By contributor Patrick Zabriskie
Review: As I said once before, we don’t really review “chick flicks” (or, films about relationships in general) on this website. Partly because James and I are men and we have more masculine tastes; partly because they are an easily exploited genre, and finding truly worthwhile films to review can be, well, cumbersome.
That said, 2009’s cult hit ‘(500) Days of Summer’ is a little different.
I suppose people might have thought it was traditional romantic stuff when the film first came out. You know, boy meets girl, they fall in love, a lot of “will they?/won’t they?” before they finally do. But that’s not what ‘Summer’ does. Very boldly during the opening, it announces that the boy and girl will NOT wind up together at the end. Crazy, right? But it works, for the most part anyways.
Tom Hansen, played by Joseph Gordon Levitt (‘Inception’!), is a young romantic who believes in true love. Summer Finn, played by Zooey Deschanel, is a coworker who does not. They slowly begin a relationship (though Summer maintains that they are not boyfriend and girlfriend), and the film, told from Tom’s perspective, chronicles 500 days of it, through good and bad, through their break up, and what we conclude is their final goodbye. The entire film is told nonlinearly, showing their break up early in the movie, which, combined with the film’s opening promise that they won’t fall in love, manages to keep us involved throughout; we, like Tom, look back through the past to see what went wrong in their relationship.
But that’s just it: their breakup, sad as it is for Tom, is not due to any flaws in either his or Summer’s personality or any mistakes they made. Neither was a bad person, neither was unreasonable. Though it could be assumed that they broke up because of their different views on love, this isn’t really true. That Summer does learn to believe in love at the end of the film (albeit with another man) shows that she was not beyond growth. She admits that Tom was right about love, just not about them. So, nothing really went “wrong,” beyond that they simply weren’t right for each other.
Thematically, this reminds me of the biblical Book of Job, which tells the story of a man who, while virtuous and god-fearing, still suffers greatly in his life. The point of that story, I think, is that, while we like to believe that we can, in some way, “earn” a good life, we are ultimately always at the mercy of others, always subject to forces beyond our control. Bad things do happen to good people. And so it is with love. We cannot win love, we cannot earn it, we do not deserve it, and we are not entitled to it. Love is simply given and received. All we can really do, then, is share our own love with others, and hope that they return it, knowing full well that it doesn’t always happen. That, I think, is what Tom learns at the end of this film.
I said that ‘(500) Days of Summer’ mostly works. It’s very well-crafted and creative, and I think it was right for someone to make a movie that, while not completely realistic, more or less draws from realty. In that sense, ‘Summer’ is a very unique, important film. Perhaps the only thing about the film, though, that doesn’t really work is the ending, which implies that, for Tom anyways, true love is “just around the corner”, which, while ending the film on a hopeful note, feels a bit forced. But I won’t fault it for that.
That said, for those of us who have gone through what Tom Hansen went through, the film is a little painful as well. It is uncompromising in showing that sometimes the people we love don’t love us back the same way, and sometimes our greatest hopes and dreams are smashed in front of our very eyes. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, and while I’m glad I watched the film, I can’t see myself watching it again any time soon, if only because the experience itself was so harsh.
‘(500) Days of Summer’ is the kind of film that comes only occasionally, although that’s more than sufficient. It’s a “tough love” story for the audience that will challenge more than comfort. But it’s also a very good, truthful film, reminding people that, sometimes, even Summer has to end.