…our heart and our bodies are given to us only once. Most of us can’t help but live as though we’ve got two lives to live, one is the mockup, the other the finished version, and then there are all those versions in between. But there’s only one…
André Aciman wrote the words; Michael Stuhlbarg speaks a condensed version of them at the end of Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name. In one monologue, Stuhlbarg (who is fantastic) empathizes with his son Elio’s heartbreak, approves of however his sexuality shakes out, advises him to follow his heart, and regrets the ways he himself didn’t. Don’t be like me, go down the road you want to take, he seems to say. We only get one chance at this life. To call this a thesis statement would make the movie sound too academic–it’s the emotional undercurrent running through Elio’s journey over the course of one summer. He surrenders to an attraction that leaves him elated, confused, devastated; and he knows it will never leave him.
Honestly, this movie is so good. I want to move to Northern Italy to read literature and bike through the country and fall in love with Armie Hammer every day. The movie looks beautiful: Guadagnino clearly enjoys the lush flora and blue waters of Crema, where it’s impossible to resist the sensuality of your surroundings. He films the building romance simply, creating a placid exterior that the lovers’ impulses push against.
One scene you should pay attention to: the beautiful long take when Elio first shares his feelings with Oliver, and the camera pans around the piazza and its centuries-old architecture but always returns to Elio and Oliver, not letting them escape what’s finally out in the open. Of course, when Elio speaks, he’s talking in code:
If you only knew how little I know about the things that really matter.
If he only knew how much he knows. He’s fiendishly intelligent, precocious even, but his sarcastic, disaffected manner of speaking suggests he’s afraid of things beyond his book smarts. He thinks he knows it all and knows he doesn’t; I remember having that attitude at 17.
Maybe the movie is too tasteful in a few places. Guadagnino pans away from their first sexual encounter, neglecting how meaningful that experience is compared with Elio’s quick, perfunctory sex with Marzia. But James Ivory wisely keeps his dialogue spare, and cuts down Aciman’s feverish prose (which might have seemed too much on film). The novel’s epilogue is wisely unused, and we’re free to speculate whether it’s really the end of their affair.
There aren’t many nods to what it’s like to be gay in 1983. Only one really stings: Oliver admits his father would send him to a correctional facility if he found out. Elio is younger, and he’s grown up in a more Bohemian, intellectual household. We don’t know if Elio has found another boy attractive prior to Oliver, and it’s likely that despite his evident horniness, he’s kept these urges submerged, never really going for anyone like this before. But he’s free to fall for a man without social repercussions. In other words, this is a coming-of-age story, not a coming-out narrative. Elio might even live outside a world where accepting his sexuality or struggling with his sexual identity are necessary.
This is Timothée Chalamet’s movie. Everyone’s talking about the last scene, where we relive the whole movie in one unbroken shot. But his Elio is also goofy, a hapless kid in many ways, and his attempts at expressing love are so frantically earnest, they’re funny. His gawky limbs and shifting posture are the total opposite of Armie Hammer’s movie-star cool. Even without the book’s first-person narration, we see most things from Elio’s point of view. We’re introduced to Oliver from Elio’s window when he arrives, and his last words are on the phone to Elio months later, as the camera fixes its gaze solely on Chalamet’s conflicted face. He still possesses the physicality of a young man creeping into adulthood, but we see the actor’s emotional maturity in these last scenes, with a capacity beyond his years to feel and let us feel with him.