Upon its release, critics and audiences alike welcomed Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer, praising it for its refreshing style and realistic characters. Searching personal reviews through the web, however, leads one to the conclusion that people often see Summer (Zooey Deschanel) as the ‘bad’ character of the film, as a Jezebel, a woman who did nothing but toy with a man’s emotions and, ultimately, rattled every aspect of his life.
This misunderstanding prompted Deschanel to state in an interview with New York Magazine “['500 Days Of Summer' was] actually very misunderstood. I can’t tell you how many guys, and girls, are like, ‘You did him wrong!’ What, she’s a bitch because she didn’t want to date that guy? So? Are we bitches because we have our own opinions? If that makes me a bitch, or that makes women bitches, then maybe we’re all bitches.” The misconception stems from expecting the film to follow the conventions of countless, shallow romantic comedies – something the narrator explicitly states you should not do from the start. Yet, once we understand that Summer and Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) should not be together, (500) Days of Summer imparts three important lessons for a happier life.
The visual details of the film, if examined closely, dispel the Summer-is-a-bitch misunderstanding from the mind of any one who believes it. From the start of the film, Webb connects Summer with the ideas of flying, fluidity, birds, etc. Notice how this shot (from the scene when Tom first goes to Summer’s apartment) makes the implicit comparison between Summer and cranes in flight. Perhaps more explicitly, having the song She’s Like the Wind be Summer’s theme also connects Summer with wind and freedom. Tom, conversely, is connected with stability, the earth, buildings, etc. One of the many tacit comparisons comes from Tom’s “look” – his clothes are always earthy colors (green, brown, beige, white, black, etc). Yet, the explicit connection created by Tom’s profession (architect) should not be overlooked. By making these connections, Webb illustrates the essence of Tom and Summer, characters that by their very nature could not be more different. Seeing this difference makes Summer’s choice to leave Tom seem only natural and inevitable and, in the end, correct.
Thoughtful but simple truths color (500) Days of Summer, which, paired with its unique construction, gives it a lot of charm and swagger. The following are just a few of these simple truths.
1. When appraising, be dispassionate.
Rachel (Chloe Moretz), the voice of wisdom throughout the film, advises Tom to “look again” to get over Summer. Tom’s memories of Summer anchor his life after their breakup. Rachel tries her best to help her brother:
Rachel’s insight that he only focuses on the good prompts her to give the advice to remember all the bad things of the relationship, in other words, to remember dispassionately and see Summer for who she’s really is. This pushes Tom forward.
2. Start over unafraid when things don’t work out.
After, Tom learns of Summer’s engagement to another man, his world is literally erased. A shot after he runs away from her apartment shows the skyline of Los Angeles etched out and erased. The leap that Tom must make to truly move past Summer is creating the whole world anew. During the montage that shows him getting his life back together (applying for other jobs, reading architecture books, drawing, etc), a shot shows Tom on the roof of a building sketching the entire city again, an action symbolizing his push to start over.
3. Do not hold others against idealized standards.
This lesson comes by way of Tom’s friend Paul (Matthew Gray Gubler). In one of the character interviews inserted in the film Paul talks about his girlfriend.
Paul’s answer explains itself more clearly, more succinctly, and better than anything this writer can say.
Tom in the course of the film asks Summer why her past relationships failed. Summer with a smile that unequivocally states “I know something you don’t know” answers: “What always happens: life.” Ultimately, (500) Days of Summer narrates a part of Tom’s life. Meeting a girl, falling in love with her, surviving their breakup, and thriving after it. Beyond that it illustrates how people learn about the vicissitudes of life; Tom certainly learns. By the end of the film he becomes aware of the truth that gave Summer that all-knowing smile, and the director visually shows this by having Tom break the fourth wall and peek straight to the audience, an act that yells “I know now,” in the last shot of the film. Now you know a little more too.