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Upon first waltzing into the theater with expectations of an adorable film to soothe my unexplainable crush on Zooey Deschanel, I realized that I had just seen a film that was not a love story. And yet, everyone I came across insisted that (500) Days of Summer was, in fact, a love story. These few people told me that the reason why the movie sucked was because it was a love story and it told the viewer that people were compatible solely on music taste. Why would they think that the movie was a love story when in the first ten minutes, it informs you that it isn't a love story?

If I were to say that this film was really about absurdism and the difference between order and chaos in a city, you would probably think that I am bullshitting you. But I am an English major and that is what I do. That's what a professor told me I had to say to everyone from now on. I bullshit. And here I am, bullshitting you, telling you that a film that isn't a love story is actually a film about a man and his encounter with an agent of chaos. Set to the tune of The Smiths and Hall & Oates!

(500) Days of Summer is about a man, Tom, who is completely in love with a woman, Summer. After reading some of Maslov's theory on self-actualization and tossing the book far away in heated annoyance, I would say that he's not a fully realized human being. There are traces; Tom's an architect who couldn't find a job, so he works as a greeting card writer. And instead of continuing that dream, he becomes comfortable in a job that is wholly uncomfortable to him. When I first saw this movie, it was summer and I was taking a course on German Literature in Translation, but with the grad student I had teaching that course, I quickly renamed it Freud Applied to Literature. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing. The reading material I had from that course was perhaps the best material I received.

We were reading Rosmerholm by Henrik Ibsen, in which Johannes Rosmer and Rebecca West are searching for ennoblement despite their pasts. Rosmer states, "For it is happiness that ennobles, Rebecca." But Rebecca insists, "sorrow as well? A great sorrow?" If one can overcome sorrow, then one is ennobled. My mother has a saying, "Sometimes the worst thing in life that can happen to you is the best thing." Though losing Summer in the end seems like a great tragedy to Tom, the sorrow that he is able to overcome actually ennobles him. He's able to actualize his dream without Summer. The worst possible outcome was transformed into the best because of his actions.

Summer is the embodiment of an Aphrodite archetype. I think, at times, the actress is usually confused for the character, but in this film, it works. The thing about Zooey Deschanel is that . . . she's not drop-dead beautiful, she's a little creepy-looking. She's not a very graceful creature (I've seen the music videos for She & Him, where she dances with two left feet). And yet, there's something incredibly attractive about her. In the film, this seems to be true of Summer Finn's character as well. It's not necessarily about her looks or her demeanor, but it's an aura that surrounds her which makes her so desirable. Jean Shinoda Bolen states that the Aphrodite archetype comes in two forms. The first is the bombshell, akin to Marilyn Monroe. The others are, "ordinary-looking women with Aphrodite qualities attract others with the magnetic warmth of their personalities and their natural, unselfconscious sensuality." These women are what Humbert would classify as nymphets in Lolita, though the thought that girls would grow out of this stage upon aging is not entirely true. Some women just appear to have this unselfconscious aura surrounding them and that is immensely appealing. So much so that when Tom discovers that Summer adores The Smiths as well, he is beside himself.

We're never allowed to see why Summer is so attractive, though. We're never allowed to see what Summer thought of their relationship, why it didn't work out; these are important facets in a story that are intentionally left out. And this is because Tom doesn't see Summer as a human being. He places her so high on a pedestal that she can never be a human being in their relationship. Tom sees Summer as his dream woman. Daniel Levinson, writing about the "seasons" of a man's life, said that some women act as a "dream-carrier" for men. This woman's, "special quality lies in her connection to the young man's Dream. She helps animate the part of the self that contains the Dream. She facilitates his entry into the adult world and his pursuit of the Dream." For Tom, if Summer loved him, if they stayed together, he believed that she would actualize his dream. However, relying on Summer would have been more of a crutch than anything else. Though she prompts him to continue in his dream of becoming an architect, she can't take his hand and guide him to it. Tom has to do it on his own and he has to realize that he has to do it. No one else will actualize this dream for him other than Tom himself.

Tom and Summer can't stay together though because he demands definitions out of her. Early in the film, Summer questions the definition of love, to which Tom defends his stand-point on fate and soul mates. Summer is a being of chaos. She avoids being labeled as Tom's "girlfriend" and though she is married by the end, she also eludes being labeled as a "wife." Tom is a servant of order. As an architect, he's interested in the structure of a city; he sees the world in lines and thinks of ways in which buildings could help him enjoy his environment more. In the city, you can always count on two ruling aspects: Apollonian order and Dionysian chaos. These two must exist in a city, for if one was absent, a city wouldn't thrive. Chaos exists because if we all lived in order, we'd be pathetic, boring sobs. And if order didn't exist, we'd all be out in the streets, probably with a bottle of vodka. If you think back to the film, Summer is always seen in parties. Rarely is she shown seriously working; while making copies, she impulsively makes out with Tom. She does what she wants to, she admits. She's chaotic and very much like Aphrodite, she cares little for definitions and labels. And yet, Tom wants her to fit in perfectly with his definition of a relationship.

I reflect back on an album I received this Christmas. It was called "Entanglements," from a band called Parenthetical Girls. The title is referencing the chemical idea of entanglements, that once particles meet, they always carry a whiff of the other, no matter where they go. The same is true of Tom and Summer. Though they're not in love anymore, they will always carry a memory of the other and this memory is actually beneficial. Tom walks away from the relationship with a little chaos in him while Summer walks away with order. She marries in the end, Tom quits his job in a flurry of emotion. When Tom meets Autumn, it's not so much a corny joke as it is heralding a new season in his life.

What Tom learns in the end is that there is no such thing as fate or soul mates. Tom learns that there is no meaning in the universe, he has to make his meanings or else he falls into a sepulchral state. I read this as being more absurdist than existential because Tom is the embodiment of order here; it's in his nature to find meaning in life even when the universe surrounding him seems meaningless. Thus, he embodies Albert Camus' theory on the human condition. It's in his nature to constantly find meaning; you know, the second that woman tells him her name is Autumn that he finds meaning where there truly is meaninglessness.

The universe is meaningless, (500) Days of Summer said to me. Relationships are what matters, though. Not necessarily that one falls in love, but that one learns from another, picks up good traits from another.

Relationships are what color our universes, whether they be chaotic or orderly.


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February 2013

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