Cinematic Releases: Call Me by Your Name (2017) - Reviewed

“That day was the beginning of my friendship with Sebastian, and thus it came about, that morning in June, that I was lying beside him in the shade of the high elms watching the smoke from his lips drift up into the branches.” ― Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited 

Traditionally, the realm of the sensual has been associated with women. Statues of curved female bodies, shaped to resemble soft skin and supple breasts, litter all of antiquity. The male form is mostly likened with the stoic warrior; hardened and emotionless. We never grant men any claim to the throne of love and tenderness, declaring it feminine in nature. And in our imaginations, it is Venus de Milo, not David, we conjure when we wish to drench ourselves in desire. 

Director Luca Guadagnino's Call Me by Your Name is a tour de force, poured into a glass, and thrown in the face of these stereotypes. An adaptation of André Aciman's novel, it is the story of aspiring musician Elio in the summer of his seventeenth year. While vacationing in the northern Italy of 1983, Elio develops a friendship with his father's new research assistant Oliver that soon turns romantic. It is through this friendship-turned-romance that Guadagnino reveals the tender and precious creatures living inside masculinity. The on-screen chemistry between Timothée Chalamet (Elio) and Armie Hammer (Oliver) is magnetic. As a member of the audience witnessing their relationship flourish, it is hard not to be captivated and enamored with them both. 

Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited, The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder contains in it the story of a similar relationship. Later revealed to be inspired by the actual romance Waugh had with one of his classmates at Oxford, Charles Ryder comments on his new friendship with Sebastian: 

“But I was in search of love in those days, and I went full of curiosity and the faint, unrecognized apprehension that here, at last, I should find that low door in the wall, which others, I knew, had found before me, which opened on an enclosed and enchanted garden, which was somewhere, not overlooked by any window, in the heart of that grey city.” 

I found myself thinking of this passage while watching Call Me by Your Name. It contains in it the same essence of Elio’s story. In the analysis of Brideshead, it has been argued these types of romantic male friendships are forerunners to finding the real and mature love later in life. I emphatically disagree with this concept. I think both of these relationships are the pinnacle for these characters, to which all other relationship pale in comparison. 

Call Me by Your Name is a testament to the power of friendship in love. It demonstrates that true love is not found in fairy tales nor the drunken infatuation of stories like Romeo and Juliet. It is the mutual admiration coupled with the attraction that provides substance and depth to the experience. As Evelyn Waugh wrote, “…to know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom.” 

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-Dawn Stronski