After completing my viewing of (500) Days of Summer (2009), I arose from my familiar seat, uttered a swear word about how much I hate this movie, and marched off to bed. I am not proud of this moment, though I feel it is somewhat in keeping with the “Author’s Note” at the beginning claiming that any likeness to actual events is purely coincidental . . . and then calling his ex-girlfriend a terrible word. My distaste is not entirely related to my own current emotional state, although that certainly did not help. To be clear, this film hits close to home, but I feel I can assess it objectively nonetheless, so here I go.
It is difficult to sum up (500) Days of Summer‘s plot as it is non-linear, and that style usually annoys the crap out of me. For instance, it starts at the very end of the relationship between Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel), their actual last meeting in fact, though you would not know it immediately. Soon after you know that something is amiss, not the least of which is because the narrator (Richard McGonagle) tells you that this is not a love story, but also because when we next see Tom he is robotically smashing dishes in his kitchen. From there the film jumps back and forth to different points in the interactions between Tom and Summer in order to tell the viewer a tale about relationships in general. Tom is the hopeless romantic, where Summer is more jaded. Despite this, Tom develops an infatuation with Summer that starts off in the irritatingly modern way of innocent (and adult) flings with no real labels or intentions placed upon them. This is as Summer wants it, and to her credit she says this early on in their . . . dates? Forgive the ambiguity, but I am trying to check my annoyance at this film. Tom goes along with it, but it is clear that he is taking things more seriously, and that he is quite clearly in love. Not that she really did anything to dissuade him from such feelings. They spent a great deal of time together, did those adult things (though thankfully not pictured), and seemed to get along famously. Hence (and I do not blame Tom in the slightest), if it talks like a duck and acts like a duck, then it is indeed a serious relationship between Tom and Summer. Things come to a head when he sticks up for her while they were at a bar, and he chivalrously gets punched in the face. She is upset that he took this action, accusing him of behaving boorishly. It is at this moment that Tom finally says the words that Summer has been trying to avoid, that basically they are boyfriend and girlfriend whether she likes it or not. Instead of being scared off, Summer comes to Tom’s place in the middle of the night in the rain to apologize for her behavior and they carry on. Soon after, though, Summer ends it. She makes a poorly timed offer of friendship, but Tom is devastated and his misery is played for laughs. He mourns for a time, and holds out hopes that perhaps they will get back together. That hope seems to be on the verge of being fulfilled when they end up at a wedding together, and they get along in the same easy way as they had previously. Tom’s aspirations are dashed once more, though, when Summer invites him to a party . . . only to see her get engaged. Some more depression scenes take place until we are back at the beginning of the film, with their views on love having been swapped between them
I truly want to like (500) Days of Summer. I am as charmed by Zooey Deschanel as the next guy. I find aspects of the film chucklesome. And I am not as bothered with the jumping around in time as I am with other movies that attempt it because it all serves the purpose of telling us how Tom and Summer’s relationship went the way it did. The problem is that I identify way too much with Tom. I can see myself reacting almost exactly as he does, even have to a certain extent, and it is not something I like to see. One of the things I pray every day is the Litany of Trust (and there is some irony in all this), and one of the prayers in it is against an obsessive preoccupation with the past. Mourning is natural. But as it says in Ecclesiastes, there is a time to be sad and a time to feel joy. Far too often do I look back on my past and it brings me down. It is not, though, that I have precisely experienced somebody like Summer. Regardless, I have problems with her too. I find her behavior reprehensible. In the beginning, she has this sort of “you only live once” (YOLO) mentality that is played for innocent, but is it really? She feels like love is not real because she witnessed her parent’s marriage fall apart, and yet she (whether she realizes it or not) leads on Tom. It is not right, and my heart breaks all over for Tom and I do not like how by the end he is basically given up on any notion that love is real and he feels that everything is random. Specifically, he says that coincidence “. . . is all that anything ever is,” and that, “There are no miracles.” Now, our Faith tradition teaches us that our feelings our own responsibility but that we should care for one another. But this realization comes after Tom has witnessed Summer being engaged when he had thought that they might be getting back together. It also comes at the beginning/closing during a chance encounter with Summer in the park. Had I been the one directing this movie, I would have rather them not meet at all at this point. Summer could notice Tom, or, better yet, the other way around, and they could go their separate ways firm in the knowledge that they have learned some lesson.
(500) Days of Summer is a well crafted and acted film. It has good music. There are parts of it at which I genuinely laugh. And I hate it. But that is me. As I said a moment ago, our feelings are our own and you may watch it and be over the moon about it. We all bring our experiences into everything we do, for better or worse. It is part of being human. Only part. Jesus died so that we could be redeemed, and Faith in him is the rest. Redemption is a good word in thinking about this film, and I feel it is the missing piece. Granted, Tom begins to get his life together at the end, and there is even the suggestion that maybe not everything is coincidental in meeting Autumn (Minka Kelly) at the end. I just would have liked to have seen this aspect played up a little more.