In Conversation: Three Writers Respond to Call Me by Your Name
Call Me by Your Name and the Mystery of Love
I have not yet fallen in love. I am not sure when I will or what it will feel like, how long it will last, or how many times my heart might be broken. Many lean on cliché or fairytale as fantastical templates for how “true love” might be attained. But examples of queer romance that share in this daydreamy sort of free-of-conflict, sweep-you-off-your-feet kind of love are few and far between in popular culture. So it was not until days after seeing Call Me by Your Name, Luca Guadagnino’s swoon of a movie, that I began to piece together the profound way in which it allowed me to participate in the wondrous daydream of passionate and unabashed love, without fear or shame.
The film, which is based on André Aciman’s 2007 novel of the same name, ambles its way through a long, lazy summer in northern Italy on the shoulders of 17 year-old Elio Pearlman (Timothée Chalamet), who spends each year with his parents in an inherited villa on the ambiguous countryside. This summer, however, the Graduate Student assisting Elio’s father (an Anthropologist and Professor) with his research, is the beautiful and captivating Oliver (Armie Hammer). The two wind up falling deeply and liberatingly in love until Oliver’s six-week stay comes to an end.
It is 1983 and the two have no manual for this kind of romance—there is fear, second-guessing, and a potentially uncomfortable age-difference. But thousands of miles from the social confines of home, and in a place where nobody is watching, or expecting this love story, they are able to fully explore their intellectual and physical lust for one another.
Like most, I have experienced that same kind of spark of visceral desire for someone, the way Elio feels for Oliver from the moment he meets him; what begins as a small pang at the back of your stomach can quickly turn into an over-analysis of every interaction between you two. But unlike most, queer people tend to stop short of pursuing these feelings, sometimes for fear or an assumption that the other person is straight.
Often though, it is because in straight-spaces, there is no approved script for queer desire. While my romantic or sexual interest in another man might, in theory, be supported or encouraged among straight friends—in practice, it is still foreign and scary. Love stories about queer men and women, trans people, and people of color that are free of mockery, illness, or violence are still a mainstream anomaly.
In one scene, Elio and Oliver are alone on an empty street in Rome. It’s late at night, they’re drunk and intensely in love. They kiss slowly and passionately, knowing that the summer will soon end. I half-winced, expecting someone nearby to have seen them, preparing for the worst. And then—nothing happens. No one yells obscenities or hurts them. There is no shame or guilt. Just the two of them, navigating first-love and first-loss under a late-summer moon. A gift.
It is not a story entirely liberated from social pressures—both go to great lengths to hide their feelings and when the truth finally comes out it is coded and unclear. They move trepidatiously, but are allowed the space and the freedom, as fully-formed characters, to navigate the challenges of desiring each other in a nuanced way. It is a romance with trials that most are familiar with, but characters that few have seen.
I felt joy watching a love-story play out like many I have only ever fantasized of quietly, but a sadness in wondering whether I too, will love and be loved with the same fervor and freedom. I think I might. Yet, it is what will happen after the summer ends, that remains a mystery. - Alex Minton
Alex Minton is an actor and writer from Sleepy Hollow, NY. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2017 with a degree in American Studies and has written several short and full-length plays. A pilot, he is currently an Aviation Policy Fellow in New York City. (www.alex-minton.com / Twitter: @bestmidler)
Under the Deep Lombardy Sun
Call Me By Your Name (2017) makes me want to laze about in the sun at an Italian Villa eating lush, golden apricots. I want to skinny dip with friends under the full moon. I want to talk with a lover, late at night, as the summer breeze flows through our clothes.
Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is a young 17-year-old, spending the summer in Northern Italy when Oliver (Armie Hammer) arrives to conduct anthropological research with Elio’s father. Elio is immediately entranced, swooning over Oliver’s matured masculinity. I can see the attraction in the beautifully simple camera shots: Oliver dancing with someone else at a party. Oliver eating the yoke of a soft-boiled egg. Oliver sitting by the pool, basking in the sun.
