The Film Version of ‘Call Me by Your Name’ – Research on Masculinity and Sexuality
“This gorgeous coming-of-age tale oozes nostalgic melancholy and avoids the clichés in many films about gay love,” (Jones, 2018).
Set in 1983, Luca Guadagnino’s film Call Me by Your Name, embodies a profound interpretation of sexuality (in particular, same-sex love) and masculinity. Based on the 2007 novel by André Aciman, protagonist Elio Perlman, played by Timothée Chalamet, is spending the days with his family at their 17th-century villa in Lombardy, Italy, when he meets 24-year-old doctoral student Oliver. The concepts of sexuality and masculinity gave me an intimate insight into the human psyche in Call Me by Your Name, which beautifully illustrated gestures right down to the tiny nuances that make people tick. Indeed, Call Me by Your Name is a positive step for the LGBT movement, through the ways in which it unravels the unease surrounding same-sex love and masculinity.
Some of the most widely recognized (by society) characteristics that make up an individual are to do with gender, femininity/masculinity, and sexuality. After their appearance, these are also some of the first things to be judged by society. It’s as if everyone was expected to fit into a tiny, categorized box of regularities in order to deem them respectable. If anything other than ‘normal’ and they don’t fit into the “safe” box of stereotypes, this is used as a discriminatory weapon against them, something that members of the LGBTQ+ community all over the world face. Siobhan Fenton from the LGBT Institute (Fenton, 2016), states that in 74 countries, homosexuality remains a crime, while 11 countries threaten death and execution for homosexual acts, the ultimate removal of freedom.
Luca Guadagnino makes a clear link to the issues surrounding same-sex love, first and foremost through the relationship between Elio and Oliver. Oliver is such an independent character, whose bluntness, displayed by the catch-phrase “Later” instead of goodbye, initially creates quite the mystery about his interests in Elio and thus, his sexuality. With the progression of the movie comes the progression of the pair’s relationship, and their first intimate encounter with each other seems to demand acceptance from the viewer. However, it’s not certain that the pair will have any kind of relationship, as Oliver quotes, “I know myself, okay? And so far we haven’t done anything to be ashamed of.” It’s very interesting how Oliver does accept himself and his feelings for Elio, yet he’s being held back by the idea of “shame” if anything were to happen. There’s a moral conflict between following his own feelings and beliefs, but then possibly being unable to fit into the safe box of what society expects of him. This tension that Guadagnino creates is very cleverly done, because it takes the focus off sexuality, and has a lasting effect on the viewers in that we want Oliver and Elio to be together. Positive onsets like these really need to be promoted more societally, in terms of the acceptance of bi-sexual and same-sex love. It’s as simple as the removal of superficial judgments, upon which deeper matters are realized.
Another link Guadgnino makes to a positive representation of same-sex relationships is in the scene where Mr. Perlman gives Elio astounding advice in acknowledgment of his relationship with Oliver. “In my place, most parents would hope the whole thing goes away, or pray that their sons land on their feet soon enough. But I am not such a parent. 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. Withdrawal can be a terrible thing when it keeps us awake at night and watching others forget us sooner than we’d want to be forgotten is no better. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of 30 and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste!” Remembering that this is in the ‘80s, it has such a positive and reassuring impact. I studied a review written by film critic Kevin Fallon on The Daily Beast (Fallon, 2017), who writes, “The speech, in some regards, is [a] wish-fulfilment for many gay people, who could only dream of being greeted with such unbridled love and understanding of who they are by their parents.” I agree with this statement, but also think that anyone (regardless of their sexuality and how their families respond), can take something from Mr. Perlman’s speech and apply it to other aspects of life. It’s important to allow yourself to feel all kinds of emotions, good or bad, in order to feel whole. This reminds me of the song Loving Someone by The 1975, and the sarcastic lyric, “It’s better if we keep them perplexed; it’s better if we make them want the opposite sex – they’ve just never been shown that you should be loving someone.” (The1975, 2016). Ultimately, love is an essential part of living for all humans.
The term masculinity refers to the social construct around the attributes, behaviors, and roles associated with biological males. Most men and boys worldwide internalize a pressure to meet these ‘ideals’ and expectations around the way that, as men, they should act, feel, conduct themselves etc. While I think the men in Call Me by Your Name do internalize that same pressure, they’re not representing hegemonic masculinity. According to the World Development Report published in 2012 (Greene, Robles, & Pawlak, 2011), this refers to the way men assess themselves against others. In an article on The Creative Café, author Mark Olmsted shares interesting views on the choice of actors and thus, the representation of the characters (Olmsted, 2017). “First, Armie Hammer is miscast. He is too handsome, too masculine, too straight, and frankly, too old,” Olmsted said. “The utter equanimity with which Elio’s father seems to accept that his summer graduate fellow is sleeping with his son is already hard to believe on the grounds of it being a homosexual relationship, but it is completely unbelievable that neither parent seems to feel that Oliver has violated a basic trust, as their house guest, by bedding their 17-year old son. (The older man would be perceived as the seducer, even if he wasn’t.) This is not just a matter of homosexuality. If the affair was heterosexual, the parents of a 17-year old girl would feel some boundaries had been violated. But especially given that it is 1983, the gay aspect does matter.” My views on the casting and representation of Oliver oppose those of Olmsted because the positive messages Guadagnino renders far outweigh any casting or scripting impracticalities.
