Monday, August 23, 2010

Character Study: Summer Finn

It's safe to say that (500) Days of Summer is one of my all-time, favorite movies. It doesn't hurt that my all-time, favorite actress is the titular character either. There is no denying that I am fully obsessed with Zooey Deschanel, so this may explain the subject of this particular post.

Don't worry, though, this won't be just me crooning about how great she is or how much I'm in love with her. I solemnly swear I will do my absolute best to maintain objectivity in what is going to be an in-depth study of a character I find intriguing and very well-constructed.

First, I should probably do a bit of explaining. If you don't know, (500) Days of Summer is a romantic-drama-comedy film. The movie is all about a guy named Tom who falls in love with a girl named Summer. He believes in love; she doesn't. It sounds like your average rom-com, but it truly stands out. The movie has so many layers (like a relationship) and what I'm trying to do is simply peel away at one of them.

We, the audience, see their relationship unfold purely from Tom's perspective. Because of this we empathize with him and his emotions throughout his trials and travails are the same as ours. It's brilliantly done and it's probably why the movie did so well in theaters. Guys could watch the movie and say, "Hey, that happened to me too!"

The other side of the relationship, however, is closed to us. We never see what Summer feels or hear what she thinks. In other words, the story presented to us is sort of lopsided. At first glance, we see how Summer treats Tom and we think, "She's a bitch." Understandably, that is the point of (500) Days of Summer. But just like how real people aren't one-sided cardboard cutouts, I don't think we can summarize Summer so simply (Yes, I alliterated).

We're given only a little bit of insight into Summer's character throughout the film. We know that she does not believe in love. At the beginning of the movie, the narrator tells us: "Since the disintegration of her parent's marriage, she'd only loved two things. The first was her long brown hair. The second was how easily she could cut it off... And feel nothing." This speaks volumes about her personality. Starting at a young age, she saw what happened to two people who "loved" each other. There was lots of pain, conflict, and bad blood between people.

Later on, at the karaoke bar with Tom and Mckenzie, Summer says outright that she doesn't want a boyfriend, telling them that she isn't comfortable being anyone's anything. Her beliefs are summed up in her statement: "Relationships are messy and feelings get hurt. Who needs all that?" However, despite her proclamations, she betrays herself when she admits to liking Tom at the end of the karaoke night. There is attraction between the two.

But when they mess around in IKEA, she reluctantly tells Tom that she isn't looking for a serious relationship. It's obvious that she wants to avoid getting hurt or hurting him. The fact that she does end up hurting him is beside the point. However, from this exchange, it can be assumed that Summer has been in messy relationships and she doesn't want it to happen again.

The momentum continues to build and the two do become a couple, sort of. But after the fight with the Douche (Seriously, in the shooting script, the guy is named Douche) and the subsequent argument between Summer and Tom, we're given a bit more insight. Summer is confused in this scene, trying to tell Tom that they are just friends. Tom is furious at this, pointing out to her that "friends" don't kiss in the copy room or have shower sex. Tom goes home, but he does not sleep well and we see him rustle around in bed, trying to decide if he should call Summer or not. But we also see Summer, lying awake in bed, staring at her phone, willing for him to call.

You can't watch this scene and just attribute her actions to her being a bitch. She is waiting for his call, wondering if he will call, affirming that she does care for him. She cares for him enough that she walks to his apartment in the rain to apologize. And in this exchange, we get to see more of Summer's thought process. Tom tells her that he just wants consistency, the knowledge that she won't wake up one day and feel differently.

Her answer: "I can't promise you that. Nobody can."

What seems to nail the cover to her coffin of "bitch" status, however, is the fact that after their break-up, when they see each other again at Millie's wedding, she doesn't tell Tom that there is another man in her life. She seems to be leading him on through the course of the night, making him feel like there is hope for them again, when she is simply digging the ditch deeper. But how much of this is her "leading" him on and how much of it is Tom just deluding himself? He obviously wants to be with her again, and since the film is from his perspective, everything Summer does during the wedding could be misconstrued as "flirting."

