So, I recently watched this movie. This movie: It was entitled (500) Days of Summer. You guys, it was FOR A PROJECT! I would not watch this movie just for the hell of it! I am doing something on like romantic myths and like love stories and junk! So clearly, I HAD TO DO IT. It was not even really a choice.
Anyway, one of my theses is that the romance has traditionally been the province of the “women’s picture,” but in the last few years (from High Fidelity on, let us say — or, if we wanted to stretch ourselves, we could say since Before Sunrise) there have been an increasing number of romances centered almost entirely on the inner lives of dudes. Often within, like, the VERY MINDS of the dudes: Eternal Sunshine takes place literally within a guy’s brain for the most part, High Fidelity has a dude talking extensively into the camera, and I suppose we would regard Annie Hall as the pervy, monologue-and-dream-sequence-prone grandfather of this entire genre. And (500) Days of Summer fits squarely within this genre, as well.
FINDING OF NOTE: All of the dudes in these movies have similar haircuts?
OTHER FINDING: These dude-traps-a-girlfriend-IN-HIS-BRAIN movies tend to be my favorites of the genre. Like: I seriously hate a lot of “womens’ pictures,” especially the recent variety. I could watch Eternal Sunshine on a loop in some sort of Clockwork Orange device without getting bored, as could I similarly do with certain (though not all) scenes of Annie Hall. The one where Woody Alvy follows Diane Keaton Annie into her brain and passes harsh judgment on dudes she has dated in the past — “oh, yeah, real heavy, eaten to death by squirrels” — I could watch a lot. I would I am not sure how to feel about this. Kind of sexist, perhaps?
Let me assure you, however, that these feelings do not appertain to (500) Days of Summer.
(500) Days of Summer is, to be brief, the story of Joseph Gordon-Levitt meeting, kissing, fucking, and continuing to fuck Zooey Deschanel, whilst Zooey Deschanel tells Joseph Gordon-Levitt continuously that he is Not Her Boyfriend. Then she says the fucking has to cease, and she seems not to feel too bad about that, and he is like, “BUT I AM YOUR BOYFRIEND!!!???” And she is like, no you’re not. And then he is sad.
We are encouraged to infer, from this series of events, that Zooey Deschanel is LITERALLY A MONSTER.
She is referred to, at certain points, as a “lesbian” (I don’t think those are bad), a “dude” (I don’t think those are bad), a “whore” and a “bitch” (pretty much determined, by cultural consensus, to be bad), and by several other unflattering epithets. Joseph Gordon-Levitt relates this story, in flashbackian mode, mostly to a little girl. Which I guess is meant to be cute. But wait till you hear what he says about you, young lady, if you ever grow up and have casual sex with a whiner!
This is not an unfamiliar narrative, this story about the MONSTER WHO DID NOT WANT ME TO BE HER BOYFRIEND. It may interest you to know, for example, that I recently read The Big Rewind, a memoir by the critic Nathan Rabin. Nathan Rabin is a great critic. Always happy to read that dude’s criticism! So funny! And also, his memoir put me in a KILLING RAGE for several hours at a time. For example, there is a chapter about his first girlfriend getting an abortion, and it for some reason focuses almost entirely on what a difficult and sad choice this was for Nathan Rabin. You, the reader, are like, “gosh, Nathan, that time you had to have someone go surgically up into your privates — that procedure can hurt like a motherfucker, I’m told — to remove some tissue, and walked away with a substantial chance that, for the rest of your life, if you ever relate this story to another person they will call you a Godless murdering whore, and also probably you had to deal with scary violent protesters calling you that on the very day it happened, must have been really hard for you. Oh, wait, that happened to someone else!” It’s sort of noted that the girl went into a deep, dangerous depression after the fact, but it is not really dealt with at any length, because what does that have to do with Nathan Rabin’s feelings about his abortion? And also, there is a chapter about The Girl Who Did Not Want To Be His Girlfriend. Like, of course.
This girl: She talked about not wanting a relationship. She talked about not liking monogamy. She talked about having sex with other people, which she was doing at the time. She talked about these things, apparently, A LOT; she established, as we would say, Clear Verbal Boundaries. And then one day, she uses the word “friend” in regard to Nathan Rabin, and not I guess “Super Ultra Important Lover With Whom I am So In Love OMG,” and Nathan Rabin flips his shit at this girl — both in the scene he is describing and in much textual fulmination.
