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The Story Behind 500 Days Of Summer's Ending, And Why Zooey Deschanel's Character Isn't Actually A Villain

 Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer.

Movies surrounding romance have always been popular, although audiences can end up taking the side of certain characters once things go wrong. Case in point: 500 Days of Summer, which I think is one of the best romantic comedies of all time. The 2009 movie follows the relationship of Tom and Summer, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel respectively. Although there's been much debate about the movie's ending over the years. Here's the story behind 500 Days of Summer's ending, and why Zooey Deschanel's title character isn't actually the villain.

The story of 500 Days of Summer (which is available with a Hulu subscription) is told in a non-linear fashion, with the story jumping to various points of Tom's relationship with her. He's head over heels immediately, although Deschanel's romantic lead makes it clear that she's not looking for a relationship. But the two eventually spent time together, before things go awry.

At first audiences might be on Tom's side, as the film is told through his perspective. But 500 Days of Summer is meant to be re-watched, as the movie's third act offers context over why Summer was unable to really be happy with him. Still, there are some naysayers out there who have claimed that Summer is the villain of the movie... even though she makes her intentions crystal clear from the beginning.

In the end it was Tom's own fault for trying to make Summer be with him, despite the fact that she said she didn't want to be in a committed relationship. Zooey Deschanel has defended her character for years, and explained to The Guardian why those Summer haters ultimately got the message of the film wrong. In her words:

I got that take from day one. It’s a very emotional response. People want the characters to be together, but that not happening makes the movie interesting. She is upfront that she doesn’t want a relationship, but he ignores her. The most telling scene is when she tells him: 'I’ve never told anybody that before,' and he makes it about himself. He is fixated on external details – such as her liking the Smiths – that has nothing to do with who she is as a person. To anyone who thinks Summer is the villain, I say: think a little deeper.

Perspective is a big theme to 500 Days of Summer, particularly in the movie's latter half. Tom felt like Summer was opening up to him because she was in love, and he assumed they'd be together for the long haul. But really it's his own obsession and hope that are clouding his judgement. Perhaps there is no clearer example of this than the movie's reality vs. expectations sequence, which reveals how much JGL's character was in his own head. You can re-watch that scene below:

While it's natural for romantic-comedy audiences to want to see the couple end up together in the end that's often not how the real world works. That's why 500 Day of Summer is so controversial, but also why I love re-watching it so much. Perspective isn't always reality, and one's feelings aren't facts.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has defended summer himself a number of times, also maintaining that Summer isn't the villain in the end. In an interview with Playboy (via HuffPost), he got honest about Tom's delusions in the film, offering:

He develops a mildly delusional obsession over a girl onto whom he projects all these fantasies. He thinks she’ll give his life meaning because he doesn’t care about much else going on in his life. A lot of boys and girls think their lives will have meaning if they find a partner who wants nothing else in life but them. That’s not healthy. That’s falling in love with the idea of a person, not the actual person

Talk about a mic drop moment. While JGL might appreciate the support from moviegoers, he thinks that those who take his side about 500 Days of Summer might be missing the point. Tom doesn't listen to Summer, and much of their whirlwind relationship is in his head. And that's no way to enter into a partnership.

Of course, newcomers to 500 Days of Summer might take Tom's side, so this debate will likely continue for years to come. But I love the ending of the movie, and re-play it anytime I'm in a relationship crisis. After all, expectations and reality don't always match up.

500 Days of Summer is streaming now on Hulu. Check the 2024 movie release dates to plan your next movie trip.