(500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer may not be a particularly happy love story, but it's a love story all the same.

(500) Days of Summer

Director: Marc Webb
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend, Matthew Gray Gubler, Chloe Moretz
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Year: 2009
US date: 2009-07-17 (Limited release)
UK date: 2009-09-04 (General release)

Oh, reckless abandon,

Like no one's watching you.

-- The Temper Trap, "Sweet Disposition"

(500) Days of Summer begins by telling us what it's not. A title card asserts the characters are not based on anyone real. The narrator warns, "This is a story of boy meets girl. But you should know up front, this is not a love story." Of course, it is exactly that. It may not be a particularly happy one, but it's a love story all the same. Happily, it's a love story with a cool tone and terrific performances, as well as a perfectly matched soundtrack that is not used as a substitute for plot.

The movie opens with a break-up. The partners are Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), whose firm belief in "true love" makes him seem well suited for his job writing greeting cards, and Summer (Zooey Deschanel). When she starts working in his office, every man in the room is smitten, but Tom recognizes her as "the one." We already know (from the narrator) that Summer, damaged by her parents' divorce when she was young, thinks love is a fantasy and has no interest in any relationship that is not safely casual.

The film examines their 500 days together from Tom's point of view. So, even though the narrator suggests that his romanticism is misconceived ("This belief stemmed from early exposure to sad British pop music and a total misreading of the movie The Graduate"), he remains our hero. We're invested in his project, which is to sort through his memories to find the moment when things started to go wrong.

On Day 500 of their relationship, as Summer dumps Tom over pancakes, she is astonished that he hasn't seen it coming, since they've been "fighting like Sid and Nancy" for months. When he recoils at the idea that she would see him as someone who might harm her, she corrects him, saying, "No, I'm Sid." And therein lies Tom's real problem. It's not that he is believes in love, it's that he's allowed Summer to feminize him. Likewise, though Summer's resistance to intimacy is understandable, she holds too much power in their relationship.

It's in this light that we see Tom (and Tom sees himself, remembering) as he obsesses over Summer's every word and action, inadvertently forfeiting the first move to her (and, for that matter, ever move after). When they finally hook up, he breaks into a dance through the park, to Hall and Oates' "You Make My Dreams Come True" (which everyone he meets joins in on, including a cartoon bluebird). The scene is telling. Though undeniably fun and cute, it reinforces Summer's view of love as fantasy and makes Tom look distinctly feminine, very nearly playing Amy Adams in his own version of Enchanted.

As Tom starts off feeling devoted in his relationship with Summer, he can only act out in overly emotional (that is, typically feminine) ways when they break up. When he starts breaking dishes and crying to his friends, they play typical best girlfriends' parts, assuring him that Summer doesn't deserve him. Whether together or apart, Tom is reduced to observing her, alternately adoring or loathing her hair, eyes, and laugh. This fixation, like the dance scene, works on two levels: Tom may feel like a spectator to his own life, but in his memory, Summer takes on a new role -- not the dominant partner, but the observed, powerless before his gaze. Even the film's poster enforces this objectification, with hundreds of little pictures of Summer's face or parts of her face.

Given this structure, it would have been easy for (500) Days of Summer to vilify Summer as a she-monster: thankfully, it doesn't. While Tom's perspective is certainly privileged over hers, a balance is struck when he finally gets his chance to question her on why their relationship has failed. This moment is honest and not a little crushing (and Gordon-Levitt, it must be said, plays silent heartbreak to perfection). In recognizing that his recollections are only his version of the truth, he sees as well that Summer's version, no matter how different, is no less true.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.