Okay, so; you go to the diner for breakfast. And you are like, “French toast, please.” And they are like, “sorry, all out, would you like an omelet?” And you are like, “sure, one omelet please.” And they make it, and they serve it to you, and you look down at the omelet on your plate, and you take a bite of the omelet, and then you are like, “what the FUCK, this French toast tastes FUCKING TERRIBLE!” And then you, I guess, throw the plate at the waitress to make your point. Good show, dude!
I should note that it is hard, by this point, to believe in Nathan Rabin’s intense emotional vulnerability in regard to the Fairer Sex, because there has also been a chapter about how much he apparently likes paying for hand jobs from sex workers, and how disappointing it is when the women he pays don’t seem enthused enough about jerking him off. I just thought I would share.
And yet, I simply can’t eliminate empathy from my outlook here. Because also, let me tell you who has hurt my feelings in the past: Some Dudes. I will tell you a story, now, about a specific dude who hurt my feelings.
This dude was, at the time, my best friend’s roommate. He had a crush on me, I was told, for like A WHILE. Like, for several months this putative Crush on Sady was being nurtured, and related to me via my best friend, in the form of humorous anecdotes. They were humorous because for the first several months of this LOLcrush I was not at all single, and it was of course wacky that this dude thought I was so smart and cute and charming and funny, right? Never gonna happen, dude! Get over it! And then I became single, due to unrelated complications in the not-being-single department that made me feel I should change that situation, and then a series of events occurred which led to this dude and I making out. And I was like, “oh, how nice! Perhaps I have a crush on you, too! My life has developed in a very pleasing direction!”
We made out a few times. Like, over the course of a few weeks, we did that. And then he was like, “oh, did you not notice the several other girls I was making out with throughout this time period? There are other girls with whom I make out. Several! There will continue to be such girls. In fact, my schedule of making out with other girls has become so demanding that I have determined to eliminate you from the roster.”
The way I found this out, in case you were wondering, was three hours before a party to which I had invited him. Through IM. He did not send the IM, either; my best friend did. She was like, “okay, so he can’t make it tonight and here is what he told me to tell you about that, also I will buy your drinks tonight? And would you like to go shopping?” And I was like, “yes, I need some new dresses, and THIS IS A VERY HANDY WAY OF ELIMINATING ANY ACTUAL CONVERSATION ALTOGETHER YOU SON OF A BITCHING FUCK.” It was not even the not-making-out decision or the other-girls situation that got to me; it was the dishonorable use of GChat. I was like, an abuse of technology! This will not stand! But it took a while before dude could look me in the face, is what I’m saying.
Do you know what I did, in the intervening time period? I listened to the PJ Harvey song “Snake” 50 billion times, and I went for long night runs, and I started dating again, and I eventually somehow managed to get the fuck over myself, because, come on, it was like a few weeks out of your life. Calm down, lady.
Furthermore, I kept a civil tongue in my head throughout. I never even had an angry conversation with the dude, if you can believe it; I kept quiet until I could write a nice e-mail about I think Dinosaur Comics, and I was polite if slightly distant to the dude at parties, and eventually this became a genuine urge to be polite instead of a chore, and this truce somehow held even through the time he managed to make out/not make out with MY roommate (both of them came to me the following day and were like, “whatever s/he tells you, IT IS A FILTHY LIE! The entire conversation was about YOU and YOUR FEELINGS, because I CARE ABOUT THOSE, and did I mention I was the only party in the conversation to DEFEND YOU”) and now everybody is friends again, or still. And it was not the end of the world. And nobody made a feature film about how anybody else was Satan.
My point is, I recommend stoicism in these matters! To the extent you can manage it! Because these things, they happen, and they are sad, but rarely as catastrophically sad as they seem at the time — looking back on it, you will invariably be like, “ha ha, remember that time I forgot how AWESOME I AM because someone kissed me and then was mean?” — and that is why we are able to take the chance of kissing other people in the first place. Because whatever happens, it’s not going to kill you, and also you will have been kissed.
