10 years ago, director Marc Webb gave us the euphoric yet melancholic film 500 Days of Summer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel play Tom and Summer, two adults who have differing views on love but still find themselves in the romantic grasp of the other. When Summer unexpectedly dumps Tom, he finds himself looking back on their relationship and obsessing over what went wrong. Through alternating between flashbacks of the relationship and the present, viewers witness the turbulent interactions between Tom and Summer that ultimately left both parties unsatisfied.
A vast majority of people I have talked to about this movie insist that Summer is the antagonist. For a long time, I agreed. Why did Summer keep treating Tom like he was her boyfriend if she truly wanted to be “just friends”? Since when does going on dates and being emotionally/physically intimate not mean two people are dating? While there was communication between them, it seemed that they were still missing each other somehow.
Because the story is told through the eyes of Tom, we only know as much about Summer’s thoughts as he does. Unfortunately, this leads us to give into the trope of Tom’s own idealization of Summer. Because he refuses to give up on what he believes will be a fairytale relationship, the audience does too, only to be equally disappointed as Tom when we see Summer as an engaged woman.
The film alternates between the various days the couple was together, showing the earlier dates compared to those that were later. If you are a hopeless romantic like me, you were probably heartbroken when you had to watch Tom come to the crushing realization that his love was unrequited.
On the flip side, people have argued on behalf of Summer. I mean, she was pretty adamant that she was not looking for anything serious. If we look deeper into her character, it is safe to assume that her unwillingness to fully love may be a ramification of her parents’ divorce. However, when she gets engaged, she tells Tom that he was right all along — just not about her.
Between all of the romantic interactions and blindness to the impending breakup, it was never possible for Tom to fathom not ending up with this person he was infatuated with. Summer was always in it for the experience, never for the long run. That in itself is not a problem; a lot of people in our culture today do not date with the thought of marriage in mind. It’s completely normal to want to meet different people and find who you click with. But knowing that Tom was interested in something more than just a romantic “friendship”, perhaps Summer should have had more boundaries.
While this movie finds its way into the “romantic comedy” genre, I don’t believe that that’s where it belongs. It tells a much more complex story than the typical rom-com. When we notice the toxic patterns of Summer and Tom’s relationship, it is clear that they were never meant to be.
The main message of this story is not so much about finding your true love and living happily ever after; instead it is a brutally honest window into the complications and devastations of real-life relationships. No, Tom did not get what he wanted, even though it was all he ever dreamed of. But there are two main characters in this story, and Summer got the ending she deserved.
Although we would have loved to see Tom and Summer end up together, there is something to be said about love lost and what it means to find what you are looking for.
Also published on Medium.