When the film finished, my missus couldn’t wait to tell me how much she hated it. “It was sad. Why did you make me watch that for?”
That was the second time I watched Marc Webb’s film in a 24 hour period. I was so excited about what I had just experienced that I forced the film on my uber-romantic woman. I felt, and I still feel, that 500 Days of Summer is special. Not since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind have I seen a film that portrays heartbreak in a way that I can relate to. 500 Days doesn’t tell the story of the sanitised, Hollywood heartbreak where there is a silver lining – it tells the tale of a woman who rips a man’s heart out and gangster leans her way out of his life. This is that real life, kick you in the nuts heartbreak – the sort of heartbreak that stays with you and will probably linger in your soul until your last breathe escapes you.
500 Days tells two stories – one about the relationship of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tom and Zooey Deschanel’s Summer – and the second one about how Tom handles their break up.
I’ll be honest, this dynamic, the man in pieces over a relationship falling apart interested me the most because you rarely see it in mainstream cinema. There is nothing stereotypically masculine about Tom, he’s a mess from the start and my every being wanted to mock him, I wanted to tell him to man up. I wanted to recite a number of offensive Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre lyrics (“You can’t make a hoe a housewife” seemed appropriate) but the problem is I saw a lot of real world examples in his character. I’ve had to nurse my best friend out of a heartbreak and that wasn’t pretty – we laugh about it now but at that time it was bleak. Shit, I’ve had to recover from such a situation myself.
You come out of those situations hardened and unwilling to open up and admit that you're weak and fallible You see that in Tom near the end of the film. This fucked me up because it not only reminded me of how dangerous women are (you’re all lethal ladies) but it also reminded me of how vulnerable men can be – it reminded me of a time when I was at my weakest.
Importantly, there is a strong
willed, beautiful and intelligent woman at the heart of this film. Annoyingly, Deschanel’s Summer does nothing wrong in this movie. I spent the majority of my first viewing trying to find the hoe in Summer but there was none to be found. Summer tells Tom exactly what she wants from a relationship and Tom ignores her.
The park bench scene near the end of the film is one of the most brutal things I have ever seen on screen in my life - as violent and as merciless as a gory thriller. After getting his life back in order, Tom sees the person that bombed it pieces in the first place and when he tells her that she was right not to believe in true love, what does Summer say? To paraphrase: “When I first saw my husband I knew (he was the one) what I wasn’t sure of with you”. Brutal. It hurt me deep.
So the question I kept asking after watching 500 Days was: do I consider Tom to be a man? Not biologically speaking, of course, but do I consider him to be representative of how a man should behave in such a situation? This may sound like a stupid, offensive and un-PC question, but you have to remember I am a product of a Christian African background with a dollop of Dr Dre’s Hip-Hop splashing somewhere in the melting pot.
I think Tom is a man. We expect women to carry the majority of the emotional baggage in depictions of relationship turmoil but what this film has reminded me is that times have changed. I could say that this film is important for how it presents women, but I think it is equally as important for how it portrays men. It is stunning in the way it shows our kind as completely weak and emotionally crippled beings - it's actually refreshing to see. Tom is what he is – a shattered man – and that’s ok.