What I believe is key to understanding Summer is when Tom goes back to the day of the break-up in his head. He and Summer went to see The Graduate, which is alluded to at the beginning of the film as one of the elements that shaped Tom's romantic beliefs. During the movie, Summer starts crying and we see the ending of the movie when Benjamin Braddock elopes with Elaine and they flee the scene of the wedding on a bus. The emotions on Dustin Hoffman's and Katharine Ross' faces (Benjamin and Elaine, respectively) are important, both wearing neutral, enigmatic expressions. Summer comes out of the theater in tears and Tom is unsure why.

This is where we have to take a leap of faith and start speculating about Summer. I think that she is crying because after watching the movie that led Tom to believe in true love, she came to the realization that what they have is not what Tom thinks. She likes him, but she doesn't love him. And this realization is emotional for her, because she knows she will hurt Tom.

So, yes, on the surface Summer's actions make her out to be a bitch. But I like to think that there is reason behind her actions other than malice and contempt for Tom. She's a person (not a robot, Tom) and people have depth.

Of course, she's also a movie character and not actually a real person. Marc Webb stated that she's a stock character and that, "Summer is an immature view of a woman. She's Tom's view of a woman. He doesn't see her complexity and the consequence for him is heartbreak. In Tom's eyes, Summer is perfection, but perfection has no depth. Summer's not a girl, she's a phase."

A lot of this is speculation on my part. I don't really know what Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber intended with Summer. Neustadter admitted that the story is based on a real romance (Whoever you are, Jenny Beckman). But this is my interpretation of the character and I think that Summer is one of the most unforgettable characters in film, representing the unattainable, complex, beautiful heartbreaker and this study is my homage to her.

17 comments:

  1. I'd comment but I know there's no way to debate her logically with you

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  2. what did tom do wrong? where did he go wrong? what if he was been a player?

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  3. you got really close bro, but your love for Zooey was unavoidable. You yourself state Summer was moving away from her own stand of not feeling or falling for Tom which was evident, yet she pulled the plug at the last moment, if her heart was at the best interest of Tom, could she not sacrifice that?
    What I believe Summer did to poor Tom, that Tom was never a well settled man until his break-up. He was an architect who's working in a greeting cards company.Summer simply ditched him for a well established bloke we partially get to see on the roof. Its mentioned within the movie Summer Finn is based on Jenny Beckman.
    Maybe what we see of Summer in the movie is not total bitch, but I'm sure Jenny Beckman is truely one & that is said on the starting.

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  4. She really fucked him over. There's no other way of looking at this.

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    1. she said multiple times that she didn't want a relationship, how did she fuck him over huh?

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  5. I think your analysis of Summer's charicter is absolutly spot on. I can see how it is easy to walk away from this film thinking "what a bitch" but she warned him from the begining that she did not realy believe in love and that she did not want anything serious, he was clearly not litening to her if he believed that he could change that. It would of been hard for her when she started to get feelings for him because she would have believed right from that point that at some point those feelings would fade. She knew that when they did fade he would be hurt and that in turn would hurt her, and so her warnings were to try and protect both of them from that.

    Tom was not mature enugh for a real relationship because of his idears about how his 'one true love' would save and compleat him, to have a real relationship you must already know yourself and be whole, 'love' should not be used to try and help a person find themself. Summer was not a person but a phase, he loved the idear of her but not so much the real person.I dont think he evan realy knew the real her because he couldnt see past the idealistic image of her he had created in hhis mind. I think that the fact that the next possible Love is called Autum (although some think this it ment to give hope because Autum comes after summer) Shows that Really he has not learnt his leason when it comes to his idears on love, this woman is simply another phase, another idealistic love come to save him and make him whole.

