The course of young love is ever treacherous.  There are break ups and make ups, and all too often when young people say they are in love, in actuality what they really are is ‘in heat’, and its not the same thing.  But this award winning movie is the rarity in the genre of ‘young love’ movies— it is not just another chick flick, not just another sweet, tender or sad exploration of human attraction. No, actually it is a philosophical exploration of whether there is such a thing as ‘meant to be’,  whether there is such a thing as ‘I was destined for you’, whether there is such a thing as kismet (and not merely met and kissed) when it comes to love.

Is there really, truly, just one person out there that is your soulmate?   Well this movie explores those themes in a creative and interesting way.   I would call this movie the sleeper at the end of the summer.  It is well done, well reviewed, creative, and way smarter than many movies of this ilk.  Shoot, its PG 13 and only an hour and thirty five minutes as well. It makes its point and wraps things up with a nice bow, and politely exits stage right.   There is much to like here in a summer of mostly horrible or just bad movies.

Let’s talk big picture first.  Summer, in this movie is not really a season, it’s the female protagonist in this movie, ably played by Zooey Deschannel.  She is truly remarkable in this film, and the camera can’t keep its eye off of her.   But Summer unlike the male protagonist in this movie Tom (played by  Joseph Gordon-Levitt) does not believe in destiny when it comes to love. She doesn’t believe in ‘meant to be’, maybe in part because of her parent’s divorce. And so she is cautious, tentative, when Tom makes his move, but not completely so.  Indeed, some kind of awkward romance does seem to be happening, but Summer keeps holding some things back.  She is not entirely sure about Tom.  But then by the end of the movie she has met ‘Mr. Right’, gotten married, and in a complete 180 believes she was meant to meet this person and marry him. Go figure.  As for Tom, color him disillusioned after the break up with Summer, at least until….. ,well I won’t spoil the ending.

The way this movie is made gives your brain a stretch as it jumps back and forth amidst the 500 days in which Tom has some sort of relationship with Summer.  Sometimes we see events well forward in the development of the relationship, sometimes days closer to its beginning.   Tom and Summer meet because they have both been hired by the New Hampshire Greeting Card Company.  Their job– create sellable slogans and designs of greeting cards for all occasions.  But wait,  for Tom at least this amounts to ‘settling’,  settling for second best as he had once trained to be an architect.  Would he settle for second best in his dating relationships as well?   Inquiring minds want to know.  And what does true love look like anyway?  How do you know when you have it?

I must come clean at this point and say, I am no fatalist or Calvinist. I don’t believe I was destined from before the foundation of the world to marry some one particular other person.  Indeed, I would say the nature of true and real love precludes such a notion. Real love is freely given and freely received, whether it is divine or much more mundane love. It can’t be forced, manipulated, coerced, predetermined or otherwise destined.  

What I do believe is in the providence of God and in God’s leading.   I do believe God can lead you into right possibilities, but what you do with them is another matter.    Love is about wooing and winning, about allowing yourself to be led and persuaded.  Its not about one person making another an offer they inherently can’t refuse.  And if it was like that, if it was like something as inevitable as gravity, it wouldn’t be true love.  It might be a strong attraction like gravity, but it wouldn’t be love.  Love is not like a magnet and iron filings, its a personal interchange between two personal beings in which both are treated as persons of sacred worth due respect, both are treated as free agents, both are treated as God’s special creatures. And yes, both are treated as sexual persons, not sex objects. The objectifying of the other person is a sin, as it reduces the other person to a sum of their body parts. It also leads persons in a desperate quest for ‘enhancements’.  The coup de grace for me recently was hearing a father rationalize that the best high school graduation gift he could give his daughter was breast implants!  Sure, if the goal is helping her attract all the wrong sort of guys. On this theory all a wonderful car really needs to better appeal is bigger headlights. 

This movie inspires many such reflections, and one of the special parts in this movie is Tom’s relationship with his baby sister, who gives him an ear full of good advice… if only he would listen.  My favorite scene in this movie is the split screen depicting of when Tom goes to a party at Summer’s place after they have ‘broken up’.  On the left side is depicted Tom’s ‘Expectations’ (which are great) and on the right ‘Reality’ ( which is rather different).  What this scene makes clear is that love is not necessarily about your fantasies coming true.  Real love partakes of reality, not mere fantasy. And the problem with having an over-active imagination is that reality can seldom measure up to it.  Hopeless romantics are hopeless precisely because their great expectations are never tempered with reality, and when they run smack into a reality check— its a rude awakening.

Go see this movie and see what you think.  What I think is this is a fine short film, and miles better than most of the other junk thrown up on the screen this summer. I could have watched another 500 days worth of this movie.

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