“It just wasn’t me you were right about.”
Lines like this are why I love, and hate “(500) Days of Summer.” I say hate because while I adore this film, I identify with a little too much of it. A typical review wouldn’t be an adequate way to express my thoughts on it. Therefore I’ve decided to do something I’m calling a personal analysis, where I’ll be talking about my personal connection to this film.
I first saw “(500) Days of Summer” sometime back in high school when I was a dumb little kid. And every time I go back and watch it, I realize I still am in many ways. If you haven’t seen this film, it begins by telling you it’s not a love story. I remember thinking that it was a trick or the filmmakers messing with me. Well, that wasn’t quite the case and spoiler alert: they break up and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) gets married to someone else. That honestly ruined my enjoyment of the film overall and I went awhile without watching it again.
Within the last year or so I came back to it and that’s when I hated it even more while simultaneously falling in love with it. I realize now that all these years I’ve been looking at “(500)” through the eyes of Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), thinking that he and Summer were meant for each other, not able to comprehend why they didn’t. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a few years older and smarter or I’ve had more life experiences to help me with this film, but I can now analyze it better as a film and especially in a more personal way.
Marc Webb, the director, tricks you. I learned that in my last viewing before writing this. Tom’s first narration talks about how everything in their relationship was perfect. Since we as an audience are accustomed to believing whatever we’re being told, we look at the montage as if they really were the happiest couple alive. Right off the bat, Webb is using an unreliable narrator to tell his story. It’s only after a rewatch that you, or maybe just I, realize this. But to him, he’s telling the truth. Small intricacies like this are what make “(500)” brilliant and utterly devastating.
There seem to be hundreds of scenes or little moments in “(500)” that connect so well with me, conjuring up eerily similar moments in my own life. When Tom and Summer meet in the elevator, she talks to him about The Smiths, recites a couple verses and leaves him only able to say, “holy shit!” I’ve fallen for girls in ways just like that. I know exactly how he feels in this moment and how he starts to think about her. Now he’s obsessed with her, narrating about how he loves every tiny detail about her, that she’s perfect for him and can essentially change his life. I’ve done this enough to know how that can only hurt you later on. And of course that’s exactly what happens to Tom. His friend has the best and most appropriate response to his obsession: “This is not good.”
I have so many “It was right in front of your face the whole time!” moments when rewatching this film. I see them in Tom’s life, to the point where I become mad at how stubborn he is in his obsession. Every scene Webb adds a small, subtle reason Tom and Summer are not meant for each other. She even tells him she’s not looking for a serious relationship, exactly the opposite of what he really wants. But for some reason that I understand, but am also perplexed by, he says he’s okay with it. I’ve recognized this in my own life and am still just as stubborn as Tom, probably more so. Unfortunately, merely recognizingly this problem isn’t enough. Maybe I don’t really believe it, or I just don’t care. If “(500)” gets anything right (and it does), it’s the cruel power of emotion.
Looking at the Ikea scene, which shows up in pieces at different times in the movie, I realize that we (Tom and I) will make up anything to confirm our beliefs. “In romance, we believe what we want to believe” –Roger Ebert. It becomes more and more obvious that Summer is not fully in the relationship. Sure, she’s having fun, but that’s all it is. Tom surely notices, but more than likely takes it as she’s tired, is having a bad day, or he’s not doing something right and its up to him to change her feelings. And really, like I’ve been saying, she just doesn’t feel the same way he does. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but my experiences interprets it that way.
Side note: I’m writing most of this while watching the film, pausing it to write about ideas that I have. I’m barely twenty minutes in and have already done 1000 words, and have been leaving a lot of stuff out. This is turning into more of a stream-of-consciousness review that I could turn into a shot-by-shot analysis in novel form, so I’m sorry for all the rambling. I’ll reel it back in and start to finish up, assuming you’ve made it this far.
I have an overactive and obsessive imagination when it comes to… let’s call it infatuation. When Tom freaks out over the way she said good, yep, done that. Doing something insignificant, like listening to the Smiths, so that she’ll at the very least look at him, done that too. And pretending to not care about her when it doesn’t work out the way it does in his fantasy world, check. One day he’s imagining how a night at a party will go. We see, simultaneously, side-by-side, his predictions versus reality. For me, this is by far the hardest part to watch. I’ve played out these types of scenarios all the time in my head too, and as you could guess, it never works out like that.
Tom and Summer have been broken up by time they meet on the train, go to a wedding and see each other at the party. But Tom is still convinced and hopeful they’ll reconnect. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought that way, holding out for any kind of hope. At the end of the Expectations/Reality sequence, we find out Summer’s engaged to someone else. This is the culmination of all the flaws Tom has. We see how his way of thinking can only lead to severe disappointment. He has convinced himself that she’s the only thing that can make him happy. He’s built built her up so high, creating massively unrealistic expectations that will never be fulfilled. If you couldn’t guess yet, I can relate. If there’s a silver lining to this, it’s that maybe him and I can learn from these experiences.
I’ve been having all these thoughts for years, even before I recognized them in “(500) Days of Summer)”, but I’ve never expressed them. And now I’m literally making them available to anyone, I even considered not posting this too. This must be why I love movies; They’ve given me a way to express my thoughts, which I wouldn’t have done without. I would never put anything online, talking about all the emotional turbulence I’m working through. Yet, for some reason I can do it if Tom helps me.