doesn't make it less true


I've got so many sources bookmarked regarding Groundhog Day that I couldn't find a certain one I was looking for in preparation for today's entry. It's Day (3) with (500) Days of Summer and I want to talk about movies.

As if that's unusual.

What I mean is that this is a story about a story, a movie about movies. No, it's not a love story, but it's a story about love stories. Summer is named Summer for a couple reasons, for example: 1) it's romantic, it's special and 2) it's a season, something bigger than a single day, bigger than a single person... she's practically a force of nature. She quotes a song lyric in her high school yearbook and sales of that album go up for two years. She works at an ice cream parlor and sales increase 212%. She checks out an apartment for rent and is offered a price below asking. She loves pancakes and she loves The Smiths and she loves Ringo Starr, but she just cannot love Tom. She's somewhat arbitrary and yet exactly what she says she is. Tom just wants her to be something else. We want her to be something else. We want her to be the lead from a different romantic comedy.

Anyway, the article I was looking for but couldn't find had to do with the idea of Groundhog Day's story standing in for the process of filmmaking. Essentially, Phil is just a player but then with enough knowledge he becomes the director. The breakdown of the normal procession of time is representative of the way a film is edited to manufacture a flow of time. Movies leave out extraneous details, skip scenes that don't affect the plot, and drive the story forward. (500) Days of Summer does the same. The story is a basic one, but the breakdown of the normal flow of time offers us... well, something else.

A love story has a clear throughline. Characters meet, grow close, something gets in the way, they get past it and live happily ever after. Break that format, break the format of life itself and the film becomes something more like a meditation on the idea of that relationship than the presentation of that relationship. The Ikea bit, for example--the artificial domesticity is a deliberate play on expectations for the future. And, especially cinematic expectations. The story ends with Tom and Summer living together, getting married. In this country--and I'm sure there's some approximation of this in other Western countries, for sure--they've got the white picket fence and 2.5 kids, maybe a dog. There's no Chinese family in their bathroom.

Here, though, there is a Chinese family in the bathroom. And, the bedroom lacks a fourth wall. It is in the artificial domesticity of Ikea that Summer first holds Tom's hand.

I only just noticed what has got to be a deliberate cinematic echo. The moment between Ikea and "You Make My Dreams"--Tom emerges from the bathroom (the real bathroom, not that Ikea bathroom) and the shot is framed like the classic shot from The Graduate, a film referenced both at the beginning of and the end of this one.

The end of that film offers us something like what this film is going for--that big romantic moment that leads almost immediately to disappointment and the realization that the rest of life cannot measure up. On the table in Summer's apartment is a hat with an apple on it. It made me think of Rene Magritte's painting "Son of Man" right away.

Magritte once described the painting as follows:

At least it hides its face partly well, so you have the apparent face, the apple, hiding the visible but hidden, the face of the person. It's something that happens constantly. Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present.

Another cinematic echo: during "You Make My Dreams" Tom sees himself reflected in a car window as Han Solo.

Another cinematic echo: the split screen after Summer insists they're just friends. They lie in their respective beds, and there's a vague sense of Harry and Sally in bed, except these two characters don't have that late night phone call. These two characters are not as my daughter would say, OTP. They won't end up together. Even if Summer comes to his apartment to apologize.

There's the song "She's Like the Wind" linking this romance to the romance in Dirty Dancing.

And, of course, there's the evocation of existential films as Tom's life grows darker.

The film builds on what we know and expect from other films to put a crack in its reality. Hell, even the bit about the word "literally" when Tom is out with Allison works as commentary on the break between what we say (what we see) and what is real.

Interviews after the wedding--they should seem more out of place, but they draw us in, make this story seem a little more real. But, soon thereafter, the unreality of the split screen party, then Tom leaves and the world cityscape becomes a drawing and is erased, leaving Tom alone.

Then, there's the greeting cards. As Tom says, "Lies. We're liars. Think about it. Why do people buy these things? It's not because they wanna say how they feel. People buy cards 'cause they can't say how they feel or they're afraid to. We provide the service that lets them off the hook... Let's level with America, at least, let them speak for themselves... It's these cards, and the movies and the pop songs--they're to blame for all the lies and the heartache, everything. We're responsible. I'm responsible. I think we do a bad thing here. People should be able to say how they feel, how they really feel, not, yea know, some words that some stranger put in their mouth... There's enough bullshit in the world without my help." Because this is a movie and Tom's quitting his job, McKenzie applauds. But, this isn't that moment. (It's Markward, instead.) This isn't Jerry Maguire. No one's supposed to be cheering. But, for a moment, it plays like we should be, and we get McKenzie's response. He's seen movies too. He's living one.

Ultimately, the film brings us to the Bradbury Building. It's fitting as a destination because of Tom's interest in architecture, but it's also fitting as a destination for us, because that's a building famous for being in movies. And the choice of building is in at least a later draft of the script if not the first. Tom's story ends in a place familiar to fans of film. Blade Runner, D.O.A., Chinatown, Wolf, Disclosure, Lethal Weapon 4, Pay It Forward, The Artist--and that's just the ones I've seen. Been in a few TV shows as well.

The movie ends not with the happy ending we want, but it does end with a happy ending, an ending with possibilities. Day (500) becomes Day (1) and the cycle begins again. And, somewhat appropriately, as this month of recommended movies comes to a close, I return to a movie all about repetitive cycles. Then another month begins.

That's how it goes.


  1. Well---- I have new respect for your love of movies. You are very astute in your observations. I cant say I knew any of these cinematic allusions and I think even the writer himself couldn't be happier with your audience. Well said.

    Justin L.


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