It is no secret that 500 Days of Summer is one of my favourite films, much like Juno and Little Miss Sunshine I can put 500 Days of Summer on anytime and enjoy it just as much as I did the last time. However, when I first watched the film at 15 my opinion of the characters and their actions was a lot different to how it is now and I am sure many people my age probably would feel the same if they watched the film again. I want to discuss the character of Summer, Tom’s perspective and the theme of love in a film that I feel is often misunderstood when watched for the first time.
From the opening of the film we are warned that this story is not a love story and yet, despite knowing this and knowing that the relationship introduced between Tom and Summer will end there was still a small part of 15-year-old me who was willing them to be together. This is what is so clever about this film. It is very easy to forget whilst watching that everything we are being shown is from Tom’s perspective and therefore, the depiction of Summer is a very attractive one; she is cool, she is clearly pretty and she has that quirkiness, which many deem to be the appearance of the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ trope. This encourages us to be fascinated by her in the same way Tom is and this also means that, like Tom, we have a tendency to ignore the clear warning signs that she is not what he has imagined her to be. Even the omniscient narrator of the story assists in this idea that Summer is a woman to be put on a pedestal with all these unusual statistics that cumulate in something called the ‘Summer Effect’. So how does this perspective paired with Summer’s otherworldly aura make this film such an interesting exploration of love and relationships?
As I said before, when I was younger I sympathised with Tom a lot by the end of the film and it was not until I grew up a little and dated people myself that I began to really understand Summer’s point of view (despite the lack of her perspective in the film itself). Tom clearly has an idea in his mind of some big love and that is found with a girl who ‘likes the same bizarro crap’ as him. This is made abundantly clear when he first speaks to Summer, his friend has already made him think she is a bitch so in the elevator Tom acts rudely to her before realising that *gasp* she likes The Smiths too! In comes the ‘bizarro crap’ that Tom mistakes for a clear sign of a soulmate and so, the obsession begins. Nothing can stop Tom from fantasising about Summer from this point on and even when she expresses her disbelief in the existence of love, something Tom is obviously invested in, he ignores that and then goes on to ignore her asking for them to be friends in pursuit of his own dream scenario. (I will note here that it is naive of Summer to ask them to be friends and then to kiss Tom, the implication of what she means by ‘friends’ is somewhat clear in the tone of her voice but still, misleading). Anyway, Summer has set out who she is and what she expects from relationships to Tom with this simple statement:
I like being on my own. Relationships are messy and people’s feelings get hurt. Who needs it? We’re young. We live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Might as well have fun while we can and save the serious stuff for later.
It is too late at this point however, as Tom has already set himself out as the guy who will change Summer’s mind; a tragically arrogant and selfish endeavor. Tom’s own self-interest is even more evident in the scene where Summer lets him in to her apartment and tells him things that she says she has never told anyone before. In this moment, the narrator tells us that all Tom is thinking about is how special he is for being told these stories and let into Summer’s world. Instead of actually paying attention to who she is and why she might be telling him these things he only thinks of himself. I believe that this scene is a subtle nod to the fact that Tom could be the person who makes Summer believe in love but he sabotages himself by caring too much about being that person instead of being present and letting it naturally evolve.
Summer sets the parameter of what they are doing as a fun, casually dating sort of relationship and Tom is clearly uncomfortable about this and wants to put the defined label of ‘couple’ on them. This is where the self-sabotage gets worse and where I begin to sympathise with Summer’s character more. Tom is scared to ask Summer what they are because he knows deep down that she will not reply in the way he wants. Sure enough, that is what happens and instead of discussing things further or bowing out because he now knows she can not give him what he wants, he perseveres regardless which isn’t good for either party*. To me, it is clear that Summer has feelings for Tom, not all love is the romantic, head-over-heels kind of love but she obviously values his friendship in a way that Tom doesn’t. He is too blinded by his own goal of being Summer’s partner to see the value in their real life dynamic. After the ‘break up’ Summer asks for them to be friends twice, something that I know to a lot of people is like twisting the knife after a break up but in this scenario you have to remember that Tom played along with the parameters that Summer set out for them as ‘friends’ so it’s kind of his own fault that things turn out the way they do. We see the change in the dynamic, we see Summer being bored and disinterested and we see Tom desperately trying to make her remember the good times they had together when really he should just talk to her but yet again, he is too afraid. He is too afraid of the image of them as a couple that he has created will be damaged if he talks to her about their relationship and ironically, it’s the not talking and his blind acceptance of Summer’s terms that has poisoned everything.
I think it is all too easy to dismiss the character of Summer as a ‘bitch’ because of the narrative perspective and because she is a hard character to empathise with as we don’t learn much about her but as she sums up perfectly to Tom
It just wasn’t me you were right about
Not all love is the big love that Tom is looking for and that Summer doesn’t believe in but that doesn’t mean that there is no value in different romantic/non-romantic relationships.
P.S. – There is no sequel I want more right now than a sequel to 500 Days of Summer from Summer’s perspective that fills in some of the gaps about the bad times in their relationship.
*I’d like to say to anyone out there, if you are uncomfortable about your dating situation and discuss what you ‘are’ with the person and the answer you get isn’t the one you want – do not continue in that relationship. It is no good for anyone to pretend that you are okay with being casual/just friends/etc. if you are not comfortable things will end and there won’t be a friendship to salvage. The people you like aren’t always going to be in the same place as you and that is fine because there will always be others.