Was Summer Hartley his real soulmate? An analysis
I enjoyed Definitely, Maybe immensely on first watch in 2008, but on following rewatches have grown even more appreciation for it. It’s a great film.
Over time I have become convinced Definitely, Maybe is deceiving. It ends with the happy ending of William and April getting together. Soulmates right? Or is his soulmate in fact someone he blew it with, Summer Hartley? Consider the following
Who William Hayes Really Is
Integral to this post is where William starts. When he begins, he’s a dreamer with one of the biggest dreams of all - President of the United States. He’s an idealist, believing the Democrats and ground troops can change the world. And of course, he’s a romantic. There’s a reason why he keeps buying the ring, keeps falling in love quickly.
But one of the themes of film is how over time, William has to face reality. Instead of President, he works in an advertising firm he hates for the money. He goes from loving Clinton, to throwing noodles at his face on the TV, his idealism shattered by political snakes. And this change isn’t good for him. It’s made him unhappy. When he goes back for April in the end, it’s by tapping back into his romantic and dreaming heart. This film is pro- the dreaming version of William.
Now compare this to April...
April is reality. She’s a twist on the typical romantic damsel. Instead of being swept off her feet, she talks *beep* smokes, dresses down. She has the job with the Democrats not because she believes in their idealism, but for the money. In many ways she’s a cynic. April believes that soulmates is when, not if - that one only believes they found a soulmate, because it’s who they were with when they became ready to domesticate. This is a down to earth position, not a romantic one. Also consider April listens to Grunge, a style of music specifically engineering to be a “real” and down to earth alternative to pop music of the 80s.
What about Summer?
Summer fits the old school romanticism and dreamer idea more. When her and William get together, it ends in a broadway style song and romantic montage. Her I Got A Crush On You is a direct contrast to April’s Come As You Are. She’s more “classically” beautiful than April. Summer wanted to be an actress when younger, a big dream like William’s. She’s a writer and an artist and shacks up with an old, emotionally lost professor, a romantic’s relationship. The movie even tells us that William’s dream girl is a long haired brunette with glasses, a clearly intentional allusion to Summer. The message is clear. Summer is the movie-style love relationship, while April is real.
A key part of my theory: On the surface, it seems Definitely, Maybe is about 3 juxtaposed love affairs. But the only love affair we really see is William and Summer. William and Emily are seen at the outskirts, while William and April don’t get together until the film’s last moments. William and Summer is the film’s real romantic montage. Is that because it’s the one that matters and the main event of his life?
When William is leaving for New York, he’s off to meet his destiny professionally, to rise up through the political ranks. Yet his other mission in New York, is to deliver a package to Summer Hartley, a mysterious figure. Importantly, he becomes obsessed with the package and can’t stop looking at it, as if it’s also a part of his destiny - as if he knows this and not Emily could be his soulmate.
William and Summer’s break-up
When William and Summer break up, it’s because their jobs - and reality, overwhelms their relationship. It’s made clear that Summer sacrifices William for journalism, but William does as well. While it’s more anger than professional self-preservation that tears him away instead of forgiving her and staying together, where did that anger root from? The job becoming too important compared to his relationship. It’s a scene where William and Summer act with their heads, not their hearts - a tragedy in the context of William progressively abandoning his dreamer, President in the mirror speech self. It bears noting that the lights go out on William's political dreams at the identical time as his Summer relationship ends. Was the end of his soulmate dream too?
The next William and Summer scene is her revealing that she’s going to single mom, a decidedly unromantic decision. She admits she gave up on love after William. Summer has also been on a journey of abandoning dreams for reality, from giving up on being an actress and presumably giving up on more artistic forms of writing, for journalism. Furthermore, she loses a part of her romantic soul with Hampton’s death, further pushing her towards reality. On first watch it’s easy to forget that this a romantic comedy where love and dreams are supposed to rule and it’s OK to need a man, yet Summer’s character flat out abandons it forever. The film is not embracing Summer’s decision to reject love, it’s seeing it as sad and tragic. You don’t want romantic comedy characters to give up on love.
What’s interesting is this could’ve done as the last William and Summer scene, if she had been intended as a middle fling and bump in the road. Yet we see them at her party and flirting, perhaps on the verge on getting together. However both decide that William and Emily is a better pair. Which we know was a mistake by it leading to a divorce. So William made a mistake by going for Emily when Summer was at the party - and likewise Summer made a mistake by believing William and Emily could work instead of going for it herself. Just like when they made the mistake of thinking with their heads instead hearts at the break-up, could this be a repeat? Their last chance blown. Consider if I was right and not crazy and William and Summer were intended to be the soulmates. They'd have made a simultaneous mistake giving up each other for the wrong, abandoning romanticism reasons - not once, but when given another chance, twice. That's tough and sad. The type of sequence that leads to soulmates being split forever.
William ends up with April, who personifies ‘reality’ and a down to earth, non-movie type of “It’s time” relationship. Yet it’s Summer who otherwise fits his dream appearance, who he has a relationship with worthy of a song and montage and is on a similar pathway as him, as having early dreams and plans before the real world sent her elsewhere. Who was written on a package as his destiny on his way to New York.
Did William really end up with his soulmate? Or is April the antithesis of a soulmate, rejecting the idea in favor of what makes the most sense. Instead of a happy ending, did William sadly double down on the advertising firm and settling part of his life, his real love lost forever?