Fleeting Love in the Time of Ambiguous Cinema, Part II

In January 2007, I found the one.

Physical attraction. Mutual creativity. A shared passion for travel. And the quality you cannot fake: chemistry. In the beginning, the relationship was light and airy. Playful and curious. Effortless.


That’s what it felt like.

But here, on this earth, the seasons change. And somewhere along the way, I lost him. To this day, I don’t know how, I don’t know where, I don’t know to whom, and I don’t know why.

But all that is irrelevant, as two more summers have come and gone. The only thing important to note: He was not the one.


Then, reality.

* * *

I finally watched 500 Days of Summer, the quirky anti-love tale of Tom and Summer, two people who meet while working at a greeting card company. I’d been itching to watch it after a conversation with my one ex who remains a dear friend. He mentioned the movie was about a relationship in which one of the partners realizes he is just a stepping stone to someone else—someone permanent.

In the beginning, when Tom and Summer are getting acquainted at a work party at a karaoke bar, we learn that Tom, once an aspiring architect, is an idealist and a romantic. He believes in love, intangible and elusive, and is determined to find it. But Summer is skeptical.

“There’s no such thing as love,” she says. “It’s fantasy.”

“I think you know when you feel it,” says Tom.

He loves her smile. He loves her hair. He loves the sound of her laugh. He has found her. But she, in turn, doesn’t give herself fully. Her wall never falls.

The movie does not unfold chronologically—the first sequence starts at day 290, when Tom’s precocious younger sister rushes over to console him, post-breakup. The film jumps back and forth in time: Tom is blissful. Tom is distraught. Tom sings and dances in the streets. Tom drowns himself in alcohol. Scenes of bliss and torture, plucked from a timeline. Yet while these moments are relative to one another—A led to B, B led to C—none of it matters.

Love, when pure and true and mutual, is not measured by days, nor seasons. It simply exists, and even consumes. There are no walls; you are not left wondering. But for Tom, this was not so. As time passes, the features he had initially loved about Summer become irritations: He grew to hate her crooked teeth. He hated her 1960s haircut. He hated the way she sounded when she laughed.


Then, reality.

* * *

For us, there were some good things: laughter and inside jokes, an appreciation for dining together, exploring new places, supporting one another’s creative and professional endeavors. But looking back, there wasn’t any of the stuff that really mattered.

I built him up to be someone he wasn’t—and never would be. And, like Tom, I always wondered.

Was I the one?

Did he feel the same?

Toward the end of the film, Tom heads to a party at Summer’s. The split-screen sequence shows two paths: On the left, what he hopes will happen. And on the right, what actually happens.


Then, reality.

* * *




Layers between me and reality, states where love isn’t love. Whatever love may be.

* * *

Much later, Tom and Summer find themselves reunited, for a few poignant moments, on a bench overlooking the city: a spot where Tom gazed at skyscrapers, felt inspired, and dreamed big.

Summer is freshly married. And Tom still wonders.

“It just happened,” says Summer.

“What just happened?” asks Tom.

“I just woke up one day and I knew.”

“Knew what?”

“What I was never sure of with you.”

* * *

I always wondered. But I never asked questions. Deep down, I knew the answers.

Unlike Tom, I never heard those harsh words, which I wanted to hear. But I came to reality on my own—separating what I wanted to see from what actually was.

Published by Cheri Lucas Rowlands

I am an editor at Longreads. For over a decade, I've worked on curation, editing, and storytelling projects across Automattic, including WordPress.com.

3 thoughts on “Fleeting Love in the Time of Ambiguous Cinema, Part II

  1. Well this series of posts is definitely a step away from the “My 7 Links” thing that lead me too them. I really like both articles by the way. I know what you mean about Lost in Translation; it’s beautiful, but at a certain point it becomes just empty beauty. There’s a deleted scene where Scarlett meets a robot (i think). Pretty, poignant and meaningless (then again it was deleted). I haven’t seen 500 days of summer but maybe once I’m in a Netflix country I will.

    Anyway, you’re right; these posts do deserve more traffic. The mix of story and musing and film ‘criticism’ is great, you weave it together nicely. It’s just not what most blogs are all about (ie it isn’t a “my top ten films to fall in love to” list). I actually read these instead of skimming them. It proved surprisingly difficult; I guess I’m a sucker for lists too.

    They’re probably not going to end up on Freshly Pressed, but they’re wonderful pieces. Hope you decide to add a part 3. Although Eternal Sunshine is definitely not the easiest film to work with. Loved it, but like you hate the idea of erasure. Especially in the heat of the moment.

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