Thursday, December 31, 2009

Destiny is a Fickle Bitch -- Reflections on (500) Days of Summer

One of the best pieces of dialogue in the history of the show "LOST" comes from the mouth of Benjamin Linus, the show's resident liar and antagonist. "Destiny is a fickle bitch."

Out of the mouths of liars...

(500) Days of Summer deals in destiny, or at least our perspectives on destiny. As the narrator says in the introduction of the movie, this is not a love story. It is the story of recognizing how quick we are to misinterpret destiny. We learn this early in the film when it's revealed that Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) came to believe that there was a soulmate after misinterpreting the ending of The Graduate when he was a kid. For those of you who haven't seen The Graduate (a masterpiece), it ends with the two main characters sitting on a bus, taking turns looking at each other and out the window as if uncertain of whether they made the right decision by being together. For a kid, though, it would be easy to see this as a happy ending. Those sideways glances? Can a kid recognize those? Understand them?

It's these misunderstandings, great and small, that give (500) Days of Summer its strength, and make it one of my favorite movies of the year.

Here's a brief recap.

Tom writes greeting cards. Summer is the assistant to Tom's boss. They meet when she joins the company. He is immediately taken by her, but is afraid to express his emotions (oh, the irony). Eventually they connect, enjoy good times together, and break up. Tom is heartbroken and can't understand why this is happening. He loves her, but she can't commit. She wants to "keep it casual," but sleeps with him, holds his hand, and confesses the secret things of her heart to him. It's complicated, and frustrating, and heavenly!

It may seem like I gave away the movie here, but I really didn't. The movie reveals all of this in about the first five minutes. It uses the number of days of their relationship as a framing device for the story, going back and forth to reveal what happened to them on day 290, for example, or day 27. We see what happens of day 290 before we see what happens on day 2. It's not as confusing as it sounds.

Are we destined for someone special? Is it possible we have a "soulmate?" I really really want to believe we do, because it makes life somehow feel more purposeful and spiritual. There's a part of me that doesn't believe it. Too much empirical evidence, and not enough faith. But that's experience talking, right. Divorce will destroy the soul of a man. You spend 13 years invested in loving a "soulmate" and then one day it's gone? How do you bounce back from that? Thank God Tom only had to deal with 500 days; I've had to deal with nearly 4800.

These are the things the movie made me think about after it was done. It will probably make you think about other things. But it is a special film. Zooey Deschanel shines as Summer, as well she should. Every time she's on screen, everything lights up. I fell in love with her, too, and had my heart broken by her also. Good films can make you feel this way.

But the point of it all is "destiny," which is a fickle bitch. Once we think we know what it is, it changes course on us. Who knows? Maybe there is a soulmate out there for each of us. Maybe you found yours. Maybe I haven't found mine. Or maybe we have to make our own destiny.

Fuck Ben Linus and "LOST!" The motto for this film isn't "destiny is a fickle bitch." I think J. Giles said it best.

"Love stinks."

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