Call Me by Your Name

Release Date: November 22, 2017
Review Date: November 22, 2017
Reviewer: Blake Leath
Genre(s): Romance, Drama

This one's a bit tricky (like Moonlight) because it's a minefield on so many fronts. 

Indulge me, then, with this anecdote: I once coached a middle-aged man who arrived to our third or fourth appointment with so much emotional freight upon his shoulders that I thought the chair was going to crack the moment he threw himself into it. After some difficulty speaking, he began with, "I've raised and taught my son to be a strong heterosexual husband. This week, he told his mother and me that he is gay. This will be a new and unexpected journey for all of us."

And so commenced a very lengthy, weighty, important conversation.

As a red-blooded, heterosexual, WASPy American male, I must say that these waters, fraught as they are, are foreign to me.

But the experience of being human, and knowing love, and loss, and trials and tribulations is, of course, thoroughly familiar.

I chose to see Call Me by Your Name not because the subject matter resonated, but because IMDB has it resting at 8.4 which, on any 10-point scale, is a rather high number. And because much Oscar buzz abounds. And because I would very much like to see Armie Hammer in a good movie, as opposed to, say, The Lone Ranger.

Visually, it's a beautiful film set in northern Italy, 1983. It feels very much like a home movie, sometimes grainy and jumpy and often imperfect.

For the better part of 90 minutes, it's a game of cat and mouse, and a couple dozen teenagers being teenagers, frolicking in and around a gorgeous villa surrounded by a lush peach and apricot orchard, sleepy swimming holes, and high rope swings.

Much reading occurs, and writing, and translation (musical and literary), and discovery in general, as the nucleus of the filmthe primary family involvedis led by a thoughtful, professorial father and his German and French-speaking Italian wife who has inherited the villa. It's alternatingly cozy and sunlit...warm afternoon breezes blowing through the orchard and across the shadowy can smell it...feel it on your skin.... (Just imagine some French Provençal cookbook or a small Italian winery sprung to life before your very eyes and you've got the idea.)

Morning in the residence begins with the clanging ring of a dinner bell at the base of the stairs, conveying to everyone that poached eggs, fresh juice, and fruit plates have been prepared.

Characters loll about by the pool reading newspapers and scholarly articles they've published and intend to publish next. A loud Kodak slide projector clicks and clacks in a distant study where images of Hellenistic statues are being appreciated and catalogued by the patriarch and his visiting intern, Armie's character (Oliver), who is residing on the premises for six weeks and sharing the Jill half of a Jack-and-Jill bathroom set-up in the teenage son's area upstairs.

Eventually, the unrequited gets requited, consuming perhaps 35 minutes of storyline. It's difficult and choppy waters, I shall say, and I wondered many times how and whether it might reach a satisfying conclusion for my fellow theater-goers, all 144 of us, clearly from every walk and swath of life.

Somehow, almost magically, it does reach a satisfying conclusion. It would be glib of me to say, "of course it does," because...honestly...I wondered very much how they might be able to get the train back on the track and create something appealing to nearly everyone in the theater, not simply the obvious, thinly-sliced target demo.

It ends <spoiler alert coming, so avert your eyes if intending to see the film> depicting the usual end of any first love: in a dramatic, heartbroken fashion!

But it's what comes afterin the final 15 minutesthat made (for me, at least) the climb worth the effort: the father (aware all the while of what was happening in his own house) sits with his son on the couch in his study after Oliver has returned to the states. He says to his son, "What you and Oliver had was a very special friendship. Maybe more than a friendship. [very long pause] Have I said too much?"

His 17-year-old son nods no.

"Then allow me to say just one more thing, to clear the air. This [the end of the affair] will hurt for quite some time. And you may be inclined to deny it, to close it off, to choose to not feel. If you live as long as I have, the day may come that you no longer feel anything...because every time your heart is broken, you'll close yourself off just a little bit more...until all that's left is...nothing."

His son nods yes, understanding.

"And then," the father concludes, "who will you be?"

They stare at each other for a very long moment indeed, locked in a knowing yet peaceful, reassuring, accepting, loving stare. The son is coming to terms with the toll of possible conformity, and what it may or may not mean for his own life. And then, like a shooting star streaking across the sky, you see the boy realize that his father speaks from personal experience.

It's a genuinely painful, haunting moment, with actor Michael Stuhlbarg doing all the heavy lifting. A pin dropping in that theater would have sounded like a railroad spike falling 30 feet to bounce off the surface of an anvil.

There's nary a dry eye in the theater after this moment, and then the son asks his father, "Does Mom know?" and the father replies, "I don't think so."

But of course she does. And has throughout the film. Throughout her entire marriage. Has known about her husband, has known about her son, and loves them both fiercely and warmly and unreservedly.


< <  Fade to black. > >


Six months later, heavy, fluffy snow falling outside, Oliver and summer far behind, the sweet family returns from the states to Italy once again to celebrate Hanukkah in their villa. The antique, corded house phone rings loudly in the foyer. Oliver is on the other end of the line to tell the family of his recent [traditional] engagement and wedding to follow in the spring. "I just wanted you to know," he concludes.

With that, the young son kneels by the roaring fire at the end of a huge banquet table in the dining room, coming to terms.

Father and Mother look at one other, steeling themselves (as many parents do) as their child hurts.

You wonder, for the third and final time in the film, whether the boy will choose to feel or, like Oliver, will instead choose to close himself off *forever*, and perhaps similarly pursue the path of conformity and conventionality.


< <  Lots of absorption here, as everyone in the theater comes to termsvery much like we did when Robert Sean Leonard's character, Neil, laced his fingers around the handle of his father's cold pistol in his study and shot himself in the head in Dead Poets Society. > >


There are no easy answers here, but oh the gift of unconditionally loving parents. Unconditionally.

Exiting the theater, so many people were genuinely moved by this (ordinary, diverse, everyday citizens) that, as we passed those greenhorns entering the lobby, one newcomer inquired, "What's happening? What did you guys see?!?"

I couldn't help but think to myself, "You'll understand better, too, after...."

Oh how far I'd come in two hours in a dim, popcorny room with strangers and glinty motes of dust dancing before beams of projected light. 

The waters, fraught as they remain, are slightly less foreign to me now, because the film did a remarkable job on that literal couch of illuminating them in such a way that, regardless one's orientation, there is at least empathy.

And empathy, as we know, is the salve to sociocentrism and all its ills, be they judgment, hate, superiority, or intolerance.

On this side of it now, I can't help but think of Obama's evolving remarks. One's opinions may not change, I'll give you that, but perhaps one's heart will be softened to others' difficult journeys.

"Everyone has his own cup of sorrow," I am reminded.

I'm all the more prepared, thereforefor the next time someone sits across from me and nearly cracks his chair.