Film-o-narrative Dissonance?

I watched the film 500 Days of Summer tonight and I want to talk about that ending – that stupid, trite, Hollywood ending. More relevant than the disappointing nature of the denouement, however, is the fact that it managed to mechanically contradict the movie’s message content. And you thought only games could do that.

For those  who haven’t seen the film, it’s about that kid in 10 things I hate about you who falls in love with Claire Danes. It’s aboutthe 500 days he spends with a girl named Summer, whom he believes is ‘The One’. It’s a movie about memory, perception and reality-versus-imagination. I’d recommend it.

The lesson of the film is that nothing is fated, that there is no predestination, and the lead character eventually realises this fact, having read too much into coincidences and subtext.

Similarly, I seem to recall once reading an article in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend magazine about people who read meaning in the iPod’s shuffle ability. The piece was framed in a discussion about why we have this inability to accept and recognise true randomness. A similar story on America’s NPR talks about this difficulty we have saying,

People have an enormous difficulty recognizing randomness because one of the features of a genuinely random selection is you get lots of repetitions. What people usually think of as random is what we call uni-distributed. But in fact, randomness is full of patterns.

Coming back to 500 Days of Summer, towards the conclusion the main dude learns that Summer (his ‘soulmate’) has gone and gotten married to some other dude. He moves on with his life having lost faith in the idea of having ‘soulmates’ and being ‘destined’ for a certain person. I thought this was a remarkably complex and mature message, and one incredibly unlikely to ever come out of a mainstream Hollywood film. Naturally, it doesn’t end there.

So he’s moving on with his life, and in the final scene he’s applying for a job as an architect. In the waiting room he meets a woman, who recognises his face having seen him around where he lives. A coincidence, and that’s all it is. He accepts it, and goes off to the interview and the narrator explicates his interior thought world, as he considers the coincidence. He then changes his mind, entertaining a small possibility that this chance meeting may have ‘meant to be’, ad decides to go back and ask her out for a drink. At this point, they could have just let it be another coincidence, he could still have asked her out having learnt a valuable lesson and the film would have been the better for it.

But just as she agrees to meet him after for coffee, he tells her his name and then she tells him, “My name’s Autumn.” As in, Autumn that comes after Summer (who he’s just gotten over). The main character has his newfound resolve tested – maybe this is just a coincidence, but we’re still going to go out.

The mechanics of being a film however – and most importantly a piece of fictional film – contradict, or at best water down this message about predestination. It’s interfered with because I cannot suspend my disbelief in the deliberateness of the choice of name for his new interest (basically I can’t forget that I’m watching a movie, not a documentary or real life) so I know that this ‘coincidental meeting’ between the main dude and ‘Autumn’ really is not a coincidence at all, because it is some Author’s idea.

I feel like the film did want to keep the film on message with regard to ‘soulmates’ and ‘destiny’ and ‘fate’, but the mechanics get in the way of the story’s message. And that’s an all too familiar position to be in, isn’t it?