(500) Days of Summer: Valentine’s Day Special

500 days

(500) Days of Summer (2009)
Directed by: Marc Webb


For a Valentine’s Day special I wanted to explore my favourite ‘Romantic’ film: 500 Days of Summer. A beautiful, somewhat unique and, in my opinion a very realistic, film portraying (not) a love story.

The Scene: “Expectations vs. Reality”

In this scene Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has been invited to Summer’s (Zooey Deschanel) flat for a party. At this moment in the film the relationship between the two has ended, although Tom believes this invitation signifies that it will be rekindled, what follows is an extremely clever and utterly heart-shattering scene.

The scene begins with Tom arriving at the flat building and walking in, as to be expected. However (as the narrator describes) that expectations are often different from reality the screen becomes split in the middle, showing two initially identical scenes labelled ‘Expectation’ on one side of the spilt-screen and ‘Reality’ on the other. I find this genius, here we get to delve into the mind of Tom, and experience what he wants to happen, and the reality itself as the evening unfolds. The differences between the scenes grow larger and more contrasting and the expectations eventually give way to reality. The ‘reality’ half of the slit screen expanding over the expectations, just as Tom’s imagination and hope need to give way to the real. This is an almost cruelly brilliant insight to Tom’s mind. The audience sees him suffer through what would be usually seen as a very normal, civil party, but because we are given this insight, and have knowledge of the character; his wants; his desires and worse- his expectations; we are aware of his torment in this seemingly normal scene.

500daysofsummer exvsreality

What strikes me about this scene is that mostly only subtle differences exist between the expected and the real, the characters reactions and relationships differ quite exceptionally, but also the set design, the extras; these all paint contrasting images- driving home the disappointment and sorrow of the main character. It uses the effect of cumulatively small changes between expectation and reality to deny Tom his hopes, wants and desires. The use of this effect is profound, not only does it illustrate Tom’s inner thoughts and feelings in a unique visual sense, but makes these feelings relatable, and generates a level of apathy for the character I’ve never experienced in any other film. The feelings conveyed here are harshly real; and I personally, and believe others must, relate closely to this kind of emotion and situation; building your own image of a situation, and it being crumbled, even just by the little things building up.

This scene, and the entire film is a unique take on a familiar ‘boy meets girl’ story and manages to deliver on the harsh, sorrowful and beautiful, wonderful realities of relationships, expectations and love.

The scene builds to a peak for Tom when he sees Summer is engaged, having only recently been crushed with his expectations not coming true, his hopes are hammered down again with this revelation. Leaving the party quickly, we are given another beautifully sorrowful scene. As Tom rushes out of the front door he stands in the middle of the empty night road (street). At this moment the soundtrack changes into Regina Spektor’s “Hero” and the cinematography changes to give a sketched effect of the environment. The sketched effect harkens to Tom’s passion in architecture, and is used to stunning effect here, as the world around him becomes a sketch, enveloping him and the world in grey; reflecting his sorrowful outlook. The stark contrast from the live action brings the audience straight back into the inner feelings and thoughts of Tom. The sketched environment starts to be erased, first the buildings and cars, then the road, until only the sketched silhouette of Tom remains. Then he himself is erased. Coupled with the lyrics of the song “I’m the hero of this story, don’t need to be saved” the scene coveys that Tom’s world, is collapsing and that he feels lost and profoundly alone, unable to make sense or see his part in the world, and his own story. We all believe, at least at some point, that we are the main character of our own lives and our own story, we are the hero, the protagonist. However, it may happen that we lose our place and although want to remain strong and believe we ‘don’t need to be saved’ we are actually screaming for help and to find ourselves, here we experience Tom’s turmoil and it is visually, audibly and deeply beautiful scene.

This scene, and the entire film, is a unique take on a familiar ‘boy meets girl’ story, and manages to deliver on the harsh, beautiful, wonderful realities of relationships, expectations and love. A beautiful film with excellent cinematography, an excellent soundtrack and clever scenes throughout which give a clear, real insight to the protagonist throughout and therefore definitely one to watch. Although, in the words of the narrator “You should know up front, this is not a love story.”

– SceneCritic

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