Interpersonal Communication in
(500) Days of Summer
In the film (500) Days of Summer,Tom, a writer
at a greeting card company, falls for his boss’s
new assistant, Summer Finn, who he strongly
believes is the woman he is meant to be with.
However, Summer does not believe in love and
does not want a romantic relationship. Despite
their contradictory beliefs,Tom and Summer
become friends and soon develop a more
intimate relationship.The film depicts the
various days of their relationship asTom
reflects on all the good times and bad times he
had with Summer.
The film demonstrates how communication
can foster, maintain, and damage a relationship.
The primary communication concepts
presented in the film include nonverbal
communication, self-disclosure, and conflict
Uncertainty Reduction Theory
WhenTom’s boss introduces
Summer to everyone, he mentions
that she had just moved to the Los
Angeles area from Michigan.Tom
later uses this information to initiate
a conversation with Summer at a co-
worker’s engagement party. He
approaches her and asks,“You just
moved here, right?” He then goes on
to ask her what brought her to LA.
Tom is asking these questions to
reduce his uncertainty about
Implicit Personality Theory
Tom and Summer encounter one another in the elevator with Summer.
When she hears him listening to music byThe Smiths, she lets him know
that she also lovesThe Smiths.This is before she knew his name.There shared
love for the band becomes an assumed similarity forTom and alters his
perception of her from “a pretty girl who thinks she is better than everyone
else” to someone who is more accessible.Tom later talks to his adolescent
sister, Rachel, about how he and Summer have similar interests. He associates
these similarities with compatibility. He assumes that he and Summer are
compatible just because she likes some of the same things as he does.
Social Penetration Theory
At the engagement party,Tom and
Summer self-disclose factual
information. One night at a karaoke bar,
Summer shares some of her beliefs and
values, including her belief that love
does not exist. Later that night,Tom
self-discloses his feelings for her.
Summer kisses him the next day and
they become friends.Tom later brings
her to his favorite spot where he draws
on her arm expressing his love for
After being in a relationship for some time, a man tries to flirt with Summer at a bar.
The man then insultsTom. In response,Tom stands up and punches the man in the face.
He perceived his action as a way of conveying his anger and protecting Summer, but she,
on the other hand, interpreted it as a negative and unnecessary gesture.
When they leave the movie theater,Tom notices that Summer is crying.When he tries to
comfort her, she walks away.They then go to a record store where she recurrently avoids
eye contact.As they leave the store,Tom tries to hold her hand but she quickly pulls her
hand away from his.Tom later referred to these nonverbal cues as the “first signs of
trouble.” In these scenes, Summer is nonverbally communicating her growing disinterest
in the relationship.
Tom discusses his relationship problems with Summer with Rachel and his
friends, McKenzie and Paul.All three of them use sympathetic responsiveness,
which is “empathizing by feeling concern, compassion, or sorrow for another
person because he or she is in a distressing situation but not identifying with
the specific emotion he or she is experiencing” (p. 261).They are concerned
aboutTom but instead of addressing his emotions, they focus on
understanding the situation by asking him to describe what happened.
The first supportive interaction depicted in the film is when Rachel comes over
toTom’s apartment to provide her support after Summer broke up with him.
She tells her brother to start from the beginning. Rachel actively listens to
Tom. She communicates her attentiveness by sitting across from him, making
eye contact, and leaning forward.Tom discloses to Rachel and his friends that
Summer told him that she did not think that their relationship was working.
Positive facework: McKenzie says toTom that he’ll meet someone new because
he is the best guy he knows and he’ll get over her. McKenzie is supporting
Tom by expressing his belief thatTom has the qualities and skills to endure
the situation (p. 271).
Framing information is “providing support by offering information,
observations, and opinions that enable the receiver to better understand or
see his or her situation in a different light” (p. 277). Rachel and his friends try
to frame the situation by attributing Summer’s behavior to hormonal
imbalance. In addition, sinceTom perceives Summer as being the only one
for him, Paul also reminds him that there are “plenty of other fish in the sea.”
Supportive Messages (cont.)