What I am saying, albeit through a circuitous route, is that the entire picture (500) Days of Summer is based on some really unbecoming behavior. It’s hard to tell at first, because the movie hinges to such a great degree on the remarkable face of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, which is remarkable not only for being handsome (he got REALLY HANDSOME! Remember 10 Things I Hate About You, where he was the less-hot, awkward teen with the secondary love story? Yeah: things change) but for being very good at the whole “acting” thing, and conveying emotions with a certain degree of precision and power and, most crucially, charm. Here is how charming Joseph Gordon-Levitt is: He can make Zooey Deschanel seem similarly charming, just with a series of reaction shots. And here is how good he is at conveying emotion: You basically want nothing bad ever to happen to this man, because whatever his character is going through, he ensures that you Get It in a very fundamental way. But this is a trap, because the character eventually starts behaving like a total jackass, and you go through this very weird deal where one moment you are like, “awwww, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, it will be okay, she totally is kind of a whore and you deserve better,” and then the next moment you are like, “wait, WHAT?! Shut the hell up, Joseph Gordon-Levitt! Shut your remarkably expressive face!”
Have I mentioned that, according to its screenwriter Scott Neustadter, (500) Days of Summer is semi-autobiographical? And that it starts with a dedication to the apparently semi-Deschanelesque lady in question? And that the dedication ALSO calls her a bitch? Yiiiiiiiiiikes. I sure hope the dude responsible for that decision looks like Joseph Gordon-Levitt because otherwise I predict a very long series of strike-outs whenever he tells that story. On the plus side, I think Nathan Rabin just found a new member for his fantasy baseball league.
And that is where shit gets REAL complex. Because, like: I have been in the situation of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in this film. It’s a common situation. It’s not a fun situation, necessarily. It’s also not a situation which mandates going on a rant about “whores” in one’s place of work, but whatever. The thing is, I think I find it easier to maintain my high-mindedness and cool in those situations than another person might. Specifically, a person who is a dude. Despite the much-vaunted crazy clingy psycho bitchiness of my gender, I think it’s easier for me to be gracious in those situations precisely because I am a girl.
Because girls frankly expect this behavior from guys. We are told, continually and throughout our lives and in every major media outlet and dating guide, that Guys Are Just Like That. Or the vast majority of them, anyway. Guys want physical contact, girls want emotional contact, we’re told; therefore, if we make physical contact with a guy, we should not expect emotional contact to follow. Granted, to hope is not to expect, and the entire courting structure is basically designed to allow us to perform a semi-realistic risk analysis, but girls are still basically informed that this entire deal, this sex and/or dating deal, is a game of poker and you shouldn’t play unless you can afford to lose something, and you should be cautious with your bets.
Dudes, on the other hand, are apparently entirely unprepared for this. Girls want emotional contact, they’re told, and guys want physical contact; therefore, if they make emotional contact with a girl, they can reasonably expect it to be reciprocated. And when it’s not, it’s like gravity suddenly stopped working. This just isn’t how things go; it’s an outrage; she’s cold, evil, a monster. Or at least this is what I can uncover from the dudely works of Nathan Rabin and (500) Days of Summer. They’re playing the same game of poker as the rest of us, these guys, but they think it’s play money. Which means that when it’s time to pay up, that sucks extra-hard.
So, yes: (500) Days of Summer is a movie about a boy who acts like a girl and a girl who acts like a boy. But here’s why I’m not thrilled about this: If Zooey Deschanel were actually a boy, and in this situation, most people would not perceive her as the problem. She wouldn’t be a monster, a whore, a freak; she’d just be a dude. And she’d get to complain about the clingy psycho bitch she fucked who’s now, like, putting all this pressure on, that bitch is fucking CRAZY, she just hooked up with the girl, she didn’t buy her an engagement ring, etc. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt, were he an actual girl, would be getting some sympathy from his lady friends, true, but he would also be getting well-meaning lectures about how Dudes Are Like That, and what did he expect, and he needs to be more cautious about these things and not put out so easily, and has he ever read a book called “He’s Just Not That Into You?” He should read that book. He would be told, to be blunt, that he was the real problem in this situation.
So the verdict, in case you were wondering, is that if girls fall for boys, and those boys don’t fall for them, they are clingy bitches. And if girls don’t fall for boys, and those boys DO fall for them, they are heartless bitches. No matter how this situation goes, if there turns out to be an inequality of desire, you’re getting called a bitch.
Which, sure, sounds bad. And yet, I find, it continues not to be any kind of deterrent. You are just going to keep playing poker, apparently, and you are going to play it like it’s the only game in town. Because who doesn’t like a game of cards; because you never know if you’ll get a good hand; because you could walk away with more than you had when you walked in. Because there is always, somehow, despite all the ridiculousness of the genders and the ways they are expected to relate to each other, the possibility of winning.