Friday, January 19, 2018

Call Me By Your What Now?

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"Call me by your name and I'll call you by mine..."

It's the title of the book, it's the title of the movie. It's the sweet mid-coital nothing that Oliver (Armie Hammer) whispers into Elio (Timothée Chalamet)'s ear. But it's not nothing, and lots of people don't see it as nothing - specifically I mean it seems to drive a lot of people batty. I've seen it come up on Twitter, in reviews of the film, and I have heard it in person from friends who didn't like the movie. "What the hell is that about?" "Who would say such a thing?" So on. 

I have some ideas. (I know. You're shocked. Me with ideas about Call Me By Your Name? What is the world coming to, et cetera.) I also want to hear your ideas because my ideas are mostly just bumbling around not entirely formed - if author André Aciman has been asked about this or talked about it at length I haven't read it and I would like to, so somebody forward me that link if you've got it! - but let's just try to sort my ideas out.

First things first, Oliver is a major book nerd, in case you didn't notice.  They both are. CMBYN is a story about scholars - Elio lies around in the rain contemplating 16th century French romance novels written in German and when he brings it up to Oliver, Oliver's all, "Yeah, I know exactly the one you're talking about." As much as I project myself into the film while watching of the film I've never been, not even when I was a lazy English Major in college reading Rimbaud on the Quad, as impressive as these two are. But I know the type, and I was a bit of the type, and this is just the sort of thing these book nerds would get off on. 

It's poetical, a romantic flourish - a sublimation of one's self into the form of one's beloved. They're young - I know some people have trouble since Armie was 30ish when they filmed the movie but Oliver is only supposed to be 24, and Armie's performance gets giddier and more youthful the more he hangs out with Elio, and this seems like something he's either done before or always wanted to do. He's giddy, enamored - he bounces around once they consummate their thing. This has the feel of that youthful sort - set them alongside the tumble of names in Wuthering Heights, all Heathcliffs and Catherines falling forever through the ages. 

Do you think that Oliver got this idea from a former lover? Do we think that Oliver has had former male lovers? I can't remember if that's made explicit in the book or not, but the film doesn't hint either way. It seems possible to me - it's a game he tried before and enjoyed. We know so little of the Oliver outside of this summer in Italy; who knows? It's not the sort of thing he would do with the wife-to-be waiting at home though - that'd be like Ennis always flipping Alma over in bed. It reads as specifically Gay to me - the centuries of male-male romance propped up as some kind of divine  romantic narcissism, the mirrored images in love with one another, falling into your own reflection and drowning. 

I do think it's telling, in this respect, how very different physically that Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet are; telling at least with respect to Luca Guadagnino's intentions - I believe in the book they're written to look more alike than they end up looking in the movie? Anyway the actual physical - the six foot five muscular blonde versus the six foot slight brunette - is  made less important through this choice than the intellectual, the emotional, the spiritual aspect of this intimacy these two are bridging at this moment. Them looking like Gay Twins would be a distraction from that; it would put an emphasis on the Physical - we'd think they were only obsessed with one another because of how outwardly alike they were. Instead we can sense that it's something more, some exchange, right off the bat. As Elio's father says, "Because it was him, because it was me."

And that's what "Call me by your name and I'll call me by yours" as pillow talk comes down to mean for me - it's the secret shared language between two specific different people who've erased the outward and are now speaking to one another, and only one another. The reversing of names allows for all of the film's ideas about identity to mix up with this but ultimately what it's about is the same thing that I argued Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread to be about - it's about two people finding a way to speak to one another that seems crazy and weird to the outside world but which makes perfect and complete sense to the two people intimately involved with the speaking.

It's Twin Language gobbledegook as far as it concerns us outsiders - what matters is that they get it. What matters is that Elio can cut Oliver short on that fateful phone call at the end of the film by summoning it out of the ether - you can see it on Timothée's face at that moment as Oliver talks about his father sending him to a correctional facility. This is not the conversation I wish to be having right now, his face reads. And so he summons their secret code. Elio, Elio, Elio, Elio. And Oliver stops. He breathes in. He groans (and I do mean groans - Armie really delivers it) his own name out, Olivvvvver, as if they are in each other's arms again. he remembers everything, he says. And Elio smiles. The bridge they built to one another remains. They still have their secret place.

As it was, as it shall always be. Think back to the opening scene of the film - think of the very first words that Oliver and Elio say to one another. Oliver has just arrived. Elio comes downstairs to meet him. He walks into the library and his father introduces them waving his hand back and forth between the two of them. ""Elio, Oliver. Oliver, Elio." Already it's begun, the overlapping of names. Oliver smiles, reaches out to shake Elio's hand, and says his very American, "How ya doing?"

