How can you defend her? She broke poor Joseph Gordon-Levitt's heart. Zooey Deschanel (hereafter known as Zooey D) gets a bad rap in 500 Days of Summer, that 'rom-com for blokes' that got us warm inside for the first time since Say Anything. Is Zooey D a ‘bitch’ for leading Joseph Gordon-Levitt (hereafter known as JGL) on? The answer is usually a Yes but I implore you to look again. Did she lead him on at all? My argument is that Zooey D was nothing but honest throughout.
In their first scene together - the karaoke bar scene - they are in the booth with JGL's drunk friend and the subject of love comes up. Zooey D remarks that she doesn't believe in it and JGL is taken aback:
JGL: What happens if you fall in love?
Zooey D: You don't believe in that, do you?
JGL: It's not Santa Clause.
The girl doesn't believe in love but JGL's character reckons 'I'll be the one to change her mind because I'm different, I'm special, I'm me'. He's written as nice and fluffy and humble and gentlemanly but that scene masks the ego in all of us say: I'll be the one to change you. Me.
So from the off we know that Zooey D doesn't believe in love but also that JGL has a skewed sense of love. He's wearing a Joy Division t-shirt during his introduction – if you're basing your idea of love on Ian Curtis' lyrics you're doomed from the off. Later, he's listening to The Smiths. If one was a psychiatrist, one might suggest that Zooey D gave JGL exactly what he was looking for - what Joy Division, The Cure and The Smiths predicted love would be: a unrequited doomed love filled with angst and despair and loneliness. When in the depths of despair, his mate remarks, "Misery, sadness, loss of faith, no reason to live... This is perfect for you." But one is not a psychiatrist.
We get the feeling that Tom is prone to this kind of thing, this head-over-heels hysteria when it comes to women. In the opening moments of the movie, when a breathless Chloe Moretz arrives at a devastated Tom's apartment, she tells his friend, "It's Amanda Heller all over again." Hmm. In fact, the narrator introduces us to JGL with the following: “Tom Hansen of Margate, New Jersey, grew up believing that he'd never truly be happy until the day he met the one. This belief stemmed from early exposure to sad British pop music and a total mis-reading of the movie 'The Graduate'…. Tom meets Summer on January 8th. He knows almost immediately she is who he has been searching for."
He knows almost immediately she is who he has been searching for? That's a lot of pressure to put on poor Zooey D from the off, isn't it? How can anyone live up to that? To be the all and everything for someone at first sight?
Let us not forget that we are watching a story through the biased eyes of the spurned, the broken-hearted and the 'truth' is coloured accordingly. Not only is the Expectations/Reality sequence the finest of the movie with some wonderful writing and inventive direction, it's also the crux of the argument. It's not just the expectations/reality of the evening, but the relationship as a whole. JGL has refused to listen to anything she has had to say up until that point: she doesn't believe in love, she didn't want anything serious. She has feelings for him, yes (she turns up at his apartment after their fight), but that isn't leading him on – that proves she's a human who has feelings.
JGL: Look, we don't have to put a label on it. That's fine. I get it. But, you know, I need some consistency… I need to know that you're not gonna wake up in the morning and feel differently.
Zooey D: And I can't give you that. Nobody can.
Any other rom-com and Zooey D would have collapsed into JGL's arms and whispered I love you. Then JGL would have whipped her up into his arms and carried her to the bed. But 500 Days is not just another rom-com - it's more honest than that. She's right in what she says -no one can give you that. Zooey D is the consistent one here. Okay, so she breaks up with him rather cruelly and matter-of-factly over pancakes and for that there is no defence.
Or is there? Again, remember we're eyeing this break up through the one who is broken-hearted. Things said can have a different tone, a different meaning that originally intended. Later, in the park, when he learns that she's married:
JGL: I don't get it. You don't want to be named as anybody's girlfriend, and now you're someone's wife?
Zooey D: "I just woke up one day and I knew"
JGL: "Knew what?"
Zooey D: "What I was never sure of with you"
Cold or honest? Tough to hear that, yes, but he had to hear it. Zooey D was never less than honest with JGL. You can never say she lied to him.
But why do we REALLY have all this hate for Zooey D? Is there something else going on here? Why 500 Days works so well is that we – men and women – have been both characters at some stage. We've had our hearts broken but we've broke them too. Zooey D's Summer not only taps into that time when we were the breakee, but she also holds up a mirror to us when we were the breaker. The relief when we got out of a relationship: we felt sorry for the ex, sure, but you justified your decision with a cold 'this isn't working for me'. And cobblers to the notion that she shouldn't break his heart because he's such a nice guy. Everyone thinks they are a nice person.
JGL was never in love with Zooey D, he was in love with the idea of her.