Down and Out in Denver

(500) Days of Summer

Posted in dating, movies by Blake on December 2, 2009

On my flight back to the Mile High City I happened to look through my copy of Hemispheres magazine (yes, I was on United, natch, and I love the little “In Transit” features) and noticed that when I fly out for Christmas the movie on my flight will be (500) Days of Summer.  I love this movie, so much so that I’ve already seen it a couple times and bought the soundtrack, which I’m listening to right now.  I am not normally a purchaser of soundtracks, though I did go through a streak in college and immediately thereafter (Reality Bites, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Pédale Douce [study abroad in France], Center Stage, and Wild Things, if you can believe it).

But I digress.  I am no film scholar and I don’t pretend to be a movie critic either, and while I loved the movie for some superficial reasons as well (soundtrack, sheer cuteness of the stars), my main reasons for loving it have to do with what I will call its romantic politics.  [Before reading on, readers beware that everything that follows is nothing but an enormous spoiler, though not one that will ruin the movie as it admits from its very first line that while it is a movie about boy meeting girl, it is not a love story.  They break up within the first couple scenes.]

Onward to the reasons that I love this movie:

1. I love that the boy is the one who falls hopelessly in love with the girl, moons over her at great length, and has his heart broken by her.  Instead of the other way ‘round, which is what we usually see in mainstream movies.  Not only that, but we are told from the get-go that he is the one that believes in true love, whereas Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) says in the first karaoke club scene that she doesn’t even believe in love.  And she says it so matter-of-factly.

2. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are adorable.  Kind of ridiculously so. Including their outfits.

3. The scene (in the trailer above) where Tom (JG-L) dances through the park, ecstatic because he is either in love or in lust or thinks he’s found “the one” and she likes him back.  Whatever you want to call that first moment where you really feel like you’ve found someone pretty special and s/he likes you right back, this is a pretty great depiction of it.

4. And conversely, the scene in the bar, before Tom punches out the lout on Summer’s behalf, where he makes fun of the woman’s clothing and even though you know that Summer would have agreed with him in days past, she is now irritated with him and disagrees just on principle.  Have we not all been there?

5. When Tom asks Summer what happened to make her previous relationships end, she says, “What always happens: life.”  Indeed.

6. One of my all-time favorite lines from a movie:  After an argument, Tom tells Summer that he doesn’t want a “commitment,” per se, but he does want her to promise that she won’t wake up one morning and not want to be with him.  Summer: “But, no one can promise you that.”   Amen, sister.  This is one of my many fundamental quibbles with marriage, especially when divorce is not only possible, but utilized by half of all couples who do marry.   Promising to stay with someone forever and love and honor that someone (or whatever language one uses) seems much more like a lovely wish and a means of reassurance than something that any two people can swear they will do.  The bottom line: people change and so do their feelings.  Claiming that one will love someone forever is a beautiful sentiment, but it’s also highly unrealistic for many.  And the second bottom line is this: there’s no way of sorting out which group of people is which at the outset because (at least in theory) everyone means it when they make those promises.

7. Finally, Tom realizes by the end of the movie (thanks to voiceover, we know this) that there is no fate and no destiny, there is only chance when meeting and loving other people.  But that just because meeting someone is a chance event, it doesn’t mean that it is any less wonderful. The movie is not anti-love, in other words, it’s just anti-destined love, anti-“meant to be.”  The Gentleman Friend disagrees with me on this one, saying that Summer’s marriage and adoption of “meant to be” as her mantra is proof of a more complex message, but I contend that Tom is the protagonist and we are meant to see his perspective as that of the movie itself.  Add to that the fact that many viewers might well hate Summer in the end (though all she says to Tom – another truth! – is that she felt something with her husband that she just didn’t feel with Tom), and I’m guessing we’re not all supposed to be taking her side in matters of the heart.   The GF also contends that the presence of Autumn is meant to be a sign that the filmmaker sees the next relationship as perhaps destined (particularly given that they were often in the same place but he was too preoccupied with Summer to notice) but I see it this way: he could end up with Autumn, and he could move on.  Just as we all could.


2 Responses

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  1. ej said, on December 3, 2009 at 9:23 am

    I totally agree with your take on “love” and “destiny”. It always struck me as contradictory that most believers in romantic destiny would agree that you can’t control falling in love with someone, but you are supposed to control falling out of love with that person. Feelings are feelings. You can understand them, rationalize them, and come to terms with them, but you can’t control them.

    If more people were honest with themselves at the outset of the relationship (a la Summer), I think there would be less disappointment later on, and much less divorce.

  2. Blake said, on December 3, 2009 at 10:20 am

    Good point on the contradiction, ej. One just happens but the other requires “work,” and all that that means about a relationship and a marriage. Some “work” seems just fine to me — and is the same kind of work required in friendship and the relationships we have with our relatives — but when the “work” outweighs the payoff in happiness (for both or either party), I become skeptical.

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