On why Summer is no Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

(500) Days of Summer is my favourite film. I get a lot of stick when I tell people that. Old-school romantics hate (500) for its assertion that we can grow as people through our relationships, even if they aren’t made to last; feminist bloggers just hate our protagonist Tom’s unrequited love interest Summer.

I want to stick up for Summer, because I don’t think she is the product of lazy writing. With a screenplay as smart as this, no line that drops from a character’s mouth is accidental. So why is it that, aside from the small hints dropped that betray a deeper, more conflicted Summer (her dream confession to Tom, her distress on watching the ending of The Graduate), there seems to be so little to her beyond her general kookiness?

One word: perspective. This particular story happens to be told from the perspective of Tom. A male protagonist in the world of romantic comedies is still a relatively rare occurance, and so provides a contrasting POV to your standard run-of-the-mill Katherine Heigl flick. So, let’s analyse Tom as a character.

Tom believes in true love. He believes that when he meets ‘the one’, his life will be given purpose and therefore he will be complete. He works for Clark Gregg as a greetings card writer (hello, novelty movie job!) though his real passions lie elsewhere, in architecture. Tom also happens to be pretty selfish, though you might not have noticed. I’ll let Joseph Gordon-Levitt explain:

“I would encourage anyone who has a crush on my character to watch it again and examine how selfish he is. He develops a mildly delusional obsession over a girl onto whom he projects all these fantasies. He thinks she’ll give his life meaning because he doesn’t care about much else going on in his life… That’s not healthy. That’s falling in love with the idea of a person, not the actual person.”

Is it any surprise that Summer wouldn’t want to be with a guy that treats her as an accessory with which to complete himself? A guy that seems to display no interest in her own life plans? A guy that talks about her as a set of pretty features and quirks?

“I’m in love with Summer. I love her smile. I love her hair. I love her knees.”

That’s very sweet Tom, but is there anything beyond the superficial that-

“I love this heart-shaped mark she has on her neck.I love the way she sometimes licks her lips before she talks.  I love the sound of her laugh. I love the way she looks when she’s sleeping.”

I guess not.

Over the course of the movie, Tom comes to two realisations: A) He can’t put his happiness in the hands of anyone else; he needs to take control and find it himself, and B) His fantasy woman does not exist. While he starts the film believing that Summer will swoop in and save him, ultimately she doesn’t. She gets on with her own life. Does her rejection then give him the motivation needed to pick himself back up and set out on the right path? Yes. And that’s how life works: shit happens and we try to learn from it.

So stop calling Summer a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Summer doesn’t fit the MPDG mould. She breaks it.

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I open the door.

Take off my waistcoat, my tie, unbutton my shirt. The physical shedding of the worker’s uniform triggers the emotional shedding of the worker’s mindset.

Open iTunes. The sweet sound of Jeff Buckley’s voice flows through the speakers.

Break out the Phish Food. All too soon it’s gone. Sad face.

A brisk shower to wash out the incredible amount of hair wax and spray required to keep my slippery blonde mane in a tight bun. (That’s not too mention the pins, clips and hair ties.)

I can then dry off and change into a blue polka dot dress.

Green eyeliner. Because why not.

Two squirts of perfume; it doesn’t matter that no-one else is around, I know I smell good.

And I’m back to being me.

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Arty filter free.

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I think I’d be a pretty badass old lady.

I was sat in the library the other day on a break from revision, when I turned to my boyfriend (who was not on a break from revision) and asked which old lady hairstyle I could pull off. Like, when I’m old. He looked very confused, and asked me where this had come from and why I was worrying about it. His response was to be expected but not the answer I was looking for, so if we eventually become ‘that old couple with really bad hair’ I’m blaming him.

I know I’m planning pretty far ahead here, but you need to think about this kind of stuff. Because I really like the idea that I could pull off Judi Dench’s amazing pixie cut but I’m fairly sure you’d need thicker hair for it to work. I mean, I don’t want to get my long hair lopped off and then ‘Oh no, people can see my scalp! I look bald! Get me a hat stat’.

THAT HAIR.

