“Call Me By Your Name” Is A Coming-Of-Age Story Full Of Sexual Tension And Heartbreak

by Erika W. Smith



Call Me By Your Name, director Luca Guadagnino’s adaptation of the novel by André Aciman, has drawn quite a bit of controversy: there’s the age difference between the two main characters (one 17, one 24); the fact that the two main actors are straight, yet telling a gay coming-of-age story (though the director is gay); and, of course, that peach fucking scene. These are all important conversations to have (well, minus the one about the peach scene), and I went into the film with a few trepidations, but after I saw it, I loved it — it’s a beautiful coming-of-age story that hasn’t been told before.

We open in 1983, in the lush Italian countryside. We see seventeen-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) watch the arrival of his archaeology professor father’s (Michael Stuhlberg) summer postdoc assistant, Oliver (Armie Hammer). Soon, it becomes clear that Elio is extremely into Oliver — but Guadagnino makes us wait to find out if Oliver returns his feelings, heightening the sexual tension in a slow burn. It’s a portrayal of adolescent desire that anyone who’s ever been a sexually frustrated teen with a crush will relate to. (Raises hand.)

When Elio finally makes a move, Oliver expresses hesitation at becoming involved with Elio due to their age difference, warning Elio (correctly) that he’ll get hurt — but it’s not too long before Oliver gives in. The two begin a whirlwind romance under the noses of Elio’s seemingly-oblivious family. Along with some intense sex scenes — including one in which Oliver tells Elio, “Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine” — Guadagnino includes many shots of ripening fruit, culminating in that peach scene: Elio masturbates into a de-pitted peach, which Oliver then discovers and tastes. The scene goes from strangely erotic to heartbreaking in just a few seconds, because although Elio is in love with Oliver, they both know that the summer can’t last forever, and Oliver will have to leave.

 The Italian countryside, architecture, and images of ancient statues, along with a soundtrack containing some tearjerking Sufjan Stevens originals, creates a gorgeous setting that makes Elio and Oliver’s story feel contained in its own world.  The cast all puts in incredible performances, but Timothée Chalamet’s portrayal of a teenager falling in love, discovering his sexuality, and getting his heart broken for the first time deserves all the awards.  

It’s important to note that although Guadagnino portrays a relationship with an age gap — and, by the way, it looks like it, because the pair spends much of the film in swimsuits and Hammer looks very much like a full grown man and Chalamet looks very much like a teen — he isn’t necessarily endorsing it. We see Oliver’s warning to Elio come true, and it’s clear the relationship affects Elio far more intensely than it does Oliver — a point underscored by a particularly touching scene between Elio and his father. We get much less of Oliver’s interiority than we do of Elio’s, and to me, the film seems more of a coming-of-age story than an idealized love story. In short, it’s complicated, but it feels real and relatable — and as a film, it looks and sounds beautiful.

top photo: Call Me By Your Name

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