500 Days of Summer is one of my favorite movies, so I was happy to find an existentialist perspective in it. In Mr. Heidkamp’s lecture, he asked us to forsake all of the constructs of life, and just to embrace the absurdities of life. And I think 500 Days of Summer addresses this in a few different ways.
At the beginning of the movie, Tom is immediately established as a hopeless romantic. Working at a Hallmark-esque company, he is praised as one of their best employees. He dreams of the day that he will meet his perfect soulmate. One day, Summer gets hired at the company, and he immediately identifies her as his soulmate. By doing this, he falls into one of the binding constructs of society: love.
Summer makes clear from the beginning that she thinks true love is bs, and is looking for nothing more than something casual (sounds a bit like Meursault). Many see Summer as a stuck up jerk. But many viewers fail to realize that Tom isn’t in love with Summer, he’s in love with the idea of being in love. With the construct of love. As they get closer and closer, and Summer began sharing her more intimate secrets with him He saw these intimate moments more as accomplishments and milestones in what he thought true love was, rather than actually becoming more and more fond of Summer. He starts out the movie with his own idea of what love is based on movies, TV shows etcetera, showing how the “love as a social construct” plays into the movie and to its commentary on existentialism as a whole.
Where 500 Days of Summer gets the most existential is near the end where–spoiler alert– Summer breaks Tom’s heart. Tom becomes very depressed; not eating, drinking excessively, and underperforming at his job. Finally, he snaps and quits his job, which seems to him to be too ironic for someone falling out of love, to become what he had always dreamed to be: an architect. He spends time developing his portfolio and improving himself. When he goes to the interview, he is waiting with another woman named Autumn. Unlike when he asked Summer out, he does not build himself up, he does not declare Autumn his soulmate. He just spontaneously asks her out.
The essence of the message of existentialism in the movie is in how Tom has broken out of what he thought of love to be, the constructs that society built for him. That one person is meant for another. That there are destinies. Once he breaks out of this construct, he is able to embrace the absurdities of life, such as spontaneously changing careers, or spontaneously asking Autumn out. Through his relationship with Summer, Tom was forced to change his perspective on what society told him what love meant. By embracing absurdities rather than confining himself to constructs, such as love, Tom was set free.