Sunday, October 24, 2010

By the numbers

A lot of people are saying that the movie The Social Network is a zeitgeist.

Zeit-geist: n. The spirit of the time; the taste and outlook characteristic of a period or generation.

I disagree. Facebook could be called a zeitgeist, but the movie about the creation of Facebook is not.

(500) Days of Summer is a zeitgeist. It's a movie by, for, and of my generation. The best thing about this movie is the creative approach it takes to the traditional plot of any boy-meets-girl film. It's about a young man named Tom, and his relationship with a young woman named Summer.

The story is told in non-chronological order, like Pulp Fiction and Memento. There are also many plays on POV, with surreal, fantastical, or exaggerated sequences that crib from other film genres. Pop culture is woven into the characters lives in such an organic way that it's impossible to tell where the cultural references stop and the characters begin.

This is the way so many millennials, or Generation Y, experience life. We have an endless internal index of movies, shows, music, books and characters with which we can annotate occurrences in our daily lives. We see our experiences reflected in the media that we consume and share with each other. We deepen our interpersonal relationships by sharing our media and experiences. We love to tell people why we love the things we love. I'm doing that right now, right here on my blog. We put an emphasis on sharing similar interests with our significant others. We expect them to like the same bands, the same movies, the same shows. Thanks to Facebook and other social networks, we can now like and share our friends experiences. Our internal collection of references grows, our networks expand, and we find that our lives are inextricable from the context we seek to create around them. A context of cultural touchstones and the approval of others. Our experiences are the sum of their parts, not the sequence in which they happened, which is why we so enjoy nonlinear narratives in books, movies and other media.

(500) Days of Summer is truly representative of my generation. Tom, the main character portrayed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is frequently seen wearing t-shirts declaring his love of a certain band or film. His apartment is littered with similar references. Even the music he listens to is audible and acts both character development and plot device. One of the first things that makes him really notice Summer, played by Zooey Deschanel, is that she hears a The Smiths song he is listening to and comments about how she also likes that band and song. Tom is floored. He so closely identifies with that music that the simple fact that Summer also enjoys the music means, to him, that they are perfectly compatible. He also takes pride in thinking that The Smiths are vintage and not well-liked by the general public, so he considers his taste, and Summer's taste by association, to be extremely rare and sophisticated.

Considering the fact that The Smiths have almost 900k fans on Facebook, you begin to see how this frame of mind can be misleading. This film also highlights another generational problem: we are in love with love. A large chunk of Gen Y are hopeless romantics, and its no wonder considering the fact that we grew up on John Hughes's work and other movies like Pretty Woman and The Goonies. We take breakups harder than most. All we see is a cacophony of references to our failed relationship. That show we used to watch together. That movie or band we both liked. That shirt I wore when we first met. Our internal index works against us, and we find ourselves dissecting it to try and find the cause of our broken romance. And we blame ourselves. The true romantic in us cannot blame love, it blames itself, and it almost enjoys the suffering- for nothing is quite as beautiful and romantic as heartbreak.

In short, the cinematography is impressive and very emotive. The screenplay is inventive, the dialogue is fresh and believable. The acting is first-rate, both Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt are magnetic and charming. The soundtrack is impeccable, for all of the reasons I list above. It's the mix tape we all made at some point for someone, that described a relationship from start to finish.
(500) Days of Summer is entertaining, beautiful and quirky. I couldn't think of a better love-note written by Gen Y and addressed to everyone. It says "this is who we are. this is what our life is like, and we hope you like it." I liked it. I hope you will too.

If you want to see a love note written by Gen X and addressed to everyone, watch High Fidelity. John Cusack's Lawrence of Arabia.


Nena Nadine said...

I love 500 Days of Summer. And I think your point of view is quite interesting. I know that the new generation (Generation me) loves the film. Will the generation after enjoy it as much is debatable to me. I completely agree all the pop culture references will be lost on them. And they are so important to the film that they won't enjoy it. BUT the film has such an original style of filming and the storyline without the culture references is obtainable to anyone whose every had a breakup, especially a one-sided one. OK it probably will be lost on the next generation or two. Then when history repeats it self and that generation that tries to replicate the current one it (I think) will favorite 500 Days of Summer. I just hope film critics continually approve of it.

Noel said...

I don't think *all* of the pop culture references will be totally lost on them. I hope the next generation learns to love The Smiths! But it probably will date the film quite a bit. I was also reminded of Wayne's World when watching (500) Days of Summer. Wayne's World's many pop culture references are very dated, but it's still incredibly entertaining! And the way Wayne's World plays with POV and cribs from other genres is very similar. You're absolutely correct that the thing that will make this film speak to other generations is the timeless story of boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-girl. It's fascinating to see how every generation tells the same story in very different ways. Casablanca, Annie Hall, Gone with the Wind, etc. etc.

Nena Nadine said...

If only I could get my husband to watch Annie Hall with me. I love that movie. But he isn't a fan of Woody Allen. I keep telling him it's the one movie of his to watch. I almost have him convinced.