Pride Month, Restrospective Review: Call Me By Your Name

Year: 2017
Runtime: 132 Minutes
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Writer: James Ivory (screenplay by), André Aciman (based on the novel by)
Stars: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar

By Erica Richards

When the World is Ready, But You Are Not

Back in 2017 during preparation for the Oscars, I went into the first watch of “Call Me by Your Name” and I knew absolutely nothing about it. When the credits were done, I left the theater only because I was forced to get up because the cleaning crew had entered, which shows how badly I wanted to stay with these characters and their story.

I was sobbing so much that I had to duck into the bathroom to gather myself before going back out into the real world we intentionally escape from while in a cold, dark theater. This film’s ending is one of my all-time favorite endings of any film in all of cinema. A strong, memorable ending is hard to come by, and this one undoubtedly will stay with you quite some time, if not forever.

The reason why this film is more heartbreaking than the next LGBQT+ love story, is because I truly believe these characters live in a world where their sexuality and their relationship would be accepted, but the characters themselves are not ready. Elio (Timothee Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) first start as forced friends, as Oliver is staying to help conduct research with Elio’s father for 6-weeks during the summer.

Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name (2017) © 2017 – Sony Pictures Classics

Elio is extremely annoyed by Oliver’s confident persona, which he refers to as arrogant. Then Elio realizes his attraction to and connection with Oliver.  The chemistry between Chalamet and Hammer is absolutely off the charts—it is best shown in the hidden secluded locations where they share their love. When they touch in the sunlight surrounded by others, it seems innocent and unnoticed. But these small moments of intimacy open the door for their relationship to flourish in the still inviting darkness of the night, or behind hidden doors and closets where they can truly be together, in the fullest sense of the word. 

“This film’s ending is one of my all-time favorite endings of any film in all of cinema. A strong, memorable ending is hard to come by, and this one undoubtedly will stay with you quite some time, if not forever.”

The relationship Elio has with his father, openly confessing to him about when he and his almost-girlfriend almost have sex, establishes an accepting aura and energy between father and son. This exchange offers a comfortability to the audience that may not be typical in any parent/child discussion about sex. The family is friends with a gay couple who visits their home—the father, brilliantly portrayed by Michael Stuhlbarg, even defends the couple when Elio gives a seemingly harmless tease referring to them as “Sonny and Cher” claiming that he is too old to not accept people for who they are. This immediately squashes preconceived notions of toxic masculinity. Elio rationalizes his name-calling by saying—“that’s what Mom calls them!”

Armie Hammer in Call Me by Your Name (2017) © SPAZIO FOTO

This is creating a world where there are accepted same-sex couples; it is not taboo. Yet, when Elio and Oliver begin their hidden relationship, it is still filled with shame. When the two first share a kiss on a private sunny hillside—Oliver stops the moment before it can fully blossom, because he confirms that they haven’t done anything to be ashamed of, yet. The way Chalamet brings about the nervousness of a teenager navigating their sexuality in Elio, with both a young woman and a man is astonishing to watch—masked in unsure confidence. Hammer’s charisma in Oliver’s character is unmatched. It’s as if these roles were written just for them. 

Their first night together starts as just hugging and being one together. A feeling they have yearned and desired for so long finally able to play out.  Soon enough they are naked and intertwined, the camera now upside down just like their worlds have now become—when Oliver brings the title of the film to fruition. It is flawless. 

“The chemistry between Chalamet and Hammer is absolutely off the charts—it is best shown in the hidden secluded locations where they share their love.”

The perfectly woven in repetitive use of apricots comes full circle when Elio has a private, intimate moment with the not-so-forbidden fruit. A memorable scene, to say the least. However, he knows he has done something “wrong” and “disgusting” and something that he is not supposed to do. Then, Oliver discovers this. The “sickness” and shame Elio refer to in his being found out is really just confusion and fear; he just wants to be loved and understood.

Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name (2017) © 2017 – Sony Pictures Classics

He is scared because he knows he is falling in love and it will come to an end for multiple reasons. The shame, fear, and sabotage are all internalized. Just in the way the apricot is displayed openly throughout the film, so is the acceptance of same-sex love. However, the use of the apricot by Elio is what he considers shameful, just in the same way he and Oliver should consider their love to be. Elio and Oliver for some reason cannot accept themselves, so they must hide. 

Later, after Elio is picked up by his mother they have a shared moment of understanding and comfortable silence in the car, the getaway he and Oliver had has ended and Oliver has left Italy. Elio is visibly heartbroken after a wordless goodbye to Oliver. Then, when he returns, Elio and Mr. Perlman have one of the most memorable father/son scenes, a discussion initiated by Mr. Perlman in an attempt to relate and reassure his son and create validation in his experience.

Michael Stuhlbarg and Timothée Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name (2017) © 2017 – Sony Pictures Classics

“The extended take of Elio sitting alone by the fire as the world clinkers and clunks behind him, snow falling outside the window—showing the audience that the world still moves on in your most emotionally heavy moments, this is one of the most memorable shots in any recent film.”

The two sit on the same couch, an open seat left in between them. He reassures his son that he is too smart to not know what he and Oliver had was special and rare. Elio moves toward his father, the open seat disappears, the camera pushes in closer in the same way their relationship is now more bonded by this conversation.

Mr. Perlman goes on and tells Elio how he never had what they had, although he came close, something always held him back or stood in the way. He then tells Elio: how you live your life is your business. This reassurance that Elio is not alone, coming from his father is what any child wants to hear when experiencing heartbreak, especially of this kind.

Timothée Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name (2017) © 2017 – Sony Pictures Classics

The audience’s and Elio’s worst fears come true, when Oliver calls with the news that he is getting married soon. The false congratulations feel warm although filled with disappointment. The whispered repetitions of their names followed by Oliver’s confession to Elio, “I remember everything,” will make your heart physically ache, your stomach flutter, and send chills down your body.

The extended take of Elio sitting alone by the fire as the world clinkers and clunks behind him, snow falling outside the window—showing the audience that the world still moves on in your most emotionally heavy moments, this is one of the most memorable shots in any recent film. We are left with the reality that they cannot be together, if not for the world but because of their own accepted realities. The world was ready, but they were not.

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