Call Me By Your Name: A Film with Plato, Peaches, and Pure Love
In a culture where social issues are increasingly stigmatized, films that focus on something beyond the cliches of controversy are in short supply. However, “Call Me By Your Name” is a film that eliminates labels and instead focuses on what’s really important—honest human connection. As the brainchild of director Luca Guadagnino, “Call Me By Your Name” tells a genuine love story between two people that avoids salaciousness and instead focuses the viewer’s attention on the deeper aspect of a relationship.
Actors Timothée Chalamet, playing 17-year-old Elio, and Armie Hammer, paying 24-year-old Oliver, bravely harness the underlying raw emotion that pervades the relationship on-screen and leaves the viewer feeling the universal blossom of love.
The film’s power lies not only in its message, but also in the cinematic devices Guadagnino employs to convey that message. For example, foreshadowing by way of mirroring and imagery throughout the film is critical in giving the viewer insights into the characters or plot.
In the beginning of the film, the recurrence of Greek mythology makes the viewer more aware of mythological themes that interweave with the characters’ relationship. The undeniable feeling that pervades the boys’ relationship is one of extreme intimacy and understanding, almost as if they are the same person (foreshadowing the title-line “Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine,” said by Oliver). In Plato’s book “The Symposium,” such a bond is described in Greek mythology: “...humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves....And when one of them meets the other half...the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy.”
While the ancient text is never explicitly referred to in the film, it is evident that the link between the two lovers is something transcendent beyond the physical, and feels like the reunion of two long-lost halves. Through these nuances, Guadagnino’s vision for the relationship is expressed as an intense intellectual and spiritual bond that is manifested in physical attraction.
While some mainstream films addressing LGBTQ themes are plagued by obstacles standing in the way of a given relationship — such as closeted sexual orientation, disapproving family members, or AIDS — “Call Me By Your Name” chooses to depict a negativity-free vision of two men in love.
"Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves....And when one of them meets the other half...the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy.”
Hammer claims as much.
“What I see are sort of the base, underlying emotions that every single human being feels,” Hammer told MTV in an interview. “When you watch this [movie] and see two people purely and organically and without tension or punishment … fall in love with each other ... you see it here in a way that might challenge your perspective.”
“Call Me By Your Name” offers viewers not just a vivid experience of the picturesque town of Crema, Italy, where the film and story take place, but a powerful sense of nostalgia that will resonate long after the credits roll.
Breaking the typical mold for LGBTQ films, Chalamet explains this film’s content avoids the explicit.
“That’s simply not what the movie is about,” Chalamet told IndieWire for their Spotlight Award series. “To treat the sexual material salaciously or exploitatively wouldn’t be doing Andre Aciman’s novel justice.”
Moreover, the film is intentional with its use of literature references to highlight key aspects of the plot and characters.
Books are central to the film (Oliver is a doctoral candidate writing a manuscript and Elio is a precocious boy who spends long summer days reading), and the reading of the story “The Heptaméron” by Elio’s mother informs the entire story. Written by Marguerite de Navarre, the tale tells of a knight who questions whether his love for a princess is worth the risk of speaking it aloud to her. The film seems to play out as a veiled answer to the quote “Is it better to speak or die?”
“To treat the sexual material salaciously or exploitatively wouldn’t be doing Andre Aciman’s novel justice.”
The film’s symbolism is likewise carefully curated to offer significance. Some notable imagery include recurring shots of churches and references to the boys’ shared faith (Judaism) harken back to the spiritual nature of Oliver and Elio’s relationship. They wear matching Star of David necklaces and, thus, are physically reminded of their faith.
Additionally, references to nature such as recurring shots of fruit, specifically peaches, and the human body continually remind viewers of the purity of the boys’ relationship.
Yet, imagery aside, one of the film’s biggest strengths is the director’s attention to compassionate parenting. The final minutes of the film feature Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) deliver a riveting monologue on the pain of love.
“We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of 30 and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything - what a waste!” he says.
Despite the inevitable political lens through which audiences today tend to view such films, “Call Me By Your Name” instructs a deeper take-away - that of the power of love, vulnerability, honesty, and confrontation. Guadagnino establishes these lessons with as much tenderness of heart as that which fills Elio and Oliver’s relationship. Regardless of sexual preference, this is a film that all can relate to, and is one of the most beautiful and enlightened ways to share in a universal truth.
The opinions reflected in this OpEd are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of staff, faculty and students of The King's College