(500) Days of Summer : The Burden of Expectations

Even though this movie came out almost 11 years back, I watched it for the first time a couple of days ago after I finally got curious given the number of Instagram posts I came across regarding the film. My apprehension going into the movie was that Zoey Deschanel was going to be a let down for me since I have never really enjoyed any of her performances before. And while I still stand by that view, we shall discuss it in detail in a while. My first impression after watching the film, was that if I were to write a movie inspired by my personal observations and experiences, it would have a very similar plot as (500) Days of Summer. So then, suddenly, its label of being the most realistic portrayal of a relationship in a film made sense to me.

The non-linear story primarily focuses on the characters of Tom; played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt; and the titular Summer; played by Zoey Deschanel; and their story of falling in and out of love. The whole film plays out through the perspective of Tom including everything that the audience gets to know about Summer. Even though the time line keeps shifting, it is fairly easy to understand the movie plot and the discontinuity of scenes because of the perfectly placed animations showing us the time lap, with their phases of the relationship shown as seasons of the year.

The beginning of their relationship is shown to be largely mirroring of the same in most movies. Everything is happier and the world seems like a better place. Tom thinks he has found the “one” in Summer and there is also a little dance routine to convey his euphoria. They even dress themselves to externalise their happiness, especially in the case of Summer who wears a lot of accessories on her hair and bright clothes. However, the biggest difference between every other romantic movie and this, is that in (500) Days of Summer, it is Summer who says that she does not want a serious relationship as she does not believe in the institution of true love and having a soul mate. I guess traditionally speaking, gender roles are reversed for this particular film.

Now, like I said before, while my opinion of Zoey Deschanel has still not changed, I do think she has done a good job for her character in the movie, whether deliberate or by chance, is still under jury. The plot of the movie dictates that Summer is the ultimate girl next door, with everyone falling in love with her as she walks by them. I don’t see it. At all. But I think for me, this adds to the positive for the film since when we first start dating someone, we think they are the most perfect, most gorgeous, most genuine person we have ever met. We often find ourselves thinking how we got to be so lucky to be with them. But we are too blinded by our attraction towards them. When you are on the other side of the story, when as an outsider, you look in to your friends falling in love with someone and gushing about how perfect the object of their affection is, you don’t see it. The appeal of that person that your friend keeps raving about. So you just label it as them “being in love”. Because love is blind, I guess? So coming back to Deschanel then, I think the fact that as an audience, I do not see Summer’s appeal, represents that so many times our feelings dictate our senses and we overestimate the beauty of things because of the notion of being in love.

We put so much pressure on our relationships. We want them to be our best friend and our lover and our partner and our backbone and our saviour and also our punching bag. We are very rarely satisfied with what we get and we continue to layer our expectations on the other person that eventually, with time, everything changes and we don’t know how we got here. We change ourselves to fit the other person’s expectations so much, that eventually we stop being ourselves. We stop being the person that our partner fell in love with. So then, how can we expect the relationship to stay the same? There is a fine line between growing up and changing and we all often fail to recognise which is which. At least till the person walks away and then we resent them for making us become someone we don’t even recognise anymore.

(500) days of Summer portrays the delusion of early stages of a relationship perfectly in a couple of scenes. The first one is when Tom goes to Summer’s apartment for the first time. He takes it to mean that Summer is ready to be more serious about the relationship. Despite Summer being clear early on about her wanting them to maintain a casual relationship, Tom overthinks the situation to convince himself that she too is falling in love with him. He chooses to put that extra pressure on their relationship by reading too much into a nice moment and a friendly gesture by Summer. The second instance is when Tom punches a guy for hitting on Summer and assumes Summer would be thankful to him for his “chivalry”. So when Summer makes it clear to him that she does not approve of his actions and that she does not need anyone to save her, he is very confused about her lack of warmth. Because in his head, he also already assumed this relationship as constituting two people being in love with each other including loving every quality about one another. He assumes Summer, too, sees him through the same rose colored glass that he sees her. He has already put these expectations on their relationship. This is the beginning of the end for them.

