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500 Days of Summer: A new outlook on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope

I first saw 500 Days of Summer (2009) when I was in my adolescence and loved it but at the same time, felt that the character of Summer(played by Zooey Deschanel) was a complete “bitch” who simply loved to toy with the lovely and relatable Tom’s(played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) feelings because Tom was such a nice guy, wasn’t he? Thinking back now, I can’t help but feel abashed for the lack of common sense in my teenage self. She literally tells him in the beginning that she was not looking for anything serious and he said that he was fine with it, yet my conscience ended up making Summer the villain. However, it was surprising to know a lot of people felt the same. To this day, (500) Days of Summer gathers a lot of hate. People proclaim that Summer was a “bitch”, or the character of Tom being really wimpy and these accusations may have solid proof but, putting them aside, it’s a well written, acted and amazingly directed movie. It’s not a love story, it’s a story about love.

It should be noted that this article is not about what draws people to the film or to list out its shortcomings. Instead, this article deals with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, commonly present in indie love stories and coming-of age stories. For those who aren’t aware, the manic pixie dream girl is an enigma. Her presence is never outright felt in a scene as if her existence is void but she loves old music, has a library of books, doesn’t care about how she acts or dresses, probably dyes her hair and most importantly, has a soft spot for the male protagonist. She has no other purpose aside from being a plot device to help the shy, nerdy, introverted protagonist in his quest to be better person.

This trope varies from film to film but every rendition of it has the same ground rules.

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

(500) Days of Summer is a new outlook on this trope as it does something very unique. It makes Summer a normal person. Her character is a young woman living in a bustling city, leading her life as she is entitled to. She might be geeky, her favourite band might be The Beatles but a dream girl, she is not. She is not present in the movie to help Tom grow, to make him cooler and unapologetic, she is there to exist in her own right. Now, the problem is that Tom misunderstands her character and so do we. As we are watching the movie from Tom’s perspective we ended up believing in the idea of Summer that Tom has created in his mind and not the actual person that is, Summer. This fact is even more evident in the scene where Tom is playing with his younger half-sister Rachel and remarks how he and Summer are amazingly compatible and Rachel says

“Just cause’ some cute girl likes the same bizzaro crap you do, that doesn’t make her your soul mate, Tom.”

Yes, after she leaves Tom, he enters into a depressed state and eventually emerges as a changed individual (or so it seems). This happens due to Summer but in my opinion she is more in this movie, she is her own person and when she is not on-screen with Tom, she is off doing her own thing. This point is further demonstrated by the Expectations/Reality scene which shows how she is real and exists as a person independent of Tom’s image of her.

Tom does grow to an extent as a result of his relationship with Summer. He is able to become more productive by steering himself towards a particular goal. Although, seeing the upbeat ending scene of the movie again made me realize that Tom hadn’t learned anything. He is going to make the same mistake again, and as we are watching from his point of view, we realize that he doesn’t. He had learned nothing about relationships, nothing about women, and frankly, nothing about himself. To that extent, he meets a second pixie dream girl, Autumn, and imprints his image onto her, not realizing that such a perfect person does not exist, it’s all in his head. She too, is a real person and is not there just for him. It is saddening to know (500) Days of Summer gets a lot less credit than it deserves. It actually says something that may not have been prominent the first time watching it. So, to those people who have watched it and brushed it off as just another indie, I urge you to watch it again.

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Subhadeep Das

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