And as they shake hands Elio says back, "Nice to meet you. Elio." Clearly he's repeating his own name by way of introduction, but I think it'd be unwise to think this interaction meaningless or a mistake at this point - Elio looked Oliver in the eyes, shook his hand, and called him by his name. And that was just the beginning.
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And here are links to my previous big pieces on the film:

My initial reaction to the movie from the NYFF right here
Day After list of thoughts just starting to form right here
My great big piece on the film's sex and voyeurism right here
Little love letter to Amira Casar (+ assorted thoughts) right here
Or click here for ALL of our exhaustingly extensive coverage


16 comments:

Robert Kirby said...

Jason, this is great, you give really fantastic analysis. When Elio & Oliver re-invoked their CMBYN connection that one final time over the phone I was swooning, with a big lump in my throat.

Malcolm Harsch said...

And now I'm crying all over again...

Anonymous said...

To me (a cis pan woman) both the “call me by your name” and the “parce que c’etait lui, parce c’etait moi”, resonate the same sentiment as well, however to me the key is in the naming. Is there anything more intimate than becoming one with someone else? By giving them your name you become them and they become you. To me it always meant something like this. I always felt the theme of homecoming and endlessness; like the alternate universe sequence in the last part in the book, and the “zwischen immer in nie” (which, sadly, also exists only in the novel) bring this moment home and give it meaning. They exist and are who they are because of each other and what they mean to one another, even if it was in just one summer. Characters change by staying the same and stay the same by changing. What I, clumsily, mean to say is; by being who they are as individuals and together they, in a sense, become the other, as well as are with the other. “Call me by your name” to me is an ultimate form of intimacy.
And this is what makes the story of Elio and Iverbso important; the deep and at times explicit intimacy, as well as the lack of any form of antagonist (except maybe time itself).

Anonymous said...

I really think it's time you just create a separate CMBYN blog.

Nick said...

Love the depth you go into with this film! To the point you're making about Elio introducing himself to Oliver at the beginning and almost being some form of foreshadowing is very cool, and probably intentional indeed. I also noticed upon further viewing how he then asks if he should "Take your things up to your room" then turns to his mom and says "my room" again reinforcing this image of them being one in the same.

Anonymous said...

ugh shut the fuck up

Owen Walter said...

Thank you. This was a very thoughtful interpretation. No quibbles at all. It doesn’t matter what Aciman says about it, since the author has a different perspective or interest from the reader. One other bit that I noticed about the echoing of their names: when they call out each other’s names as they’re swimming with Elio’s father at the lake of the statue, and you can’t see who’s saying what because it’s distant and dark; they could be saying their own names. The movie is filled to the brim with these artful echoes and foreshadowings. Guadagnino is amazing: such control of his art.

Another thing I liked about this piece was the fact that you placed these characters in context. Yes, they’re scholars in love with culture. I can’t tell you how much I hate the criticism that the movie is “pretentious.” It’s about a very specific milieu, cultured Ivy/European intellectuals, just as “Brokeback Mountain” was about two poor sheep herders.

P.S. I’ve been listening to Armie’s audiobook as I walk the city. It’s incredibly erotic to hear him say things like “I wanted to come in his swimsuit.” His performance in the film keeps growing in my mind, too. There’s something very moving about the melancholy that appears in the cracks of his all-American facade.

Calfcake said...

May I write a bit about the film Call Me by Your Name? I have been overwhelmed by this film, not only the performances, direction and art direction that I mentioned in a previous writing but about my actual “take,” to use your word, on this amazing piece of cinema.

First and foremost, the film is not a love story. Quite simply, it is a tale of mutual obsession. Never once in the film does the phrase “I love you” occur; this is true in the novel as well. Oliver has a handle on this obsession (“I know myself!”), but Elio, being a newbie, so to speak, does not, hence Elio’s great sadness at the end when they part.

The themes of Greco-Roman antiquity constantly run through this film as they do in the novel. Director Luca Guadagnino and writer James Ivory changed Prof. Perlman’s teaching subject from Prof. of Philosophy to Prof. of Antiquities, which is why there are Greco-Roman works of art in the opening credits, a raising of an ancient statue from the sea (“Venus Rising”), and a slide show of sensual statuary art (which moves Oliver to distraction); none of this occurs in the novel. Moreover, the basic story line parallels the Greek myth of the God Zeus’ abduction of the beautiful Greek youth Ganymeade to be cupbearer to the Gods (and Zeus gets some nookie on the side). Guadagnino and Ivory change the location of Oliver and Elio’s vacation from a few days in the city of Rome capped by a grand evening with the city’s literati (in the novel) to a mountainside idyll for two (read Mount Olympus).


