I adored (500) Days of Summer as much as every other wannabe hipster back in the summer of ‘09, but I always seemed to be on a totally different page to everyone else. From the moment I emerged from the cinema, and heard my friends simultaneously exclaim that “Summer was kind of a bitch”, I felt like I had just watched an entirely different film.
The generally accepted interpretation of the film is this: Summer is a heartless bitch, and the movie is about good-guy Tom struggling to keep his romantic faith intact. Now and then I stumble across a piece of writing sticking up for Summer, but it’s always expressed as this minority opinion. So in the years since I’d last watched the movie, I’ve just been accepting that I fall into that minority; that some dark part of me must relate with Summer, which is why I like her despite her being totally awful.
But then I watched it again. And all of a sudden, I was back outside that cinema six years ago, wondering if I just watched an entirely different film to everyone else. Because in the movie I watched, it was pretty obvious that Summer wasn’t a bitch. Like, not just that I have terrible taste in humans and am rooting for the mean girl. That she is legitimately not a bitch. In fact, is it not Tom who’s the villain here?
Exhibit #1: “It’s Amanda Heller all over again.”
In almost the first line of the movie, we are warned that Tom does this a lot. This kind of disastrous relationship is obviously a bit of a recurring trend with him.
Exhibit #2: He straight-up lies about Summer
The story he tells his sister bears zero relationship to what actually happened. “Things were going so well,” he laments, over a montage of romantic moments, before Summer’s face suddenly cuts in and breaks his heart with: “I think we should stop seeing each other.” Which would be a very sad story, if it weren’t for the fact the film goes on to put that entire montage in context, and show us that in every single clip, Summer was really unhappy—and Tom wasn’t paying any attention.
Exhibit #3: He wants her to be the Manic Pixie Dream Girl
Within the first 15 minutes of the film, Summer has become Tom’s muse to help him follow his architecture dream. Yeah, I see what you’re trying to make her into, Tom. Summer is eccentric and beautiful and ethereal; she has all the qualities of the stereotypical Manic Pixie Dream Girl. (You know, the gorgeous, idealistic girl whose role in the film is purely to inspire the man to live his best life.) But assuming that a beautiful, interesting woman exists purely to help you achieve your dreams shows a complete failure to see her as a human. So take that, Tom, you sociopath.
Exhibit #4: He never listens to his sister
Sisters always know best, Tom. Particularly Tom’s sister, Rachel, who spouts words of wisdom at every opportunity. (Like, “just because some cute girl likes the same bizarro crap you do doesn’t make her your soul mate.” That’s golden.) But Tom wouldn’t know, because he never listens.
Exhibit #5: He slut-shames Summer
When Summer says her weekend was “goood”, he assumes she spent it having sex with some guy she met at the gym. Then he calls her a skank. Seriously, I rewound three times because I couldn’t believe my ears at that point, but he genuinely calls her a skank. And we’re supposed to like this guy?
Exhibit #6: He tries to change her
Summer tells him repeatedly, right from the start, that she doesn’t believe in love and doesn’t want a serious relationship. And she’s respectful about it, too, checking with him several times if he’s really OK with it. Because she understands that people have different needs from relationships, and she doesn’t want to presume that he’s on the same page. And look, I get that he can’t help falling in love with her anyway, and I actually relate way more to him than Summer in this scenario—but he could have told her he was uncomfortable with the situation. He could even have said that he wanted more but was willing to try it her way. He could have told the truth. Instead, he lies to her and says he’s on board, and then sets out with a secret agenda to change her. That was never going to work, Tom, and it’s pretty frickin’ manipulative if we’re being honest.
Exhibit #7: He’s not interested in her
Tom likes the idea of Summer, but he’s not actually interested in her as a person. Like when she says “Octopus’s Garden” is her favourite Beatles song, he just tells her she’s wrong and moves on. Whereas when Tom takes Summer to his favourite spot in the city, she asks him a ton of questions about it—because she actually wants to get to know him.
Exhibit #8: He tells women how to dress
His whole little speech in the bar about what women should and shouldn’t wear is really uncool, actually.
After watching all of that, it’s hard to see Tom as anything other than the villain of this film—but I will grant him two concessions. Just to be fair.
Concession #1: Summer should have told him about her boyfriend
At Millie’s wedding, Summer was already in a serious relationship with a new guy, and she should have told Tom. She could still have danced with him; she could still have laughed with him; she could still have invited him to her party—but she should have told him about her boyfriend. That wasn’t super-considerate of her.
Concession #2: That party scene is heartbreaking
I really want to say “Don’t go to a party with those kinds of expectations, Tom” but a) this scene is the coolest, and b) I do this for every party I go to. It’s almost impossible not to dream up your perfect evening, and it’s pretty heartbreaking watching him get his hopes crushed.
So yeah, Tom’s not a villain for falling in love with Summer. Tom is a villain for doing all the legitimately terrible stuff I just outlined. And at the end of the movie, when he meets Autumn and then gives the camera that creepy, serial-killer stare—he’s going to do it all again.
What do you think—is Tom a good guy? Or is he a villain in disguise? Let me know on Twitter!