Wednesday, May 23, 2012

(500) Days of Summer -- like versus love

Director: Marc Webb, 2009. (PG-13) 

“I like you” is totally different to “I love you” in a budding relationship. So, when does like become love? What happens if it doesn’t? This cute and quirky but unsentimental comedy addresses these relational questions.
“This is a story of boy meets girl. The boy, Tom Hansen of Margate, New Jersey, grew up believing that he'd never truly be happy until the day he met the one. This belief stemmed from early exposure to sad British pop music and a total mis-reading of the movie 'The Graduate'. The girl, Summer Finn of Shinnecock, Michigan, did not share this belief. . . . Tom meets Summer on January 8th. He knows almost immediately she is who he has been searching for. This is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know upfront, this is not a love story.”
The opening narration makes it clear that this is not your typical romantic comedy.

In the middle there is a marvelous musical scene where Tom is walking with a skip in his step and breaks out into song, with those around him joining in. It is a clear reference to Central Park musical number from Enchanted, down to the animated bird that lands on his sleeve. Cute.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception) plays Tom, a romantic looking for the right love. He is a puppy dog looking for an owner. Zooey Deschanel (Elf) plays Summer, attractive but not gorgeous. She turns heads but wants no relationships or labels. They have a certain postmodern chemistry that is neither classic Hollywood nor current rom-com. The charm fades after a while but is enough to carry the viewer to the credits.

Tom is an architect from New Jersey who finds himself in LA working as a greeting card writer of the Hallmark-variety. When Summer joins the company as the new office assistant, it is love at first for Tom but not for her. Webb brings a non-linear approach to the movie, cutting back and forth across all 500 days of their relationship to show its ascent and descent. Framing each new scene with a day number, colored to indicate positive or negative, he enables us to place it in context.

One careful editing juxtaposes Tom reflecting on the same scene of Summer asleep and coming up with different reaction depending on the state of play: “I love her smile. I love her hair. I love her knees. I love how she licks her lips before she talks. I love her heart-shaped birthmark on her neck,” he declares wistfully to his best friend when he is in the deep in the heady days of the relationship. But when it has soured, he says, “I hate her crooked teeth. I hate her 1960s haircut. I hate her knobby knees. I hate her cockroach-shaped splotch on her neck. I hate the way she smacks her lips before she talks.” Time and attitude can certainly color our memories.

This exemplifies the clever comedy. 

Supporting the two leads is Geoffrey Arund as McKenzie, Tom’s best friend and colleague, who is full of bluster but not able to sustain a relationship himself. And there is young Chloe Grace Moretz as Tom’s middle-school aged sister Rachel, who is wise beyond her years. She counsels him when things start to fall apart, and seems to be the only one he will listen to.

Summer likes Tom. She even gets close to letting her defenses down with the six special words, “I never told anyone this before.” But going from like to love is like crossing the abyss. It takes an act of magic or faith. 

Tom wanted love. We all seek love. To love and be loved is what makes us human, well at least one aspect. Love demands action. It demands that we give of ourselves so that we might receive of the other. When the Bible talks about love it gives us the greatest picture of all: Jesus. The best known verse, John 3:16, declares: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God’s love was made manifest in the gift of Jesus Christ, a gift that cost his son his very life (Rom. 3:25). 

The Bible goes further, commanding us to “love one another” (Jn. 13:34). In context, Jesus is telling his disciples to love those like themselves to give evidence to the world of who they are. But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus goes even further: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). This is difficult.

Anyone can like another person. That takes common interests or charisma, even charm. But not everyone loves another person, despite these biblical mandates. That takes something else. It takes commitment.

There’s a classic scene in 500 Days where Summer comes back to Tom to apologize. Tom says, “Look, we don’t have to put a label on it. That’s fine. I get it. But, you know, I just … I need some consistency. . . .I need to know that you’re not gonna wake up in the morning and feel differently.” To this Summer replies, “And I can’t give you that. Nobody can.” That is so not true. She is afraid of labels and unwilling to commit.

When love enters the equation commitment becomes central. “I do” resounds in the vows and the happy couple commits to consistency. This is the very heart beat of marriage.  The apostle Paul tells the couple, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5: 25) pointing to the act of sacrificially giving to the wife. And although he talks about “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands” (Eph. 5:22), this is really in the context of mutual submission (“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” – Eph. 5:21), and the fundamental idea is commitment, love and respect.

We may be like Summer, afraid of labels and love, or we may be like Tom deeply craving love and commitment. But until we are ready to give ourselves away completely in a consistent commitment, we will not progress beyond liking one another. If this is the case, we must press on, believing in love and believing that another season will follow summer!

Copyright©2012, Martin Baggs

No comments:

Post a Comment