In a fit of masochism, I decided to rewatch (500) Days of Summer. This is a movie that chronicles a failed relationship. Depressing? It is on some levels. However, it also is a movie that does an excellent job of portraying the learning process that the main character, Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), goes through just as the viewer does, reminiscing over the memories of his entire relationship with Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel). Thus, surprisingly, it is not the failed relationship itself that is the key focus of the movie. Instead, the spotlight is upon Tom and his own personal growth as he realizes what he did, failed to do/understand, and how he can use those lessons to become a better person in the future.
Watching the relationship blossom and then burst into flames... This was a painful thing to watch. However, the movie does an excellent job of balancing the seriousness with humor. Both Tom and Summer have funny qualities to them, and the parts where Tom is emotionally brutalized are offset by the amusing extremes to which he takes them. A diet of Twinkies, orange juice and whiskey? Confiding in his younger sister, Rachel, who is astonishingly mature and helpful despite having near zero relationship experience? The humor helps to make this film truly comedic, and helps to lighten the emotional blow that comes with watching a relationship become torn asunder.
For, unlike just about any romantic comedy I can think of, the relationship does not end in victory. The guy doesn't get the girl. There is no deep kiss cheered on by a plethora of enthralled strangers. Instead we see a man who, though totally devoted to a woman, is forced to learn that not everything is meant to be. Force of will and an undying belief in another can only be sustained if the other person is just as willing to share their life with you, as you are with them. And, in (500) Days of Summer, we see that Summer just simply is unable to reciprocate.
The reasons are complex and many. The movie drops hints as it goes, from her up-front statement about not believing in true love to her difficult childhood of divorced parents. It is clear that, despite his best efforts, Tom is unable to understand this side of her. He believes utterly in true love. Fate. The One. But she can't; she just isn't ready on an emotional level to respond with such devotion. Consequently, to a certain extent, their relationship is doomed to fail from the beginning. It just takes time for them to realize that.
Growth after Loss
But this is not to say that the relationship is pointless and never should have been. As is made clear by the end of the movie, both of them needed it. They needed that relationship to happen, the good times and the bad, in order to learn something about themselves. For Tom, he comes to realize that his view of Summer was idealized to the point of blindness. He learns from the relationship that, while the aspiration toward finding your true love is a good one, it is a view that has to be tempered by common sense. You can't let the feeling consume you. By contrast, Summer discovers that Tom was right in the end. True love is possible. The sad part is that, for her, it is something that she can't have with Tom. It is only after they separate that she is truly able to find that.
It is hard to judge whether this particular relationship was ever possible. It is something we ask ourselves after our own failures and our own losses. With this one, one could argue that they were just at different points at their lives; Summer had not yet overcome her emotional wall; Tom had not yet discovered how to regard relationships rationally. Perhaps if they had gone into it with those issues resolved, they might have worked out in the end. But, in the end, this isn't a movie about what ifs. It is a movie about moving on, living with the consequences of other people's actions and your own, and learning from loss instead of dwelling on it.
Clearly this was a movie that struck a chord with me. This wasn't unexpected; the first time I watched it, it evoked a hostile reaction from me. It should resonate with anyone who has loved another but, for whatever reason, things just couldn't work out. So long as you are prepared for the onslaught of memories that may ensue, this is one of the greatest "romantic comedies" ever made. The first time, I wasn't, and thus the movie felt almost like a personal assault. But that was then, and this is now.
It is a movie that illustrates how to take those memories and grow from them, and it does so in a manner that is both humorous and honest. What more can one ask for?