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The Great Pretender

So I was watching this Blank on Blank interview with Heath Ledger, and something he said caught my ear.

“It’s a pattern for me, going into any job, carrying a certain level of anxieties and doubts, self-doubt. Fears about my inabilities, y’know. ‘I fooled them. I can’t do this. I’m not an actor. I shouldn’t be here.’ I think everyone goes through that. I certainly do. But I recognise it as necessary and without it I wouldn’t try as hard to overcome.”

Anyone who has seen Brokeback Mountain should be left in no doubt that Heath Ledger was a very talented actor. I found it really interesting that someone as brilliant and seemingly chilled as Heath had all these insecurities underneath. It reminded me of an article I read a few weeks ago, describing a psychological phenomenon called ‘Imposter Syndrome’. It’s essentially a label given to a constant feeling of inferiority and failure to acknowledge ones own accomplishments. Known to be especially prevalent among female academics, people with the syndrome admit feeling that their achievements have been built in large part through luck, and any minute now everyone is going to realise that they’re just not good enough, despite evidence of their success.

And imposterism has real consequences. Many intelligent women will turn down more ambitious projects or careers simply because they feel a fake. Is it partially responsible for the relatively small proportion of women in STEM subjects? Perhaps.

All this felt familiar to me. It was something I kept to myself for a long time, but I’ve never really felt comfortable academically. I find it very difficult to get to grips with (and then retain) certain ideas and my memory is just awful. I often feel out of my depth and have doubts about whether I’ve picked the right subject. My attention span is virtually non-existent, making revision a constant struggle. Combining these insecurities with my tendency to hang around gorgeous, funny, intelligent people, means that a lurking feeling of inferiority is never far away. By comparing my insides to others’ outsides, I will always come up short.

But something clicked when I watched Heath’s interview. He said that without his doubts ‘I wouldn’t try as hard to overcome.’ I listened to it again. I guess that’s true for me too. Of course, I could do without the stress that accompanies them (and I’m working on that), but I can’t deny the motivation they’ve given me to keep at what I’m doing and struggle on.

If you’re still in any doubt that these insecurities are more common than you thought, here are a few other talentless low-achievers who have spoken in public about feeling like an imposter: Tina Fey, Emma Watson, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Jodie Foster, Don Cheadle, Kate Winslet, Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep. I don’t know about you, but that seems like pretty good company to me. And these people all managed to push through those feelings and get to where they are today.

Forgive me if you feel I’m airing my dirty laundry. That wasn’t my intention. Generally I use my blog as more of an escape and keep things light; I won’t report on my neuroses and anxieties unless they have wider significance (because hey, that’s what diaries and boyfriends are for!). But I think it’s important to see behind the facade every now and then.

To anyone reading who feels that they may have a streak of imposterism running through them (and you can find out here): you’re not alone. All around you, other people are struggling with exactly the same thing, to a greater or lesser extent. You are not the only person that feels inadequate. You do not need to constantly compare yourself to the people around you because you are your own person with your own strengths and weaknesses; if you feel you don’t measure up to someone else in one way, you more than make up for it in others, whether you realise it or not. Have more confidence, extend yourself, be brave. I’m rooting for you.

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So I got out the watercolours. Hmm.

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Doodling in my sketchbook can be so therapeutic. I don’t do it often (work stuff!) but I really should put the effort in to get better. Flicking back through there’s a lot of unfinished stuff- I’m too lazy to do something over 2 or more days… Posting some earlier stuff as I feel I’m not currently living up to my ‘ponderings, nuisances and doodles’ tagline.

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The doodle that began the book, 2D from Gorillaz

The doodle that began the book, 2D from Gorillaz

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Lemmy the pick

I was recently reminded of a cute little stop-still I did a few years back over a couple of days, telling the tale of Lemmy the magical guitar pick. It was made on a budget of zero, requiring just a marker pen, some paper, my crappy digital camera (the colour variations are to do with the automatic colour correction) and a few bits & bobs I had lying around the house. I only showed it to a couple of people at the time so thought it might be nice to post it up here.

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