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Two people are drawn to each other romantically and become involved in a relationship. Over time they may discover annoying or disturbing aspects of the others behaviour or personality.
Breakups are an essential part of relationships and it is vital to take into account how they happen in order to know how they cause conflicts in a relationship. Breakups are multifaceted: a person can't just look at a breakup and know why it happened. The factors which cause a breakup and their effects have to be understood before it is possible to understand relationships themselves.
In the romantic comedy genre, breakups and intense fights are always promoted. However there are several variations of the breakup. One of these variations is when the couple decides that they are not right for each other as happens in Along Came Polly (John Hamburg, 2004), or someone has a mental breakdown Sex and the City (Michael Patrick King, 2008) or they fight constantly as in The Break Up (Peyton Reed, 2006). It is rare in a romantic comedy that the couple don't get together in the end.
However, the relationship Tom and Summer share in the film (500) Days of Summer offers reality in the example of how the couple don't get together in the end and how a contemporary relationship falls apart. The film shows how the breakup occurred by showing flashbacks and flash-forwards of the entire relationship, from start to finish. Tom a hopeless romantic sees Summer, a realist about love and relationships, and thinks that she is his "forever after". However, Summer doesn't share his romantic idea of love and actually laughs at him. Nevertheless, they still enter into a relationship and later breakup:
Tom: You never wanted to be anybody's girlfriend and now you're somebody's wife.
Summer: It surprised me too.
Tom: I don't think I'll ever understand that. I mean it doesn't make sense.
Summer: It just happened.
Tom: Right, but that's what I don't understand. What just happened?
Summer: I justâ€¦I just woke up one day and I knew.
Tom: Knew what?
Summer: What I was never sure of with you.
In (500) days of Summer, Summer ends the relationship and appears relatively serene about it, asking if they cannot be "friends". As in My Best Friend's Wedding ( P.J. Hogan 1997) the idea of what a romantic comedy happy ending should be is not portrayed because the focus is changed replacing friendship for romance: in the film Julianne (Julia Roberts) is denied romantic love but finds a compensating comfort in her friendship with (homosexual) Rupert Everett, emphasising friendship over love. In My Best Friend's Wedding Julia Roberts's characterÂ cannot achieve a union of friendship and sexual fulfilment but instead loses her sexual love interest and remains bonded to her gay male best friend.
With Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977) the viewer can see the female being instantly attracted to the male, but after a time she feels that she has developed beyond him and abandons the relationship. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004) the female lead erases all she remembers of her relationship considering herself to have recovered from the relationship; the male endeavours to follow her example but is incapable of forgetting her. In (500) Days of Summer it is again the female who breaks up. These three examples represent the same thing, the female puts an end to the relationship and the male is left feeling lonely and desperate for a good portion of the film.
In addition these two movies Annie Hall and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, present more similarities to (500) Days of Summer. For example, the three male leads live a relationship that puts how well they know themselves to the test, makes them consider what made the relationship significant for them and what they should learn from the relationship. The three films also portray couples do not work, yet the films still manage to show how worthwhile a relationship can be to both people involved.
Sahlstein and Dun's (2008) study looks at autonomy and connection as an explanation as to why breakups happen. Their main idea as to explain why breakups happen, is the necessity of autonomy and connection in relationships; this necessity is considered to be so strong that autonomy and connection become inseparable. This indicates that "if too much time is spent together then a loss of autonomy and individuality occurs and in contrast, separation puts a limit on connection and can cause harm to a relationship" (Sahlstein & Dun 2008).
When examining the breakup in (500) Days of Summer and taking into account Tom and Summer's relationship, it allows the key elements of the breakup to be seen: miscommunication and imbalance of relational dialectics in Tom and Summer's relationship. As the film progresses both Tom and Summer appear to be happy. However, the film focusses prinicipally on Tom's perspective. Due to this, at the start of the film, Summer seems like the villain or antagonist which causes her breakup with Tom. Nevertheless, when the film gets closer to its end, Tom becomes capable of forgetting and carrying on with his life. It is towards the end of the film that his younger sister suggests that he looks back at his memories ignoring the good aspects, but taking into account the bad aspects of his relationship with Summer:
Rachel: Look, I know you think that she was the one, but I don't. No, I think you're just remembering the good stuff, next time you look back, I, uh, I think you should look again.
Once Tom is able to realise this, he is capable of moving on with his life and he realises that there is always a tomorrow and another girl. Tom and Summer's relationship offers examples of how internal dialectics and relational dialects affect their relationship. These internal dialectics are certainty/uncertainty, openness/closedness and connectedness/separation. Internal dialectics are more present in Tom and Summer's relationship than external dialects due to the fact that the film focuses mainly on the couple and not how they interact with those around them. A main problem which can be seen in Tom and Summer's relationship is the difficulty they have balancing connectedness/separation. This problem can be explained by the following: "no relationship can exist by definition unless the parties sacrifice some individual autonomy. However, too much connection paradoxically destroys the relationship because the individual identities become lost" (Baxter & Montgomery, 2009, p. 157)
The more Tom attempts to define his relationship, the more the relationship disintegrates. That is, the closer he tries to get to Summer, the more he makes her doubt her love for him. Summer starts to worry that if their relationship does not change, she will become miserable and inevitably hurt Tom by leaving him. Although it is clear that there are problems of connectedness/separation in Tom and Summer's relationship, not a lot can be said regarding their individual autonomy (personal freedom) in the time that they are together. The reason for this is that the film mainly portrays Tom's perspective and his process of recovery after his heartache. This process does eventually show how he re-establishes his autonomy and begins to live without continually thinking about Sumer. This improvement demonstrates how, in the end, Tom benefits from his relationship with Summer.
It seems apparent that uncertainty played a principal role in the breakdown of their relationship. Summer, a person who does not believe in love, is uncertain about how she truly feels about Tom. Even though she knows she is happy, she can't work through the tension and the relationship suffers. Tom on the other hand, believes in love and is certain that he loves Summer. He finds it difficult to find a sense of certainty in their relationship because he wants to know that when he wakes up in the morning Summer will feel as she did the day before. It is because of this that To finds it difficult to understand what Summer is experiencing internally. In short, Tom is certain that he loves Summer and Summer is uncertain that she loves Tom and as a result of the tension caused by this certainty/uncertainty, the relationship falls apart.
(500) Days of Summer certainly suggests that the film challenges the romantic comedy formula distinguishing itself from the common romantic comedy genre in order to provide us with a simple truth, portraying not only a realistic relationship, but also giving an example of a typical relationship sound in society today.
Tom: What happens if you fall in love?
Summer: Well, you don't believe that, do you?
Tom: It's love. It's not Santa Claus.
In The Transformation of Intimacy Giddens introduces the term "pure relationship". This refers to a situation where a social relationship "is entered into for its own sake, for what can be derived by each person from a sustained association with another and which is continued only in so far as it is thought by both parties to deliver enough satisfaction for each individual to stay in it" (Giddens 1992: 58). In relation to this concept it is seen that Summer continuously seeks her satisfaction.