    I think that the reason Summer crys at the end of the graduate is that the film reafirms her beliefe that that love doesnt exist because of the way the two characters stop looking so happy so quickly, they are already having second thoughts so soon. Tom obviously misses this or interprits this ending differently, he clearly sees the idear in the film as true lovers will never let anything come between them. I think summer imagens it is her and Tom on the back of the bus instead of Ben and Elaine and it makes her realise that although he is going to so much effort to have her now, it will soon fade for both of them. and in a failed atempt to cause them both less pain she ends the relationship before it can reach that point.

    I absolutly love the character of Summer, not because of the actress (although she does a great job) but because I feel I can relate to her, I hold simaler views on love and marriage, and i feel she gets a really hard rap from people who dont understand how someone can not believe in love. People please rember that this film is totaly from Toms point of view, because of that you can't take everything that happens as the absolute truth because it is only how he sees and interprits things. I dont think that Summer is a bitch at all, I think she is simply a very comfused girl looking to be proved wrong and tom was simply not the one who could do that for her.

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  6. I can empathise entirely with both of the characters and I think people are being shallow if they just call her 'a bitch which screwed him over.'

    After always being a cynic about love, after having such a wonderful time with him, I think Summer really began to hope and wish that Tom was the one for her, but a series of disheartening events and her epiphany during the film, I believe she realised that she had to face up to the sad reality that Tom was not the one, and that she couldn't continue sharing a life with him when her heart was no longer in it.

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  7. Love this. I agree completely, but I also want to argue this: is our understanding of Summer really all that important? I truly love her character, and would love to know more about miss Summer Finn, but isn't the point of the film that all of this is told through Tom's point of view? Through his memories? There's a deleted scene on the DVD where Alison tells Tom "Jesus, did she break your heart? Or did you?" (or something along those lines.) I love this scene, because I think it would have shattered the belief by some that Summer is a bitch. In fact, Tom set himself up for heartbreak. We don't see that, though, because the movie is told from his memory. And he is an unreliable narrator.

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  8. So I'm watching this movie again because it's on, a replay. I love this movie because it's true of relationships regardless to gender.

    Here are my thoughts.

    Summer is a bitch but mainly she's just like Tom immature as hell and floating through life. Because neither know where they're going they're both using each other for a time. Thing is Tom doesn't know that. He's committed to a life of immaturity and lack of commitment without even knowing it. Summer has committed in full consciousness because she doesn't trust love or adulthood because her parents broke up.

    What happens is that Summer snaps out of it first. They go see that movie "The Graduate" and both have the same reaction but with different results. That movie was the first time Summer ever wanted to be in love for real. She no longer wanted passing fancy which is what Tom was and what they really were to each other. After seeing that movie something snapped inside her and she decided to trust love and grow up.

    She never really liked Tom she was just using him and that does make her a bitch regardless to whether or not she warned him. It's not a good thing to use people, doing so makes you not very nice.

    But at the end of the day she was well within her right not to like him, move on and find someone she really wanted to be with.

    So for Tom, his biggest crime was that he believed that love was infatuation. Infatuation is a euphoria that can exist without borders. He was basically chasing a feeling. Honestly, he had no concept of what a real relationship should be so had no idea what to even ask for. He didn't even really know if he actually liked Summer. He was just infatuated.

    For him the graduate was about perfection but no relationship is ever perfect.

    The heartbreak helped him grow up and learn how to go after things he really wanted. He needed to get off his ass and go after his life. He meets Autumn and decides to pursue her not the other way around. Even though I can tell you that Autumn will lead to Winter which will lead to Spring and back to Summer (not the real one but another chick who will be like the Summer he lost).

    By the time Summer comes back around he'll know to chuck her the deuces, lol. Or at least be able to handle how fleeting it can all be until he meets the one who can handle all season.

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    1. Thanks Sarah. Deep thoughts. Just broke up with summer....

