Why Call Me By Your Name Is One Of The Greatest Love Stories Of All Time
“Is it better to speak or die?”
This is one of the main questions posed for Guadagino’s 2017 movie adaptation of Call Me By Your Name. What it’s really asking is, is it better to pour your heart out and confess true feelings at the risk rejection and looking foolish, or would “dying” be easier and much less painful?
Originally coined from a 16th-century French romance novel, the idea of “confessing your feelings or dying” may sound rather dramatic, but we’ve all been in that exact situation before. You know, when “dropping dead” sounds like a much more pain-free and simple alternative than allowing yourself to get that vulnerable with the object of your affection.
This is especially the case when you have already developed a strong friendship with the person of interest because you’re at risk of losing it all with just three words. Elio and Oliver, (played gorgeously by Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer), build a strong friendship that starts to take on several roles. Elio begins to not only see Oliver as his love interest, but also his “brother, friend, father, son, husband, lover, myself.” (CMBYN, 243.) Now that sounds like a lot more than your average schoolgirl crush!
Although the central question of the film may be “Is it better to speak or die”, there isn’t all that much being said between Elio and Oliver. Because the two are so resistant at first to admit their feelings, we have to rely on every unspoken gesture in order to assume any sort of romantic progression between these two. The lack of grand gestures and poetic spills of affection between Elio and Oliver is perhaps what makes Call Me By Your Name that much more romantic.
Instead of Elio racing through the airport to stop Oliver from hopping on a plane, and instead of Oliver holding up a boombox at Elio’s window while blasting Peter Gabriel, we have to rely on the silent and quiet subtlety conveyed masterfully by Hammer and Chamalet. A longing gaze. A smile that can’t help itself from spilling out. A bashful angst bubbling through their veins that’s slowly setting fire to all of Italy.
I mean it. The tension in this film is so strong, even people in the next theater over will feel it. Yet tension is not made possible if everyone's feelings are being laid out on the table. Instead, we get a lot of beating around the bush scenes like this one:
Call Me By Your Name manages to be a small and intimate film throughout. For one thing, there are no epic gimmicks that cause this movie to be the tearjerker that it is. No one suddenly develops cancer in the second act (A Walk To Remember). No one gets shot in the end out of hate or jealousy for the lead romantic pairing (West Side Story). There’s no malevolent parental figure who simply won’t allow these two to be together because of their homosexual relationship (nearly every gay movie ever). In fact, there’s really no antagonist here.
The only thing stopping Elio and Oliver is Elio and Oliver. Their own fears of rejection and vulnerability become the stopping force from these two living happily ever after.
And in that way, with a severe lack of outside characters, outside forces, and unnecessary subplot drama, all we really have as our focal point is Elio and Oliver. This creates an intimacy between the two characters that would be much more difficult to capture if this was a louder film.
We are utterly drawn into a different universe- the universe of Elio and Oliver. We feel like we’re right there in 1980’s Northern Italy by the lush scenery, the color patterns, the score, and the use of the same 35mm camera lens throughout the entire film.
One of the strongest elements of CMBYN is the score. The consistency of Sufjan Stevens’ sleepy guitar plucks and distinct gentle voice creates a lovely motif for the film’s soundtrack. With musical tracks that are so achingly beautiful, it’s hard not to listen to them over and over again. The more you listen to these songs the more you will be yearning to watch the movie, making it one of those films that you just have to watch at least fifty times (a week).
Who will ever hear “Love My Way” by The Psychedelic Furs again, and NOT think of Armie Hammer’s dance moves?
The soundtrack itself is so intelligently specific to the film that it’ll make you feel love, nostalgia, and pain all at once- all of the feelings that you have when you recall your first love. And that is what this movie is all about- the ache of remembering it all, even when it is gone for good.
Overall, the thing that makes Call Me By Your Name one of the best love stories of all time, (and easily my favorite love story of all time), is its originality. It’s hard to say that a love story can be original, but this one truly is. Elio and Oliver never utter the words “I Love You” throughout the film because they don’t have to. We are already well aware of their feelings for each other, as are they. All they have to do to express their love is to refer to the other as their own name.
“I remember Everything.”
I stopped for a second. If you remember everything, I wanted to say, and if you are really like me, then before you leave tomorrow, or when you’re just ready to shut the door of the taxi and have already said goodbye to everyone else and there’s not a thing left to say in this life, then, just this once, turn to me, even in jest, or as an afterthought, which would have meant everything to me when we were together, and, as you did back then, look me in the face, hold my gaze, and call me by your name.