Expectations vs. Reality
I’ve liked the film (500) Days of Summer since I first watched it in late 2009. From the first few minutes to the final scene, the narrative consistently and unabashedly ditches the sappy tropes of the romantic comedy genre in favor of brutal honesty. This distinction alone makes the movie worth watching, but its unique and clever presentation choices - the non-linear editing, shattered 4th wall, cartoon birds, and the like - are what make (500) Days of Summer so special.
In one particularly memorable scene, Tom, the protagonist, attends a rooftop party thrown by Summer, the girl with whom he is hoping to rekindle his romantic relationship. As Tom enters the stairwell from the ground level and begins his ascent, the screen splits in two. The film’s narrator notes a difference between Tom’s expectations for the evening before him and the reality of it.
What follows is a painful side-by-side depiction of what Tom expects to happen on the left, versus what actually happens on the right. Unsurprisingly, the juxtaposed scenes fail to resemble one another, and Tom’s heartbreaking disappointment on the right is made all-the-more palpable by its stark contrast with his naive optimism on the left. It’s a creative and engaging way to communicate the emotional despair that Tom feels while also offering a thinly-veiled commentary on the difference between conventional films of the genre (Expectations) and how the types of events depicted in those films tend to unfold in the real world (Reality).
This scene has proven itself an effective springboard for meaningful reflection. It’s fascinating to think about how much of the tension in my life is the result of misguided expectations, and, even more, my volatile response to unwelcome realities. On any given day, where I might expect attention, I could very possibly find myself alone, and miserable as a result. Or, perhaps more likely in my case, I might expect solitude, only to teem with impatience when I am inevitably in the company of others. Either way, the grass is painted greener not by the inherent value of the thing I want, but by the mere fact that I feel entitled to it by my expectations. It’s telling and haunting - am I humble enough to be satisfied with reality?