Tom asks Rachel for advice on whether or not he should ask Summer about
the status of their relationship. Rachel offers a suggestion by telling him what
she would do if she was in his situation. Rachel says that if it were her, she
would ask now before Summer goes after some other guy. She also gives him
“You’re just afraid you’ll get the answer
you don’t want which will shatter the
illusions of how great these past few
months have been.”
The Assertive Approach
When McKenzie asks Summer why she
does not have a boyfriend, Summer
responds with assertiveness. She says she
does not want one because she feels
uncomfortable being anyone’s girlfriend.
She wants to be free and independent.
She also believes that there is no such
thing is love. She honestly verbalizes her
feelings and preferences to them.When
Tom tells her he thinks she is wrong
about love and relationships, she says that
they can just agree to disagree. By saying
this, she is respecting his personal rights
and preferences while defending her
such thing as
love. It’s a
Styles of Managing Interpersonal
Tom often uses the accommodating style of conflict with Summer.
Accommodating is resolving a conflict by satisfying the other person’s needs
while neglecting one’s own needs (p. 363). One day at the IKEA store,
Summer tells him that she is not looking for a relationship.Tom says that is
fine with him even though he truly does want them to be more than friends.
By accommodating,Tom satisfies Summer but at the expense of his own
wants and needs.Tom also uses withdrawal.When Summer andTom have an
argument at a diner,Tom gets up and walks away rather than sit there and try
to work it out.
Communicating in Intimate
Summer engages in emotional disclosure when she tellsTom
that she sometimes dreams about flying. She describes the dream
asTom effectively listens.Afterwards she says toTom that she had
never told anyone that before.This intimate interaction deepens
ForTom Hansen, this was the night where everything
changed.That wall Summer so often hid behind – the
wall of distance, of space, of casual – that wall was slowly
A source of relational uncertainty is the “absence of clarity about the nature of the
relationship” (p. 417).When Paul asksTom if he was Summer’s boyfriend,Tom says
he doesn’t know. He then becomes defensive and says that they do not need to put
labels on their relationship because they are adults and that calling each other
“boyfriend” and “girlfriend” is juvenile.
Summer perceives their relationship as platonic butTom perceives the relationship as
romantic.This tension causes problems in their relationship and contributes to its
eventual demise. One day, they have a huge argument. Summer says that they are just
friends butTom angrily disagrees saying that everything they have done together (i.e.
kissing and holding hands) are not what friends do. He then loudly proclaims them as
a couple and storms out of the apartment.
Relational Uncertainty (cont.)
Summer later apologizes and their communication becomes more open asTom tells
her that he needs consistency, although Summer tells him that she can not give him
that.As a result, their relationship comes to an end.
Near the end of the film, Summer invitesTom to a party.What she did not tell him
was that it was her engagement party.They later have one final conversation at his
favorite spot overlooking the city.They provide each other with support with
comforting messages.WhenTom gets upset and admits that love does not exist,
Summer comforts him by affirming his original belief regarding love and destiny. She
does this by explaining how she believed that she and her fiancée were meant to be
and that fate had something to do with it.
I think the film (500) Days of Summer is a realistic depiction of interpersonal
communication. It shows how communication increases intimacy in a
relationship as demonstrated in the film through concepts such as self-
disclosure and emotional support.The film also shows how communication
can ruin a relationship, particularly how different views on life and the
miscommunication of expectations can lead to conflict as well as inhibit a
relationship from developing into a successful long-term one. I think there
are a lot of people that can relate to eitherTom or Summer. For example, a
friend of mine had broken up with her boyfriend because, like Summer, he
refused to acknowledge that their relationship as a romantic one.As for
myself, I do not think I would do well in such a relationship because of all the
uncertainty associated with it. I can also relate to some aspects of theTom's
communication style, such as accomodating to resolve conflicts and seeking
support from family and friends.
Verderber, Kathleen S., and Rudolph F.Verderber. Inter-Act:
Interpersonal Communication Concepts,Skills,and Contexts. New
York: Oxford University Press. 2013. Print.
(500) Days of Summer. Dir. MarcWebb. Perf. Zooey
Deschanel, Joseph-Gordon-Levitt. 2009. DVD.