Firstly, Armie Hammer flawlessly played the role of Oliver, regardless of the actor’s own identity. Just as gender and homosexuality are not treated as taboo in Call Me by Your Name, nor is his masculinity or the age difference. There is also no apparent dominance from any (male) character in the movie, especially Oliver, so I wouldn’t expect this to spark any stigma around the age difference or “bad influence.” By the same token, the comment about if Elio had been a 17-year-old girl is slightly misogynist. While I understand that he is speaking from the potential point of view of a parent, I don’t think that gender would have been an influence on Mr. Perlman, especially because of the loving, open-mindedness around homosexuality. I think that, had it have been a heterosexual romance, Elio’s father’s advice would have remained fairly similar, speaking on the terms of a long-distance relationship; “to feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste!” Overall, I think to go as far as stating that Armie Hammer is “too masculine” is rather biased, and neglects to acknowledge the positive impacts that Call Me by Your Name has. Without its moving storyline and the actors who so cleverly brought it together, the film would only have offered probable and tired stereotypes about reckless teens, male dominance and the naivety of the parents of this generation.
What does society expect of people? As a whole, this can be divided into two common responses. As already covered, there is the conventional view that all individuals are to ‘follow the crowd’ and will be respected so long as they fit into their confining boxes of formalities. Linking this to Call Me by Your Name, this outcome was something that the characters feared. Just like Oliver’s moral conflict where he didn’t want anything to be ashamed of, Elio was initially scared of his parents’ reaction. Upon affirming that the Perlman’s were aware of the relationship and offered their approval, Oliver responds, “You’re so lucky; my father would have carted me off to a correctional facility.” This brings us to the contrasting and more positive societal response, where individuals in the modern day are encouraged to be who they truly are, and are not judged for their pursuing what they feel is right if it doesn’t conform with “formalities.” Though the film itself does not at all appear to have been influenced by societal norms or stereotypes, Guadagnino shows an interesting character development and coming-of-age of Elio over the course of the film, which both conflict and follow emblematic casts of a young, gay man.
Elio’s interests of reading, transcribing music, journaling and writing may stereotypically deem him ‘less of a man’ at the beginning of the film, but instead of foreshadowing the fluidity of his sexuality, it avoids camp stereotypes in characteristics that Elio had when he was still assumedly straight and dating Marzia. It’s apparent towards the end of the movie though, once Oliver has left but he and Elio are still head-over-heels in love, that Elio’s true self is shining through more and his costume gives a more feminine and “gay” impression. While predictable, I believe that this is not a negative stereotype because it emphasizes the Perlmans’ acceptance of his sexuality and the evolution of his identity after allowing himself to feel. This effect is highlighted in a Media Smarts article, Queer Representation in Film and Television. I particularly like the statement, “Queer aesthetics typically challenge conventional ideas of what is thought to be universally true.” (Media-Smarts, Year Unknown). I think it perfectly sums up the purpose of Elio’s coming-of-age and the transition from an innocent and silenced youth to a clever young man who is sensitively in touch the things that really matter to him. Paired with the moving advice from his father and apparent noble upbringing, Elio’s character gives insights into many aspects of character growth that are often overlooked, but provide messages that keep on giving.
The film Call Me by Your Name not only has a positive effect on the LGBTQ+ movement but also convincingly and wholly illustrates the idea that no one should feel subjected to figurative societal boundaries. This is a film whose onset of positive movements not only has a direct effect on the viewer but will encourage them to comprehend and support those in similar situations. Related to homosexuality or not, parents, family members, and friends of those conflicted by societal boundaries or “what is right” can all take something from this film, and the powerful ways in which it mainstreams taboo and complex matters.
Fallon, K. (2017, November 28). The ‘Call Me by Your Name’ Monologue Leaving Audience in Tears. Retrieved from Daily Beast: https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-call-me-by-your-name-monologue-leaving-audiences-in-tears
Fenton, S. (2016, May 17). LGBT RELATIONSHIPS ARE ILLEGAL IN 74 COUNTRIES, RESEARCH FINDS. Retrieved from LGBT Institute: http://www.lgbtinstitute.org/research-from-field/2016/5/17/lgbt-relationshipss-are-illegal-in-74-countries-research-finds
Greene, M. E., Robles, O., & Pawlak, P. (2011). MASCULINITIES, SOCIAL CHANGE, AND DEVELOPMENT. WORLD DEVELOPMENT REPORT 2012.
Jones, E. E. (2018, February 20). Why Call Me By Your Name should win the 2018 best picture Oscar. Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2018/feb/20/call-me-by-your-name-2018-best-picture-oscar-should-win-luca-guadagnino-timothee-chalamet
Media-Smarts. (Year Unknown). Media Smarts. Retrieved from Queer Representation in Film and Television: http://mediasmarts.ca/digital-media-literacy/media-issues/diversity-media/queer-representation/queer-representation-film-television
Olmsted, M. (2017, December 27). What’s Wrong with “Call Me By My Name” (and how it could have been fixed). Retrieved from The Creative Café: https://thecreative.cafe/whats-wrong-with-call-me-by-my-name-and-how-it-could-have-been-fixed-2b2003c1b3fcThe1975 (2016). Loving Someone [Recorded by T. 1975]. Retrieved from Genius: https://genius.com/The-1975-loving-someone-lyrics
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