We Don’t Belong Together: The (500) Days of Summer Color Palette Theory

by Fergus Morton

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Fox Searchlight Pictures

To preface, I’ve seen 500 Days of Summer maybe five or six times now and love everything about it. However, I’ve always been somewhat confused as to why Summer (Zooey Deschanel) goes off and marries someone else at the end of the film. I believe it is meant to be somewhat ambiguous as we see this movie from Tom’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) perspective, and as result, we the audience, are meant to relate to his confusion and surprise by Summer’s change of heart and mind.

My brother and I watched it again, and this time I searched for clues and foreshadowing early on as to why Summer doesn’t stick around. Here’s my theory, based on the film’s use of colors.

The film is rich in them. Scenes are often dominantly one color, with many shades of that color surrounding it. Tom is represented by brown/auburn and neighboring shades. Here are some examples:

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Fox Searchlight Pictures

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Fox Searchlight Pictures

Whenever we see Tom, he is either wearing colors of this tone or his surrounding environment is dominated by them. Also, his eyes are brown.

Summer on the other hand is represented by blue. She dresses in blue, her eyes are blue and her surroundings are often depicted in blue.

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Fox Searchlight Pictures

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Whenever Tom and Summer spend time together, we can see the general surroundings of the scene become blue. This represents Tom being in Summer’s world. He is out of place, and no matter how hard he tries to be part of it, he can’t. Not fully. No matter how much they both want it to work or how much she invites him into her world, he won’t be accepted because they’re two very different people.

Let’s look at the morning after Summer and Tom have sex. The scene features Tom dancing and singing his way through the streets and parks with everyone around dancing alongside him. Everyone that dances to the choreography is dressed in various shades and tones of blue, while Tom is still dressed in his beige and brown colors. There are blue hard hats, blue business suits, blue summer dresses. Even the cartoon bird is bright blue.

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Fox Searchlight Pictures

This is the moment Tom enters Summer’s world, but he doesn’t belong. He’s falling leaves, she’s a bright sky.

The scene is yet another among many that show how while Tom is dating Summer, he is in her blue world (and not the other way around). In this case, his apartment, which was brown in tone before they slept together, is now blue.

When they split up, the color palette goes back to how it was before they started dating. The scene where Tom bumps into Summer on the train on the way to the wedding and has coffee with her shows their pre-dating color palette. Strong browns and auburns, because Tom is no longer in Summer’s world. Again, at the wedding, we see Tom is wearing brown/auburn/beige while Summer is wearing blues.

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Fox Searchlight Pictures

I think it’s clear at this point in the movie Summer has become aware that Tom does not belong in her life, but Tom hasn’t. It all builds to the movie’s most iconic scene: Expectations vs Reality.. This scene is dominated by their pre-dating colors as well as a return to each of them wearing their respective blues and browns. The surroundings are colored by Tom’s mental state, which can no longer be influenced by Summer’s. He’s on his own.

The final scene of the film provides the best supporting argument for this theory. After accepting that his relationship with Summer is truly over, Tom begins to pull his life together and attends an architecture interview. The building’s interior is brown. Tom is finally in the right place in his life. A place where he doesn’t have to fake or alter his personality for someone else’s sake. His colors finally suit his path to becoming an architect. It is also here where he meets his next love interest, Autumn. She’s already in his world. Her world is brown, just like his. Her eyes, hair and skin tone are all brown. They tonally match.

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Fox Searchlight Pictures

Tom has moved on from the blues and greens of Summer to the browns and dark reds of a potentially great new season.

Editor’s Note: This article has been republished with permission from the author from his original Reddit post.

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