And Oliver likes Elio, too. They immediately engage in the intricate push-and-pull of two lovers. It sucks me in entirely—envelopes me in their Italian summer. One pulls away while the other finds a way to lure them back, and vice versa.
This film is also a coming-of-age tale, a tale of learning, of navigating queerness in the 1980s, and much more, but fundamentally it is a tale of love. And summer love must end. Winter must come.
It’s already winter in Colorado, but I can’t help but think of the coming summer. My girlfriend is graduating in May, and, to be honest, I don’t really know what’s going to happen after she does. I don’t know where she’s going to be. I don’t know where I too will be when I graduate a year later.
By god, I just want to bask in the deep Lombardy sun. - Sage Marshall
Sage Marshall '19 studies English at Wesleyan University. He is co-founder and editor of Reverberations. Follow him on Twitter @Sagafanta.
How to Tell a Love Story
There’s a popular David Foster Wallace line that goes: “Every love story is a ghost story.” I’ve been thinking about this idea a lot lately. Every love story is a ghost story, but perhaps what haunts us isn’t the yearning for someone lost, it’s the embers of the selves we were with that person. Ghosts can’t be buried, and neither can those adrift selves of ours, not ever. In this, I find a reassurance that we are not concrete, inflexible creatures; we are fluid, ever-incomplete, like an unfinished sentence.
Call Me By Your Name (2017), directed by Luca Guadagnino, features Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer as the lead protagonists, Elio and Oliver. The story is like this: a summer defined by unremarkable moments that become something more, something dizzying and beautiful. There is no need for embellishment, the moments sit meaningfully and untouchable.
This is a film about a crush. Then, a film about something far more than a crush. Every moment hurts because I know the moments all too well—I’ve lived so many of them, the immensities within those handfuls of teenaged feeling.
As if the terror of a crush wasn’t enough, as a queer person, the feelings of fear can be twofold. To crush on a girl, for me, is a perilous, self-hating experience. I inhibit myself from indulging in that intoxication because of something murky and closeted—shame. Even though I don’t think I hate myself, the shame of my queerness has not dissipated; moments of immeasurable, gut-twisting self-doubt and paralyzing discomfort abound. Beneath the surface of a queer crush lies this inner monologue: she’s a girl. She’ll be disgusted. This is not how things should be. I don’t want to make her uncomfortable. This isn’t what a crush is supposed to look like. How could this ever be reciprocated?
I’ve never felt like I could take part in the frenzied teenage habit of crushing hard and unapologetically.
Elio and Oliver thrust aside that knotty fear, embodying a queerness I had never seen. A softness, the impossibility and revelation of intimacy, an exploration of the wanting without the all-too-familiar blanket of self-disgust. Elio and Oliver love with a robust wholeness. It’s the 1980s, and they are still queer men living in a callous world, but the small universe they inhabit for these few months is anything but. It is otherworldly, where they can love and love amidst the cracked and sun-drenched interiors of an Italian villa, the slow bluish honey of the lakes, the clear cold ponds, and the warm cobblestone alleys. They ride bikes together through the thick of lavender and rosemary, kiss in dewy grass, and live beyond the confines of the quick-paced brutality of American lives. Their world is one of billowy, unbuttoned linen shirts, wide-open windows, moonlit bodies under thin sheets, and peaches untouched, but savored and then devoured, potent, gentle, and free.
Yet, Call Me By Your Name is love story and a ghost story. Elio and Oliver find meaning in a split-second of a summer, cling to it, but it falls through their fingers, and eventually, dissipates the way it must. We want to live in these moments, these places forever. But, how brief each love story is, it makes us sick to our stomachs.
I want to be the girl unafraid of softness, of finding, as Sylvia Plath would say, “soul to cling to,” and of losing them, maybe all too quickly. In that cold, darkened theater, Elio and Oliver made me feel that maybe I could. - Sofia Sears
Sofia Sears is a high school senior from Los Angeles. Her work can be found on her blog, FemmeStories, and she has been published in The Los Angeles Times, Rookie, Unfurled Mag, amongst others.
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Written by Luca Guadagnino, James Ivory, and Walter Fasano
Runtime: 132 Min.