We’ve all been a Tom or a Summer

The movie 500 Days of Summer was written nearly a decade ago, and yet I have never felt like the content of the movie has been more relevant than now. If you haven’t watched the movie, I’m about to give away the entire plot, so SPOILERS ahead.

In the movie, Tom meets a girl at his workplace named Summer, who he immediately finds an attraction towards. Summer reciprocates those feelings and the two begin a casual relationship that Summer has made clear will not develop into anything more, because she does not believe in love.  However, things between the two change, as Summer and Tom begin to cross over into relationship territory. Tom, ecstatic, because he is in love with Summer tries to push the relationship forward, much to the annoyance of Summer. They fight, and Summer pulls away from Tom, referring to them as “just friends”. Tom, heartbroken, tries to piece his life back together at the encouragement of his friends, while Summer meanwhile finds a new man and becomes engaged with said man. Summer then asks to meet with Tom, explaining to him that their relationship was just not meant to be, but that she is happy with her fiance and Tom helped her realize that true love does exist. Tom ends up finding his own happy ending at the conclusion of the film, when he meets a new girl with whom he can begin anew with.

When I first saw this movie, it was very popular among my fellow peers; it was a teen must-see movie holding the same ranks as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Breakfast Club, Perks of Being a Wallflower. This is probably because all of these movies have that same romantic adult angst about not being able to be with someone you care about. Although the movie has somewhat faded into the oblivion of my mind, 500 Days of Summer occasionally makes an appearance on Facebook feeds and Tumblr posts alike. Recently, I was perusing my Facebook feed when I saw a shared video someone had made about the movie. The video was making a case from Summer’s perspective about how Summer was blameless throughout the entire movie, and that it is Tom’s delusion and infatuation with Summer, or rather the idea of Summer, that is the cause of Tom’s heart brokenness. Usually after watching the movie, the consensus with viewers is that either Summer is a bitch who led Tom on, or that Tom is crazy for over romanticizing her.

When I first watched 500 Days of Summer, I was probably in high school, and I had never been in a relationship of any sort myself. I had often been chastised by boys for “leading them on”, but in my opinion I was just being friendly and it was their own faults for thinking it would ever amount to anything. When I watched the movie, I thought I saw Tom for what he truly was: an angry nice guy who had been friend-zoned. I sincerely thought that Tom was to blame for his own heart brokenness. He was the one who had projected unrealistic expectations and unrealistic fantasies on someone who had said they weren’t looking for anything serious, after all. Had I watched the video on Facebook during this time, I probably would have slammed the share button as fast as I could.

Now that I’m older, and had my fair share of experiences being both Tom and Summer, I definitely see the movie from a new perspective. Whereas I had previously been critical of Tom, I could now sympathize with him. I once was in a relationship with a friend of mine, that we both did not want to be serious, but as the course of the relationship went on, things got muddled, it escalated to the point where we were Skyping each other to compensate for long-distance, we texted each other nonstop, went on public dates, and if I called him in the middle of the night because I was having a bad nightmare, he’d answer and console me. It was definitely a weird relationship, considering we both claimed exclusivity didn’t matter. Anyway, after a while I started to genuinely like him, and wondered because of the over-step of boundaries he felt the same. He did not. I was pretty disappointed; not depressed as Tom was, but disappointed enough.

I could see my own faults in the relationship, for believing that actions could trump words and feelings, and thinking “well even though he says he doesn’t want a relationship, he might because we are doing relationship things”. If we parallel this experience with Tom, I could understand why I was foolish for ignoring my friend’s initial statement that it was only going to be casual. I was wrong for assuming that my friends actions would somehow negate his words, and that we might end up together. I put too much meaning into those moments of over-stepped boundaries and thought that they meant something, when in reality, they were meaningless. However, at the same time, I also felt somewhat betrayed, and this is where I can really sympathize with Tom’s character. My friend had set up boundaries, like Summer, but had repeatedly overstepped them. I had had casual relationships before, but both of them were not invested in me as much as my friend had been. With the two other casual relationships I’d been in, I did not text, or even hang out with the guys in public, so much as hold hands or Skype. Based on previous experiences, it felt like my friend really did want more.

This is kind of where I chastise Summer’s character. To me, Tom and Summer were equally to blame. Summer over-stepped the boundaries of the relationship: she went on dates with Tom, she opened up her mind to Tom, and if you’ve seen the movie, it genuinely looks as if Summer cared about Tom (with exceptions leading up to the breakup). Summer knowingly continued her relationship with Tom, even though she knew he wanted more, and when she was pushed to an ultimatum, she backed out and was forced to break away from Tom so that she wouldn’t hurt him anymore. This was really a mature thing of Summer to do, because she ended it before Tom was past the point of no return. At the same time though, it was Summer’s selfishness that allowed her to hurt Tom in the first place; she wanted Tom’s time and affection, but did not want all of the ramifications and labels of such. When I think about myself, I see Summer in me when I led on a few close friends by long late night phone calls, cheek kisses, and sadly the drunk make-out. I could have used more self-constraint, but because I was hungry for attention and my needs I couldn’t really see how the guys were being affected.

Now, I try to do my best to not be a Tom or Summer, because Tom was delusional, and Summer was selfish. It just so happens, that after I watched the video, I took to the comments to look at how others were receiving this absolution of Summer’s sins. Some were outraged, saying Summer was a bitch who led Tom on, others agreeing with the video that it was Tom’s fault. Unsurprisingly, those that could see the movie from both perspectives argued that it was both their faults. In my opinion, this Tom-Summer relationship is becoming uniform, especially in today’s age. With hookup and “friends with benefits” culture so prevalent, there’s so many Toms and so many Summers, and I guess that’s what makes 500 Days of Summer a great movie. I definitely recommend watching this movie, it has re-watch value and the meaning of the film changes when watched at different points of your life. And isn’t that what a good film is supposed to do!