So I already did a post for this a few years ago, but I’ve seen it a few more times since then and it’s come up in conversation with some friends every now and then. This film details the relationship between Tom and Summer and explores the idea of what love and romance is and what it means to different people. I love this film. I think it’s very well written and is a realistic view on modern romances, something much different to what is in Hollywood most of the time. However for this post, I would like to look at two things in particular, that is Tom’s and Summer’s relationship and our expectations from relationships and romance.
Tom and Summer
From countless conversations with people, something always comes up. Either Tom or Summer is seen as a bad person. Even Joseph Gordon-Levitt has come out to say that Tom is a selfish person. Some people I speak with think the other, that Summer is selfish. Personally, my opinion on this has changed every time I’ve watched this film. Prior to today I would’ve said that both characters are selfish in their own way, but now after seeing the film after the 7th time and grown up a bit more since I first saw it, I would say neither are selfish. They are just flawed and confused individuals, like everyone in real life. Let’s first look at Tom.
From Hollywood-esque romance films and pop songs, Tom grew up believing in “the one”, that one day he would find his perfect soul mate. This leads him to create that persona in his mind, the idea of the perfect women. When Summer shows up and there’s the first sign of some sort of compatibility (the “I love the Smiths” scene) he begins to obsess over her, building her up in his mind as that perfect women. All from her saying “I love the Smiths”. From here on in, everything he does is dedicated to make that dream a reality.
There’s more to look at in Tom’s behaviour but I want to look at Summer’s character first. Summer dismisses the idea of “the one”. She has commitment issues which makes it possible for her to make and break relationships very easily (symbolised by the scene of her cutting her hair without a care). She came to this city out of boredom, wanting to try something new, have some fun. She’s impulsive, fun loving, doesn’t want to be tied down. From an audience point of view, we can see from very early on that these two people are not compatible.
We move on to the karaoke bar scene where Tom and Summer talk about what they believe in in terms of romance and relationships. Something I found very interesting in this scene was that they are both children of divorce but came away with different ideas of relationships. However I would say that Summer saw the truth but Tom, blinded by the media’s idea of love, didn’t. Also, Summer goes on to say that “relationships are messy and people get hurt”, this foreshadows the entire film as following this, Summer starts to become attracted to Tom. The end of this scene shows Tom being outed by his friend for liking Summer. Summer asks if this is true but Tom denies it, probably out of awkwardness or just trying to brush it off. This leads to more ambiguity which is touched upon later in the film. But during this exchange, the camera is on Summer and her facial cues suggests that she knows the truth and that Tom does like her. The next scene is her, out of the blue, kissing Tom in the copy room at work. Now, from Tom’s point of view, this would be telling him that she likes him, and I would agree with this. But then we go to the Ikea scene. Now this is the first of a number of warning signs in the film for Tom. Here Summer tells Tom that she isn’t looking for anything serious, that she wants to keep things casual. Tom goes along with this. Here Summer has no reason to think Tom would want something more, that this is just casual and them having fun. This also brings up how Tom has no control in this relationship. He doesn’t instigate anything. Everything happens to him and Summer makes all the moves. At the end of this scene, Summer goes to hold his hand on their way out, and he goes along with it. Later, Summer instigates sex with him, and he goes along with. Immediately before, he is questioning this in the bathroom, about it being casual. At either of these points he could’ve questioned the “casual” nature, but he doesn’t, he goes along with it. He has no control.
Now earlier I said that these characters are both flawed and confused. Later on in the car, Tom asks what they are doing, wanting to put a label on it to which Summer refuses to give one. She just wants to have fun, doesn’t care about them. Right there, another warning sign. Summer doesn’t care, she doesn’t know what she wants, she just wants to have fun. This should be another clear indicator that this is just casual, which makes Tom uncomfortable, but again he goes along with it. Following this we have a scene in a bar where another guy tries to hit on Summer. She tells him to leave and as he insults Tom, Tom goes and punches him, an act which is depicted as a declaration of love in Hollywood romance movies. This leads to a fight between Tom and Summer. Note, this is the first time Tom takes control in their relationship, wanting to define what they are doing. Summer states that “they are just friends”. Tom protests this, saying “we are a couple” and leaves. I see this as the turning point for Summer. Up to this point she has been having fun, not wanting to commit but she lies awake that night staring at the phone. She clearly cares about Tom. She even goes to his apartment in the pouring rain to make up. This is the point where she’s considering an actual relationship and explores that avenue. But in this scene there is a very important line. Tom needs to know that Summer won’t “wake up in the morning and think differently”, to which Summer replies “I can’t give you that, nobody can”. This is so true. Like she mentioned earlier in the film, relationships are messy and unpredictable. Just as much as you can one day wake up, knowing you’ve met the one, you can also wake up one day and realise they’re not the one. That’s real life and where Hollywood films and pop music fail us.
