500 Days of Summer is a romantic movie that narrates of the affectionate interactions between the two characters, Summer and Tom. The film uses a disrupted time sequence that follows the actions of the leading roles and details their daily engagements. Through the eyes of Tom who is also the main protagonist, the film narrates events that concern love although there is a disclaimer that warns the audience that the movie is not about love, an aspect that helps to prepare the viewers about the sad ending. Prominent styles include the use of flashbacks through mixed chronological events that jump back and forth as depicted in Tom’s mind to illustrate the struggles that the character experienced in his pursuit for love. 500 Days of Summer uses mise-en-scene to underscore the difference between unrealistic and wishful love and the reality of what happens in romantic associations.
Settings play an essential role in the depiction of the divergence of mind, emotions, and expectations between the two protagonists. One important element of the element of mise en scene is the element of time due to the absence of a particular chronological sequence in the film. The aspect provides a “container” that houses or supports the dramatic actions and the different emotions in the movie (Lathrop and Sutton 1). In the split screen between reality and expectations, the director effectively utilizes the settings to illustrate what is going on in Tom’s mind and the reality. In the expectations, the background is warm, there are people partying and having a good time, drinking wine and sitting on each other’s laps. There is also a view of a city and brilliant lights to emphasize the theme of fantastical love. In the split screen that shows reality, Tom is sitting in a plastic chair, holding a beer, and he is not surrounded by friends like in the other scene. The contrast between the two scenes is apparent.
Another application of the settings element is the development of the plot through various chronological events that appear rather haphazardly. At day 259, Tom and Summer engage in a disagreement at a bar that later leads to their breakup. After the event, a black and white, blurry background creates film noir as evidenced by the gloom and pessimism in Tom’s face. A series of close angles focus on the character’s face against the depressed background to reveal the suffering and sadness that Tom was going through. In addition, the emphasis on a close-up in most of the scenes helps the audience to connect with what is going on inside Tom’s head (Sreekumar and Vidyapeetham 31). The producer manages to shoot the film from Tom’s perception to intensify the emotions of the character. Other applications of settings for chronological effect include when Tom and Summer first meet as the office environment where the background is effective in creating an introductory effect.
Costume and Make-Up
The color aspect of the costume is the most prominent one in the film. The utilization of mise en scene is essential to connect with the audience and help them to connect with the script or interpret the meaning of the scenes in a better way (Rayani-Makhsous 36). In this regard, color is useful in displaying Tom’s conflict and his misplaced views about love. Subsequently, the colors in the background tend to change according to Tom’s perception of love. Feelings of elation are accompanied by bright hues while moments of sadness have dull colors. At the same time, Summer’s wardrobe has blue colors, particularly when she is still involved in a romantic association with Tom. The portrayal is effective in bringing out the sense of harmony and hope as perceived in Tom’s mind. After the breakup and the portrayal of Summer as a married person, the color changes to grey. The audience can connect with the dullness and loss of hope that befalls Tom after the discovery of Summer’s lack of faithfulness.
The difference in clothing also helps to underscore the theme of difference between the fantastical thoughts that Tom has and the pessimistic approach used by Summer. Subsequently, the female, signifying her name, wears brighter colors compared to the dull and less attractive clothes that Tom wears. The dressing is important in highlighting how the two protagonists feel about love. The brighter colors that Summer prefers indicate her easygoing nature and a lack of commitment. The lady is in the relationship for fun and does not have any intentions of pursuing it to marriage. Moreover, Summer does not necessarily believe in true love and is always on the verge of breaking away. On the contrary, Tom’s dull colors indicate his serious approach towards love. In addition, the appearance indicates the imminent possibility of a heartbreak that eventually happens after the disagreement in the bar. Therefore, color helps to illustrate the difference between the perceptions of love in the two protagonists.
Lighting is essential to illustrate the theme of love and create the contrast between Summer and Tom regarding the issue of affection. The element can be employed in creating shadows, enriching colors, and highlighting the difference between two points or scenes (Vredenberg 11). In the film, the producer uses various forms of light to underscore the major theme of contrast. In the split screen sections of the movie, there is a deliberate combination of lighting and settings to create the difference between the two scenes. In the expectations side, there is a soft and cozy glow that appears or gives the impression of romance. In the concurrent scene, the light is plain bright and helps to focus on the sadness in Tom’s face.
During transitions of the non-linear events, the film employs street lighting which appears in a flash or fast-forward to indicate the change in time. In romantic scenes such as the chase in the mall, the producer uses sufficient lighting, close-ups, and panning to highlight the effect of light in the creation of an affectionate encounter between the two protagonists. Moreover, light is employed in the conversion of present scenes to older ones with a combination of color that turns the city from a modern place to an ancient location. Additionally, after Tom makes love to summer for the first time, his happiness and satisfaction are evident due to the utilization of light such as when the protagonist was passing near a fountain. The illumination changes to dull and grey when the character is sad.
The use of figure movements and expressions are apparent in the film. Body posture is important to illustrate the emotions or feelings of an individual and evoke a particular emotion from the audience (Calvo et al. 3). In the film, the facial expressions of the two protagonists help to portray the difference in affection. When Tom met Summer at the office, his face lights up with longing and desire. When they are holding hands in a park, they indicate elation as they look into each other’s eyes to show intense emotions between the two. In a majority of scenes, Tom has a stare on his face that implies a profound sensation of affection.
After the breakup, Tom’s face indicates a depressed person. The use of body posture, lighting, and camera angle shows the pain in the character’s face and is effective to initiate sympathy from the onlooking audience. Through acting, the film depicts Tom as vulnerable but affectionate. The protagonist appears unsettled as he is always thinking about Summer. On the contrary, the lady is portrayed as insensitive. Although passionate in some of the scenes, she is mean and uncaring. Her facial expressions, gestures, and her initial acceptance of Tom as a friend and a lover create the impression of a pretty person that Tom will never be able to please.
The film utilizes mise en scene to illustrate the theme of difference between the perceptions of love of the two protagonists. The settings are effective in creating a sense of time and its transitions as well as the variation between reality and expectations in the split screen part. Additionally, the costumes and décor are also important to illustrate the lack of consistency in the opinion of the concept of love. Lighting helps to create dull moments and associate them with sadness and the unrealistic point of view taken by Tom. Summer appears as uncaring and does not take the relationship seriously as illustrated by the brighter hues and colors preferred by the actor. Lastly, Tom portrays the image of a vulnerable person affected by Summer who depicts a pretty but pessimistic and inaccessible individual.
- Calvo, R., et al. ‘Expressing Emotion Through Posture and Gesture.’ The Oxford Handbook of Affective Computing (2015).
- Lathrop, Gail, and David O. Sutton. ‘Elements of mise-en-scene.’ Prose Production, 2014, proseproductionsink.com/1102_Licata_Elements_of_Mise-en-scene_modified.pdf. Accessed 14 December 2018.
- Rayani-Makhsous, Mehrdad. Audience and Mise-en-scène: Manipulating the Performative Aesthetic. Diss. University of Manchester, 2013.
- Sreekumar, Jayakrishnan. ‘Creating Meaning through Interpretations: A Mise-En-Scene Analysis of the Film ‘The Song of Sparrows’.’ Online Journal of Communication and Media Technologies, 2015, pp. 26-35.
- Vredenberg, B. Signposting, Mise-en-Scene, and Environmental Storytelling: Understanding signposting as part of the embedded narrative in environmental storytelling. MS thesis. 2017.