The critically-acclaimed film “Call Me By Your Name” is a classic return to what filming, acting and directing are all about: being real. While the film may have lost typical elements like intensity, suspense and an inspirational message, it did so in exchange for an utterly cruel and honest depiction of life as it actually is and as it actually happens.
Our story starts off in beautiful 1983 Lombardy, Italy with a boy named Elio, the son of a Jewish archaeology professor. Right from the start the audience can tell that Elio has this subtle awkwardness to him, both in his physicality and his personality. Right off the bat the movie makes it clear that this protagonist isn’t the same highly-idealized, charismatic person in every other film; instead, he’s just an average person like us.
Elio’s father hires a handsome American graduate student named Oliver to come work with him over the summer — oh, and stay in Elio’s room. Immediately, Elio’s almost antisocial personality makes it clear that there is something about Oliver that frustrates him, but he just can’t quite figure out what it is. It seems like he doesn’t like Oliver, but there’s something else to it. He is secretly drawn to Oliver, as shown in the scene where Elio watches Oliver dance with one of the local girls in a seemingly bitter sulk.
Over time, Elio and Oliver develop a unspoken romantic relationship until Elio decides to take things to the next level. In the beginning, Oliver is hesitant, but eventually the two sleep together one night, during which Oliver says the most important lines in the whole movie: “Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine.”
The film adds a whole new layer of complexity not only through the teenager-adult relationship, but through the fact that Elio is also pursuing a sexual relationship with a local girl named Marzia while his feelings for Oliver are developing.
This confusing dynamic makes the film all that much more real — it’s not just the typical plot of a gay boy coming out of the closet. It’s something much more complicated, something that even Elio himself doesn’t seem to fully understand. Thus, the film lets reality play into Elio’s sexuality in showing that real life feelings are just not that simple.
The end of the film is where the brutality of the real world kicks in, making it so there is not a single dry eye in the theater. Elio finally gets a call from Oliver in what seems like months since they have said good-bye. What starts off as an excited phone call ends with Elio’s inevitable heartbreak, as he finds out that Oliver is engaged to an American woman. The film ends with a shot of Elio staring into a fire with tears falling down his face as his parents set the table for their Hanukkah dinner.
No heart-warming conclusion. No super meaningful life lesson. Just the simple truth that sometimes things don’t work out. And with Elio’s parents carrying on with Hanukkah in the background, the movie illuminates the idea that although life can be hard sometimes, the world doesn’t stop for your sadness. How’s that for harsh reality?
While this film is up for 3 Oscar nominations, that doesn’t mean it’s film is for everybody. It’s not just because of all the masturbation and sex in the film, but it’s rather the absence of suspense and high stakes felt by the viewer. The film’s dedication to an authentic portrayal of life as it really is ultimately makes for a slow pace with no obvious climatic moment. In other words, you’re going to love it or hate it.
Regardless of your personal taste, “Call Me By Your Name” is inarguably a beautiful but harsh reflection of the severity of life and the complex emotions that come with it. The commitment to such a honest portrayal, while it may seem boring to some, is what makes this movie worthy of every nomination and every future award.