Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer (2009)

When Did You Realize the “Relationship” in 500 Days of Summer Was the Worst?

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Honest Trailers did a magnificent takedown of the 2009 romantic comedy-drama film 500 Days of Summer, a movie that has been wholeheartedly torn apart by many, including the star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. But it made us think: When did we see the light that the relationship in the movie was absolute trash?

Gordon-Levitt plays the lead character of Tom Hansen, a trained architect who works as a writer at a greeting card company. Ah, the architect. He falls in love with a projection of his own fantasies—a woman named Summer Finn, played by Zooey Deschanel. Tom has an idealistic and toxic mentality about love and attempts to form a relationship with Summer even though she does not want to be in a relationship with him.

“She’s Tom’s view of a woman,” according to the screenwriter. “He doesn’t see her complexity and the consequence for him is heartbreak. In Tom’s eyes, Summer is perfection, but perfection has no depth. Summer’s not a girl, she’s a phase.”

While the narrative is from Tom’s point of view, which is sympathetic, many see Tom’s behavior towards Summer as stalker-y, creepy, and unhealthy. Now, don’t get me wrong. Tom’s behavior sucks, but there’s a reason that the movie touched so many people, regardless of gender. It’s because the core of the tension between Tom and Summer is his desire to be more than “Just Friends,” and her desire not to. Yet, we see Summer, someone who is in her own ways emotionally stunted and afraid to commit to anything, also in some physical ways clings to Tom because, at her core ,she does care about him, but she just isn’t sure about if it’s love.

In these two perspectives, we see that it’s more complicated than Tom being a dick or Summer being a bitch; it’s about miscommunication and idealism. We are, generally, spoon-fed stories about love in media. Hell, I just wrote a post today about the star-crossed romance in Hadestown. Most of us aspire to love and go through a phase of being romantic in some way. We are taught to “go after” love, to hold on to people closely, and that relationships are worth fighting for—heck, worth dying for. We are also taught to read into things, to treat every interaction like painful doublethink where we must dig down for a reason rather than accept, at face value, what is being said.

Instead of listening to people’s words, we dissect their actions, purposefully looking for contradictions in their words in order to convince ourselves that we can “win.”

Summer cares about Tom. They share things in common. There’s a physical attraction, and they riff really well together. She wants to be there with him in many ways, but she doesn’t want a serious relationship. She makes it clear, multiple times, but Tom wants it so badly that he takes her companionship as a hint that there’s more to come.  He can’t realize that relationships don’t always have to be binary and that being casual doesn’t mean you don’t care about the person you are with. Relationships take many forms and Tom isn’t aware of that.

In their final scene together on the bench, when Summer says, ” I just … I just woke up one day and I knew,” that is also part of the idealism with Love™—that it’s this thing we will know when we feel it, and despite the movie overall being a cynical takedown of Love™, it also states that love can be real if it’s the right person.

When you teach children that love always has to be won, that love is always a fight, or that it isn’t real, then you breed a generation of Tom Hansens and Summer Finns. People aren’t phases or things, they aren’t ideals, and they aren’t perfect. Relationships and love are hard at times, but putting in the work when necessary and knowing when to leave is important. The moment in 500 Days of Summer that Tom should have left is when Summer said she didn’t want anything serious, but the childish part of him that hoped that all of this play-acting meant something deep was too strong.

Always listen and realize that, sometimes, it’s better to be alone with yourself than forcing yourself to be with someone hoping one day they will notice you. (She said on the 5th month of her emotional spiral). 500 Days of Summer is a hard movie to watch as an adult who’s actually dated, rather than as a cynical young adult. It’s hard because the leads are both too painfully realistic, and for a lot of people, it’s a harsh reminder of mistakes of dating past. It’s not a movie I like, and I’m not sure it does a lot right, but it hits a nerve for a reason. Sadly.

(image: Fox Searchlight Pictures)

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Princess Weekes
Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.