Watching “Call Me by Your Name” after Reading the Book


Nicole Shaker, Editor-in-Chief

I remember watching the cinematic triumph that is Call Me by Your Name last summer, and upon first viewing, I grew a deep respect and fondness for the film, which evokes uniquely portrayed ideas of love, sensuality, and coming-of-age. I was so enchanted by the film that I decided to read the original basis for it, the novel of the same title by André Aciman, and I am so glad that I did.

What amazed me about this experience is how much the book reflected my original viewing of the film; both are executed with an air of effortless grace and passion, which is difficult to grasp without a deep understanding of the love story’s main characters, teenage intellectual Elio and American sweetheart Oliver. Frankly, although I did adore the movie upon first watching for its sheer cinematic elegance, it did seem a bit like softcore pornography to me at times. I figured that the director, Luca Guadagnino, only included particular intimate scenes for public attraction, cheapening my overall viewing experience. However, I soon realized that I was terribly mistaken when I was only a few pages into the novel.

The book Call Me by Your Name is not a story of love; it is a story of desire, restraint, and ultimate freedom. Things like a simple neck rub, a hand gesture, even an unexpected glance, arise an unparalleled wanting out of protagonist Elio, who displays passion not in the form of excessive affection, but through meaningful touch, both mental and physical.

The film grasps this idiosyncratic idea perfectly, waiting until halfway through to show the scene of Elio’s subtle proclamation of his feelings and the intimate physical interaction that soon follows. The first half is more than just beautiful shots of Italy in summer, however; I did not at first notice the small details, such as Elio’s prolonged stares or his nervous disposition around Oliver, because I didn’t have former knowledge of his thought process. After reading the book, I realize that this interphase of the film serves beautifully to show, not tell, Elio’s blossoming desire and effort to keep himself at bay. It is magnificently executed by Guadagnino.

Another perfect aspect of the movie is the casting, thoughtfully done by Stella Savino. Although Timothée Chalamet may have starred in a few works before the film and participated in more movies following it, nothing will ever compare to the quietly intense passion he displayed through Elio, bringing the character to life in a way that I doubt anyone else could have. It is especially remarkable to me that during the time this movie was being cast, the young actor was still largely a nobody; he was cast truly for his shining talent, not for his name. The elegant actor connects with his sexually-fluid character and embarks on a gay relationship, having no qualms about it. The actor today continues to portray an air of sexual liberation, often donning floral suits and not placing any labels on himself.

The latter half of the movie has a tone which is also paralleled with the emotions and themes described in the latter half of the book. Now that Elio and Oliver have given up restraining their desire for each other, we have entered the metaphase, characterized by an influx of passion that must be subdued before eventually blossoming into a state of liberation, giving way for the ultimate consequence of heartbreak.

These last 40 minutes are beautifully executed because they showcase this evolution, Guadagnino choosing specific scenes specifically for this purpose. Short spurts of physical intimacy are interspersed with a developing mindful connection between Elio and Oliver, and when Elio and Oliver get away, those short spurts turn into what seems like a lifetime of connection, reminiscent of a marriage.

When the two get away together, all restraint is thrown out the window and the movie opens itself up to its full potential as a love story, naturally ending tragically. The last twenty minutes show a prominence of Sufjan Stevens as a background track to establish the mood first portrayed through Aciman’s word. This was a wonderful component that I again, only appreciated after reading the novel.

The book ends with the final emotions of heartbreak and acceptance. Elio watches Oliver leave for good, learns of Oliver’s impending marriage, and contemplates everything, the superb splendidness of it, and how it was over for good.  The final scene in the movie shows Elio sitting by a fireplace, silently but openly letting solemn tears flow out of eyes. When I first watched the film, I skipped over this scene as I figured it was just the credits. Little did I know that it was the most powerful scene in the movie, reflective of the most powerful emotions felt in Elio and therefore the reader through the ending of the novel. Little details, like the pittering of the rain and the light tapping of dishes from his mother setting the table in the background, all contribute to the heart-wrenching final mood.

All in all, even if you don’t read the book, Call Me by Your Name is a movie worth watching. And with the insight that the novel gives you, it becomes impossibly more meaningful. I give my immense praise to both.