500 Days of Summer: The Unstoppable Religion

Tom: You know what sucks? Realizing that everything you believe is complete and utter bullshit – destiny and soul mates. True love and all that childhood fairytale nonsense. You were right, I should’ve listened to you.

Summer: No, [you were] right. It just wasn’t me you were right about.

The heartbreak of discovering it isn’t that the one you loved can’t love, it’s that they didn’t love you. The bitter taste of knowing you somehow helped them find happiness, but will never be the reason for it. It sucks, but it’s honest and no one’s really to blame. Growing pains.

I also just watched 50/50. That makes for two Joseph Gordon-Levitt films in a row, and good lord the man can emote. And it’s all so impossibly subtle, such that you can’t even tell which muscle in his face moved, yet it’s all there. The whole story, the entirety of his deepest hurt and mirth and reluctant vulnerability cracked wide open in the unmoving, moving soul that is his face.

The above scene from 500 Days of Summer really did get to me. Post-puberty, I haven’t cried during a single romantic film. Not even The Notebook (although I lied and said I did just to fit in. All my friends wept and probably lactated throughout the entire movie). Somehow, none of them tapped into the simple complexity of love, which is that its simultaneous occurrence is just rare and arbitrary. Love itself isn’t rare. But having the kind of love you need from the person you want at a time that feels right, and being able to offer all the same in return – that, is rare. And its rare appearance is arbitrary. And so the comedy, or tragedy, of errors isn’t that you can’t be with someone you love. That’s unfortunate, but isn’t necessarily a tragedy. The real tragedy is when people fall out of love, or don’t fall in love at all. Or do, but not at the same time. The distinction between the unrequited love in 500 Days and the unrequited love in The English Patient may seem subtle, but its practical difference is that 500 Days reflects a reality we actually know. Its premise is small, but its truth is large and universal. The same cannot be said for The English Patient, which – while grand in scale and ambition – will remind very few people of their own lives. This does not make it less worthy, just less relate-able.

I’ve noticed too that audiences tend to interpret the film as a story about a bitch who broke this nice guy’s heart. And while Summer did not behave impeccably, I think 500 Days is really about the unstoppable religion of falling in love and believing that something so all-consuming must be cosmic, mutual and immortal. After all, how can something that feels larger than life, larger than self, be only a product of perception? Life can’t possibly be that cruel…right? (So strong is the faith of the innocent and untested.)

The actual story, I think, is that Tom would’ve fallen in love regardless of how Summer received his affection. And, to be fair, she was honest from the beginning. But no one warns you to put on the brakes for your first love. And even if they did, why would you listen? You see, the duality of this film is that while it openly reminds us we’ve all been a Tom, it also gently suggests that we may have been someone’s Summer, too. But that if you have been, of course you probably wouldn’t remember. (Or wouldn’t want to.) We all skim over lukewarm chapters in our lives, most of all forgetting those who grazed – without piercing – our skin. Yet, in the eyes of someone who loves you, nothing can be more cruel than your polite inability to return their favor. Not even kindness can approximate what you aren’t able to reciprocate. So no, I don’t think this film is about a bitch and a loser. Rather, I think it’s about two people standing an inch apart but looking light years ahead in different directions. They just missed each other, is all.

And Joseph Gordon-Levitt, without moving a muscle in his face, without adding a twinkle to his eye, somehow reminds us just how profoundly painful it is to live in a comedy of errors.

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