I saw the movie when it first came out in 2009 and was immediately in love with Tom—it seemed like a dream to have somebody want me as badly as Tom wanted Summer. Over the years, though, my perspective has shifted.
I rewatched (500) Days of Summer in 2022 and found it just as good today as I did when I first saw it in 2009—but for very different reasons. Here are some of the thoughts I had while rewatching the movie.
This Is Tom’s Side Of The Story
The movie tells us upfront that (500) Days of Summer is not a love story.
It’s one half of a story. Summer is certainly a main character in that story, but we only see her from Tom’s point of view. In that sense, the Summer we see on screen is kind of just a figment of Tom’s imagination.
Tom is positive from the first moment he meets Summer that she’s the one—but he doesn’t take into consideration that Summer might not see things the same way.
Summer Is NOT The Bad Guy
It’s not Summer’s responsibility to protect the image Tom has of her. She tells Tom upfront that she’s not looking for anything serious, and she means it. But, it’s easy to feel betrayed when Summer shows up married at the end of the film.
A lot of viewers seemed to have missed the point or walked away feeling like Tom was just a victim of Summer’s, but even Gordon-Levitt shared that’s not the case in this reply to a tweet from a fan who shared that they still haven’t forgiven Summer for what she did to Tom:
Watch it again. It’s mostly Tom’s fault. He’s projecting. He’s not listening. He’s selfish. Luckily he grows by the end. https://t.co/lEJ8uXlpJwAugust 6, 2018
Summer never lied to Tom. She never told him her feelings had changed. So why did Tom feel like he had been led on?
Tom Is Also Not The Bad Guy
Even watching the movie from Summer’s point of view, Tom isn’t the bad guy either. He’s just a guy going through a breakup.
That being said, we don’t see any part of the story through Summer’s eyes (neither does Tom). So while it’s understandable for Tom to feel devastated that the supposed love of his life has left him high and dry, we have to question as viewers why he ever thought Summer was the love of his life in the first place.
Tom assigns meaning to Summer’s words. When Summer tells Tom, “I’ve never told anybody that before,” Tom hears, “You’re special. You got something from me I’ve never given to anyone else.” He creates a fantasy world in his head where, even though Summer says she doesn’t want a relationship with him, he knows that can’t be true.
It’s that same twisting of words that leads Tom to disregard Summer’s opinion that love isn’t real.
Persistence In Dating Culture
One of the most problematic themes in (500) Days of Summer is Tom’s insistence that Summer would eventually change her mind. Tom thinks if he keeps being the perfect boyfriend, eventually Summer will come around. Eventually she’ll realize that she’s wrong about love and that she’s found it with Tom, right?
The idea that persistence is the key to love is a harmful one. We see Tom become angry and resentful when Summer rejects him, suggesting that he feels entitled to her affection. It’s peak “friendzone” mentality.
The Cinematography Puts You In Tom’s World
It’s hard to rewatch (500) Days of Summer knowing how many viewers of the film missed the point, especially considering how well the direction and cinematography place the viewers in Tom’s world.
The morning after Summer and Tom first have sex, Tom dances through L.A. joined by an ensemble of people on the street congratulating him. To the tune of “You Make My Dreams” by Hall & Oates, cartoon birds flutter around him as he triumphantly makes his way to work.
Then, later in the movie, when Tom attends Summer’s dinner party, we see a side-by-side comparison of Tom’s expectations for the party vs. the reality. He expected to spend the night rekindling his romance with Summer, but Summer had actually only invited him as a friend (which is confirmed when we see her showing off her shiny new engagement ring).
Seeing Tom’s expectations for the party puts the rest of the movie in perspective. He had expectations for his relationship with Summer, too—but just like the party, you can’t plan a relationship in your head.
The Movie Makes You Fall In Love With Summer, Too
It’s easy to see how Tom gets so caught up in Summer’s life. She’s free-spirited, spontaneous, whimsical, and obviously beautiful.
That’s because Summer is a textbook example of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. The term was first used by film critic Nathan Rabin in his 2007 review of Elizabethtown for A.V. Club, and it essentially refers to an overly quirky and exuberant female character who only exists to serve as a catalyst for change in a male protagonist’s life (for example, a girl you can run through IKEA playing house with).
If you Google “manic pixie dream girl,” you won’t have to scroll long before finding a picture of Zooey Deschanel as Summer. But Summer isn’t a true example of the MPDG—rather, she serves as a counterexample of the trope. We can discern as the viewers that Summer is her own person with a complex life, but Tom sees her as the solution to his problems (like his loneliness and unhappiness at his job).
Imagine If The Roles Were Reversed
Imagine if (500) Days of Summer were told from Summer’s point of view. It might be about a girl who has a short fling with a friend before meeting her husband.
Summer is clear about what she wants, but we’re supposed to side with Tom because he loves her. Now imagine the roles reversed: a needy or lovesick woman with a man who wants to be single/keep his options open. That wouldn’t be a memorable movie—it would be an average romantic comedy. And you could probably find five women walking down the street who had the same thing happen to them personally.
Women are kind of trained to find Tom’s behavior endearing, but it’s doubtful the movie would have the same tone if it were Summer unapologetically pursuing Tom despite his protests. I find it unlikely that viewers who empathized with Tom could empathize with a female protagonist who acts the same way.
Are you still Team Tom? If so, listen to Zooey Deschanel’s defense of Summer and “think a little deeper.”
(500) Days of Summer is one of the many movies available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
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She/her. Lover of female-led comedies, Saturday Night Live, and THAT scene in Fleabag. Will probably get up halfway through the movie to add more butter to the popcorn.