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  9. Summer isn't a bitch. Honestly, the film was sexist. She stated how she felt, and that she didn't want anything. But the attitude of casualty and no commitment and no messy feelings is congratulated in men, but seen as being a "bitch" in women? Grow up. She has feelings and emotions too, also. They just weren't shown. She didn't even lead him on. He was delusional.

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  10. Summer isn't a bitch. Honestly, the film was sexist. She stated how she felt, and that she didn't want anything. But the attitude of casualty and no commitment and no messy feelings is congratulated in men, but seen as being a "bitch" in women? Grow up. She has feelings and emotions too, also. They just weren't shown. She didn't even lead him on. He was delusional.

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  11. I think Summer is not terrible but I think, she is not fully in touch with Tom and his feelings sometimes. She is immature too. I understand that she was just looking for a good time and that they were just friends but she should have reaffirmed that forcefully and more constantly when Tom was increasingly imagining a love relationship and thinking her to be his soulmate. Her fault was that she dragged it out a bit and contributing partly to his pain whereas she could have broken it off, quick and sharp instead of cutting the relationship with a pair of blunt scissors. Tom has his problems and delusions and illusions and his idealized romance but he was more vulnurable emotionally and in that way, Summer could have dealt with the situation better. She seems to have a dense wall around her. The part that really frustrated me about her character was when she married Mr. Hotshot and later met Tom in a park, she tried to hold his hand and for heartbroken Tom that must have broken him. She is so out of touch with reality. She is too busy seeing others in her own light and with her own attitude( as if everyone has that attitude towards love and breakups) that she fails to understand how Tom viewed her and their relationship. She just didn't get it or even if she did, failed to act in a way that would have caused lesser pain. It is like she doesn't understand or see the damage she has caused and for that, she seems dense and even selfish. But she probably has a troubled past and I think although she claimed not to believe in love I think it was more like she hadn't found one kind she could want and I think her husband had some kind of confidence and assertiveness ( swooping in with perfect timing to act exactly what he wanted) which I think Tom lacks. Tom didn't give her the version of a relationship that would have made her decide I want to be with him.
    But towards the end, when she is trying to hold hands with Tom it makes me wonder if she is attempting to make a move on him or relive something ( which might mean her marital relationship might not be going well).
    The thing is Summer seems like someone who can't pinpoint what she wants and she can't label it while she seems to know what she doesn't want ( but which can of course change given the right guy) while Tom is living in a fantasy believing that when he feels one way the other person like in a movie would feel the same and they'd be happy in a perfect union. Both have a lot of self-reflection and growing up to do in that respect. I don't know about Summer's after story but the good thing is that Tom is already learning ( you know, towards the end when the narrator says that he realizes that no such thing as perfect relationship and destiny.....).

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  12. Watching the film made me wonder if Summer Finn is an INFJ. Just from my own understanding of my type she shares similar traits. Her love of music,seeming aloof,organized, closed off and having her own world. The movie made a point that Summer rarely opened up to people. Tom recognizes this about her as-well with "i've never told anyone before" and seeing her room for the first time. Black and white thinking is associated with this personality and would explain how easy she can let things & people go.I think she did care for Tom & went looking for him to let him know that love does exist. I believe she was a romantic but most of all wanted to be friends with Tom. She might have used intimacy to form a deeper bond with Tom. Since not doing so would have just kept Tom away from getting to know her. She obviously wants someone to know her true self but believed no one ever would.

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  13. Summer was too smart for him. She was deep while Tom was a puddle deluded

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  14. I think she waited for him at the park to see if she could weasel her way back into his life. Rewatch the scene. She obviously wasn't there to apologize. She's afraid to let Tom ever hurt her or have the upper hand. She's a bitch. My second theory is that perhaps that was another dream sequence that Tom had in his head with her for his form of closure.

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    1. And summer became Mrs. Robinson instead of Elaine. I've yet to read the books referenced in the film, but the boy with the Arab strap shows that summer is wild and she keeps tom's erection with her games and excitement.

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