I think the one feature that attracts me most to this film is Elio’s relationship with his parents, which is every gay boy’s dream fantasy. The parents are perfect, always caring, loving and supportive of their precocious son, capped by the moving father-son scene on Elio’s return home and the more subtle relationship with his mother, who knows what’s going on, says nothing about it, but supports her son as only a mother could, by her nurturing behavior. Note the brief moment when Elio’s mother notices he’s wearing the Star of David, pats his chest gently but makes no verbal reference to it.

Great acts of intimacy constantly occur in the film: Oliver lighting Elio’s cigarette, cupping his hands to stave off the breeze; the ubiquitous scene with the peach; Elio covering his head with Oliver’s swimsuit to breathe in his scent; and the ultimate intimacy, “Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine.” They are just a few of the many other intimate moments. By comparison, the actual sex scene is moderate in its approach as filmed by the director.

Elio and Oliver’s growing relationship is punctuated by flirting, game playing, and cat-and-mouse tactics, all beautifully depicted here. Those who say the film is too long and nothing happens do not understand what they are seeing. This is the result of the collaborative working relationship between director Guadagnino and the exquisite chemistry binding Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet. This is what a director does.



Finally, all the female characters are beautifully drawn individuals: Elio’s caring mother, the housekeeper Mafalda, who treats Elio as a surrogate son, the sex starved, man-eating Chiara whose fate it is to arrive at the bus station too late to say good bye to Oliver and finally, the delicate lovelorn Marzia, who is abandoned by Elio (as Ariadne was abandoned by Theseus), yet rises to the occasion in a beautifully written scene of forgiveness and her offer of lifetime friendship.


Ben said...

I got the impression that Oliver had male lovers previously. Otherwise, I'm not sure his statement that "we've been good" makes much sense - how could he know what "being bad" was? His forwardness with Elio suggested, to me, some experience.

Hermano Damasceno said...


Hello! I've been spying on your blog for some time, and I have to congratulate you for always excellent content! I came to stop here when I was looking for models and I found this preciousness that I can not go without everyday!
ah! about CMBYN, I got the book today, and I plan to devour it by the end of next week so I can watch this movie that has already become iconic to me!
thank you for making my days (and certainly that of many other people) more interesting and enlightened! good luck and prosperity!

Daniel said...

Yet more beautiful writing from you on this beautiful film - such a gift to the world!

I've been working on a review of CMBYN ever since I saw it a second time a couple of weeks ago. When I read the book I struggled with the this name-calling thing, finding it just some pretentious thing pretentious people would do. But in the movie it became clear to me - this is the greatest gift Oliver can give Elio: an expression of self-love.

We know Oliver has issues with being open about his desire for men, and that his family wouldn't be supportive. By calling his loved one by his own name, both men, in expressing a love for someone else, are expressing love for themselves... and isn't that such a beautiful thing? Especially for a young man coming to terms with his sexuality. It's another way in which this world is somewhat utopian, of a piece with the perpetually gorgeous summer weather and Elio's unconditionally supportive parents. But it's teaching Elio to love himself for who he is, and the more I think about it, the more beautiful I find it - just like the film itself.

Anonymous said...

Why do you keep deleting comments from readers who like your blog but who are critical of this film? Who are you shilling for?

Jason Adams said...

I delete anyone using the word "pedophilia" or anything insinuating that garbage, because I am personally fucking offended by it, equating a consensual relationship between two men to something perverse - that shit went out of style when we stopped electrocuting the gay out of ourselves and I won't have it here. I'm not shilling for anything save a respectful conversation. Think about your words.

(But this is my site and I'll delete whatever the hell I want to, also. FYI)

Austin C said...

Minor little thing I noticed and loved. When Elio mocked the oversized "fancy" shirt that "Sonny and Cher" gifted him as an early rebellion against his feelings only to later wear an equally flamboyant shirt in the closing of the film. He had clearly talked about his feelings and sexuality with his parents and was starting to come in to it and realize a lot can be said through wardrobe. I thought that subtle attention to detail throughout the entire film in regards to costume design was incredible. Thanks for all that you do Jason!

mwg1208 said...

Ah, but Austin C, Oliver promised to give Elio the shirt, which Elio later took. Isn't it possible that he's wearing the shirt in the end? mwg

Jason Adams said...

Just wanted to pop in here and say thanks to everybody for all of the amazing comments -- it's been such a pleasure reading your thoughts :)