As the film is told out of order we’ve already actually had their break up scene. Leading up to this is the deterioration of their relationship, and Summer comes to realise that Tom is not the one. Now this is something that I’ve just noticed watching it again today. People’s perception of Summer is that she is cold and selfish, doesn’t care for Tom’s feelings and just does what she wants with no regards for others. But now, I see the exact opposite. With the idea that she is now seeing if Tom is a suitable long term mate and deciding to end it when she confirms he isn’t, she is doing the compassionate thing. It is thought by many that Summer strings Tom along, but she doesn’t. She was just unsure of where they stood. We’ve all been in situations where we’re unsure about someone, but the only way to find out is to actually give it a go. If it works great, if it doesn’t then get out of it. Sometimes it takes longer than others but once you realise it’s not going to work, then break it off. It’s the best thing to do for either party. Now Tom comes away from this upset, confused and just in disbelief. He is determined to win her back. But now Summer is being clear that they are only friends, with none of the added stuff. This is where another one of their flaws come up and is something that happens in pretty much every relationship, lack of clear communication. Now this is a problem I personally have with casual relationships as you just don’t know where you stand and things can get confusing and messy, which is exactly the mindset of Tom. With that mindset, whenever something gets to a point where he’s not sure where things are going, he should ask, sit down and talk about it with Summer, and if it’s not going somewhere, get out! Jesus, there were times where I was yelling at the screen for Tom to get out of it, there’s only so much ambiguity one man can take.
Some time passes and things have seemed to have moved on. Summer left the job and Tom is on his way to a colleague’s wedding and who does he bump into on the train, Summer. They end up catching up and just hanging out at the wedding, general friend stuff. I want to stress that everything Summer does from here on in is as friends, none of it can be mistaken as anything else. She invites Tom to a part at her apartment and what follows is my favourite part of the film. The screen splits into two and we have “expectations vs reality” from Tom’s point of view. His expectations are that he’s gonna turn up to this party and him and Summer are gonna rekindle their relationship and have a very romantic time. What actually happens is they are just friends, Summer tries to big him up to some of her friends, he’s mostly alone…and he sees that Summer is engaged. Ouch. That’s gotta hurt. Now again, I stress that Summer has done nothing to lead him on, but man, you can’t help but feel for the guy. It’s a feeling that every guy would’ve had, and it’s painful as shit. Tom then leaves and cue a series of depression (just a quick aside, the party is day 408 and the depression scenes start on day 440. Tom hasn’t been going to work. What he’s been away from work for 32 days?). Now a lot of people would think that her not telling Tom she was engaged was a dick move, I did too, I even wrote it down when I was making notes today. But later in the film we find out that she wasn’t engaged at that point, to which Tom says “but he was in your life?” Summer has no reason (or duty) to tell him she was seeing someone casually. No commitment has been made so why would she tell him this?
At the end of the film, Tom and Summer meet up once more and they clear the air. During this scene are two of the best lines in the film. First, Tom asks Summer why she did all she did with him and she replies “because I wanted to” and Tom says, “you just do what you want?” Well yeah, of course she does. It’s what we all do. Again, a problem with mainstream music and films about romance, we are sold this entitled view of love and relationships, where we “deserve” happiness. Here, Tom believes the same thing. Summer was this dream girl and when she doesn’t act like it, Tom gets angry. Of course she isn’t going to act like that, no one does. Also, this cements the idea that Tom had no control in the entire relationship. He didn’t do anything, things happened to him. Summer did what she wants. Tom just went along with everything. When things were ambiguous or going in a direction he doesn’t want, he should speak up and say “hey, this isn’t what I want”, and if they can’t find a common path, then break it off. The other line is that Tom asks Summer how she knew her husband was the one, she says “one morning I woke up and I knew”, Tom asks “what?”, Summer ends with “what I was never sure of with you”. That hits it right on the head. Summer wasn’t sure of Tom. She engaged in this relationship to see what can happen. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t. But all the way through, she never had the “yes, he’s the one” moment. So she left. You can call that selfish if you want but it’s the nicest thing anyone can do. Otherwise you and your partner will never be happy. They end things on a high note, with Tom sincerely being happy for Summer. In my previous post, I initially was annoyed by this as it just seemed faked providing everything that happened, that the film didn’t have the balls to end things badly, but then I grew up and watched the film properly.
Expectations From Relationships
A big part of this film is looking at how we as people have been brainwashed by the mainstream films and music about the idea of what love and relationships are. We expect there to be “the one”, that we will find happy and ever lasting love with no problem. We all grow up with this, hell, I grew up with this, but it’s not real. It’s not how real life works. There’s a great scene later in the film where Tom is having a rant about how the love cards they write at his company is part of this brainwashing, that it’s all lies and not healthy. And it’s all true. There is no girl of our dreams. There is a series of interviews held with some of the characters asking about their thoughts on what love is and one of them talks about his girlfriend from high school. He says “Robin’s better than the girl of my dreams, she’s real”. This is what we should be aspiring to. Not looking for the girl of our dreams, looking for someone real. This was the problem Tom had for the entire film. He wasn’t in love with Summer, he was in love with the idea of her, and this is something that I have seen in people I’ve known over the years and even in myself. We are conditioned to create this perfect dream girl in our minds as if it’s something to aspire to. But if we do this, then every relationship we have, every person we meet will never live up to those expectations as they are just unrealistic, leading towards toxic and unhealthy relationships. Speaking personally, I now think that the best anyone can do is just go out there, meet different people, and see who you click with. When you find the right person, you’ll know there and then. No checklists or absolutes, just go with it, because love and romance isn’t something you can put to a formula, no matter how much dating sites want you to think otherwise.
(500) Days of Summer is an excellent film and I think everyone should be shown this film, so that they can grow up with correct ideas on what real life and relationships are like.