew up with film most of his life. Having won a new appreciation of cinema as an art form and as an industry, he aims to learn as much about it as he can.