Even during the first scene when Tom recounts his breakup to his sister, he just says it as everything being perfect until the moment it wasn’t – when Summer said she thinks they should stop seeing each other. He is so in love with the idea of being in love that he literally blocks out the bad parts of the relationship and only reminisces the good times and that is why he refuses to accept that Summer did not want to be in that relationship any longer. He is so consumed in his own world of expectations and delusion, that he does not for once pause to introspect on what caused the relationship to fail. Instead, he conveniently blames her for just changing her mind all of a sudden with no good reason. He does poorly at work and he talks excessively about himself with his little sister, forgetting that it is his role as an elder sibling to be there for her. He is just revelling in his own pain and wallowing in his self-pity and has in general lost his mojo. Tom is a very extreme character. For him, good is great and bad is devastating.

In perhaps the movie’s most notable scene, the “Expectations Vs. Reality” montage, Tom decides he wants to win Summer back. And naturally in his head, because he has willed it to happen, it means she would want the same as well. While I do agree that Summer leads him on with the whole dancing at the wedding thing, at this point, Tom’s unhealthy expectations have just become a personality trait so we have no reason to give him the benefit of the doubt. When Summer invites him to a party, Tom is ready to capitalise on the opportunity. Reality, is much different and unkind for Tom. It finally dawns on him that Summer never thought he was the one for her, the way he thought for her. He realises that she has not been wallowing in self-pity like him and is actually happy since the break up. That he is not the centre of her universe. He notices her ring on “that” finger. It dawns on him that she never reciprocated what he felt for her. That he was living in his own bubble. He finally understands the need for some perspective as he questions everything he knew about this relationship and about Summer.

Script to Screen – Screenplayed

The last time when the two meet, Summer is married. The same girl who was so clear and consistent in her message that she did not want a boyfriend or a serious relationship. The way the conversation pans out between the two, it goes from accusatory to angry to resentful and finally towards closure. Maybe it was even a bit insensitive of Summer when she says “I just woke up one day and I knew. Knew what I was never sure of with you.” But truthfully, I don’t think she said this to hurt him. It wasn’t out of getting a reaction out of him. They are adults and they have the mental maturity to process their feelings and their hurt. I think she said this because it was the fundamental truth. And because she wanted him to understand the reality, even though it may pinch him for a little while, because it would help him grow and be ready for his future relationships. I think if we generalise the idea of having honest conversations with our exes, where we are willing to hear things we would not like to, we would get closer to being the best version of ourselves that we can be. After all, they knew us so intimately. They loved us. Maybe their perspective could hold some resounding truth that could help us figure ourselves out a little better. And even though certain people consider Summer to be the antagonist for this movie, I think she learns this lesson from the very beginning. To grow from the positives of others and to open yourself to new ideologies and experiences. She knows better to let her ego consume herself, which hits home whens she says “It just wasn’t me that you were right about.” She does not harbour any bitterness for him. On the contrary, she is thankful for him. For helping her realise where she was going wrong. And even though he was not ultimately the person she marries, he was responsible for her being the person that her now-husband fell in love with. And begrudgingly, but undeniably, Tom understands that too.

So like I said earlier, if I had to ever write a movie reflective of my take from my relationships; of things I wish I knew earlier that could have probably salvaged some important relationships; it would be very similar to (500) Days of Summer. Because it is true that in the beginning, we see them as these perfect, divine people. We idealise and worship them. We are obsessed with them, even. And it is also true that once things fall, we curse those same people that we loved with all our heart a few moments ago. We turn bitter towards them. We blame them for everything bad that happened to us. But is then also true that if we give it a chance, we can ultimately grow more because of them. We can learn from the good and the bad and ensure to improve things for the next time we meet someone special. We can let go of the love and the hate and learn to just see them for who they are instead of the idea of who we want them to be. So yes, (500) Days of Summer is a very real story. And yes, I agree that it is the only love story we really need to watch.

P.S. – Having said this, for me, La La Land still remains the perfect story. The best of the best.

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