The feeling of love is to awaken all the senses humans have. Especially, the first love in someone’s life will hold in his or her memory the most marvelous and mystical sensations as only the self can make sense of them.
The film “Call Me by Your Name (2017)” handles the story of a 17-year-old boy named Elio (Timothee Chalamet) and his intense first love and painful coming-of-age. This affecting and sensual movie starts very simply, with Elio spying on Oliver’s (Armie Hammer) arrival to his bedroom. Elio’s family spends every summer in rural Northern Italy and receives young scholars as their guests to live and study with them. In 1983, the summer visitor occupied not only Elio’s room, but also his heart. The film portrays how Elio and Oliver feel drawn to each other and ultimately fall for each other using refined metaphors. What does it mean to say, “Call me by your name?”
Exquisite discussion on apricots
The fierce debate between Elio’s father, an archaeologist, and Oliver is pretty impressive. They argued over the origin of the word “apricot.” The word has been transformed under the influence of Greek, Byzantine, and Arab cultures.
The essence of the apricot is always the same, but it has been called by different names depending on when and by whom it is called. To call someone’s name is to acknowledge its existence in a distinctive way. A man’s aspiration to refer to an object in his own name, can be understood as the strongest desire for unity.
Oliver’s ambiguous attitude
Elio’s feelings toward Oliver grew bigger and bigger, but Oliver seemed to be just sitting on the fence. Watching Oliver hanging out with another girl, Elio became so jealous that he could not help but confess his love to Oliver. Even though they finally kissed each other, Oliver’s behavior was still opaque. Oliver seemed to get more and more distant as Elio went out with his friend Marcia (Esther Garrel).
Oliver, who was full of ambiguities is actually a very passionate character, nearly as much as Elio. What Oliver was afraid of was the wound his love could inflict on Elio’s heart. The metaphor of Oliver politely refusing to eat more eggs at breakfast, because he knew he could not stop himself once he started, illustrates this hesitancy. Such a thoroughly rational Oliver eventually accepted Elio into his heart completely due to an uncontrollable feeling of love, which cannot be explained in words. Can humans logically describe how and why people fall in love?
Barrier to their attachment
One day, a male couple, who Elio calls Sonny & Cher (American pop duo) in a bit of a sarcastic sense, visited Elio’s family. The couple’s appearance, just before the night Elio and Oliver promised to spend together, reflects the future of the two protagonists like a mirror. It is not their emotions that really hinder Elio and Oliver, but they were scared of the view and gaze of the world upon them.
Waiting for midnight to come, while Elio was killing time with Marcia, the song “Words” by F. R. Davids came out. “Words don’t come easy to me.” They hesitated for some time, but ultimately Elio and Oliver followed their hearts.
The significance of ancient Greece
The frequent references to ancient Greece tie into the subject matter of the film. Historical evidence suggests the Greeks were one of the earliest civilizations to embrace fluid sexuality. Pederasty was a common tradition wherein an older man mentored a younger male, usually a teenager, and they would be lovers until the older male married and the younger entered his passage into manhood.
The intellectual undercurrent of Elio and Oliver’s relationship, in regard to music and Greek philosophy, echoes the practice of pederasty of ancient Greece. They are both the right age, learned from each other, and eventually are driven apart by Oliver’s impending marriage and Elio’s need to “grow up.”
Classical Greek philosopher Plato explained homosexuality in his book “Symposion” that the human being is an imperfect entity in the first place, divided into two parts by God. People look for their other half that resembles themselves to restore their original integrity. The scene where Oliver shakes hands with Elio with the arm of the ancient sculpture, seems to show the audience that they complete each other.
Father’s words of consolation
After Oliver left, Elio’s father Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg) cheered Elio up. His words also warmly touched every other broken heart. “Right now, you may not want to feel anything. Perhaps you never wished to feel anything. But feel something you obviously did. You had a beautiful friendship. Maybe more than a friendship. And I envy you. In your place, if there is pain, nurse it. And if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out. Don’t be brutal with it. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster, that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to make yourself feel nothing so as not to feel anything - what a waste!”
Elio’s mournful tear
The movie ends with Elio sobbing in front of the fireplace. It reminds people of their faint old love and the sorrow of saying goodbye to their loved ones. The lyric “Is it a video?” from the original soundtrack “Visions of Gideon” refers to something beautifully bittersweet but temporary. Elio can relish the memory with Oliver, but never truly experience it again.
The whole dialogue between Elio and Oliver throughout the movie’s running time is a constant whispering of sweet nothings to each other. “Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine.” - I become you and you become me. You and I, object and subject of love become one. Can there be a more fascinating expression of love than these touching words?
By Jeon Nu-ri
Associate Editor of Culture Section