Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
Posted on November 15, 2019
“Is it better to speak or die?”
I recently watched a beautiful movie that you may have heard of, since it came out two years ago and received numerous accolades for its screenplay, score, and acting. The movie is Call Me By Your Name. I’m still mad that nobody alerted me to it sooner. There is so much to explore underneath the surface of this seemingly simple love story. When I discovered that it was adapted from a novel, I knew I had to read it and go deeper, and I was not disappointed.
Call Me By Your Name is set “somewhere in Italy in the summer of 1983.” Elio is the precocious seventeen year old son of a classics Professor. He and his parents spend their summers in Italy, hosting a revolving table of guests, and every year they invite a promising doctoral student to stay with them for 6 weeks and work with the Professor. This year’s guest is Oliver, a twenty four year old American who teaches at Colombia.
The story unfolds as Elio and Oliver discover that what they feel for each other is something much more than friendship – it’s love. Forbidden love.
Elio is the unreliable narrator through whom the story comes alive. His stream of consciousness narration is feverish, obsessive, and pitiful, at times. His every waking moment is consumed by thoughts of Oliver and whether his feelings are reciprocated. As I read, I also felt trapped within the emotional prison Elio creates in his mind – his shame shackling him to his cell. The tension between the two is almost unbearable.
In the background of all this tension, almost becoming a character itself, is the setting. It’s perfectly European. The quaint Italian town they reside in is romantic, enchanting, and feels more like a paradisal dream than a real location. I felt transported to a different realm, a realm of memory and nostalgia. But all that beauty means nothing without someone to share it with. Someone who sees us. And in the end, I think that’s what this story is about – recognizing yourself completely in another person, and being seen in return.
“He was my secret conduit to myself – like a catalyst that allows us to become who we are, the foreign body, the pacer, the graft, the patch that sends all the right impulses, the steel pin that keeps a soldier’s bone together, the other man’s heart that makes us more us than we were before the transplant.”
Andre Aciman has managed to write a modern love story that recalls all the tragedy, drama, and sensuality of European antiquity. Call Me By Your Name is about transcendent love, the impermanence of life, and all the treasured moments in between. I highly recommend it to all the hopeless romantics out there.