Why "Call Me By Your Name" is the smartest film I've seen in a long time
As two extremely critical and skeptical movie-goers, Steven and I are rarely impressed when exiting a movie theater. So when we decided on watching all of the Best Picture nominated films for the 2018 Academy Awards, we hoped but doubted that any of these films would make a huge impact on us. But then we saw Call Me By Your Name and it gave us hope for the future of mainstream cinema.
The story follows Elio (played by Timothee Chalamet,) a quiet and deep-thinking teenager, spending yet another summer at his parents' home in Italy. His newfound friendship with his father's assistant, Oliver (played by Armie Hammer,) quickly develops into a heated romance. It's been one of the strongest new films we've seen in a long time, and by far the smartest. And if you haven't yet seen it, here are the reasons why you absolutely must.
It feels like you're reading a book
Perhaps this is because it is adapted from the novel of the same name by André Aciman, but this film feels like I've dived head-first into a major page-turner. Something about the dialogue and the focus on the scenery paints a vivid picture that we're so used to being described to us in books.
In every way, I feel as though I'm there with the characters wherever they are, experiencing everything they're experiencing. When they're walking out into the sunshine, I feel warm. When they're diving into a pool, I feel like it's summer. When they dance, I get really into the music as well. This movie really transports you to 1980's Italy.
The film also feels like it lasts a whole summer. After the movie ended, Steven and I thought it had to be over 3 hours long, then realizing it had a runtime of 2 hours and 12 minutes. Typically, that feeling is associated with experiencing boredom, but this time it was because we genuinely felt like we had spent an entire summer vacation learning about the characters and going on an emotional rollercoaster with them.
While this film is definitely not something I can just flip to on TV and watch casually while folding socks, I truly appreciate that every time I re-watch it in the future, I can be transported to another place and time.
It captures the feeling of young love
If you've ever been a teen or young person deeply in love with someone, this film will remind you of all those feelings you once had. It perfectly evokes the confusion, awkwardness, desperation, ignorance and innocence of someone trying to navigate new feelings in their heart.
Not to mention, Sufjan Stevens' music (which better win the Oscar for Best Original Song) accompanies this film with music that gives a nostalgic feel a la Simon and Garfunkel's songs from The Graduate, which could transport just about anyone back to their youth and the strange mistakes and decisions we make in those years of growth.
It introduces a character that films often forget
The subtle or understated jerk is a character that often plays a role in our lives. Whether they're family member, a love interest, a friend or a co-worker, they are absolutely everywhere in the real world. They're the ones who pit people against each other in order to look like the good guy, or make everyone in the room uncomfortable to make themselves feel at ease, or refuse to give reassurance to anyone in their life in order to develop a series of cat-and-mouse relationships. Call them gas-lighters, call them drama queens or call them by their names. But Armie Hammer's character of Oliver embodies that jerk and makes us realize why we fall for their toxic behavior every time.
Film has lost subtlety over the years, with every "jerk" character saying something sassy to people as they walk by, maybe even knocking over a table or punching an opponent in the face. But those are jerks who in real life, we'd see coming from a mile away. In my opinion, they're less threatening because they give you reason to guard yourself around them by showing aggression or cruelty.
But the subtle jerk has a way of getting you to like and trust them first, playing the bait and switch and leaving you in disbelief of what they're capable of. This, in my opinion, is extremely dangerous to be around. Even in Aciman's book, he describes the experience of falling in love with Oliver in a way that sounds torturous and hopeless. And Hammer nails it (no pun intended) as this flippant, self-centered and manipulative character, who is guaranteed to remind you of someone in your life, and hopefully inspire you to stop associating with them. I hope this performance will inspire future films to incorporate more subtle and complex characters into their mixes.
It understands symbolism
Again this is probably something inherited from its corresponding book, but this film truly understands symbolism. Sure sometimes it hits you over the head with it like an apricot that's supposed to symbolize buttcheeks, but sometimes the symbolism is so subtle you don't catch it until after the film is over. For instance, throughout the film, the idea of Oliver taking Elio's innocence is something multiple characters refer to as dirty or impure. So every time Elio has an "impure" thought or takes an "impure" action, there is a fly or two that land on him or buzz around his head. While of course we don't believe he should feel that way at all, simple symbols like that really add to the depth of a character and scene.
Other symbols include jumping into water, feet, a star of David, the remains of ancient statues that the father is doing research on and much more. Many of them are up to your interpretation, making it a unique experience for each viewer.
Like real life, it leaves questions unanswered
At the end of the film, as new developments are discovered, the film breaks your heart in a way that you may remember someone in the past doing to you. This is due to the combination of the realism of Elio's character as the inexperienced, hopeful, sensitive and immature person he is, and that of Oliver's foil character as an experienced, blaze, closed-off and insatiable person he is.
But what impresses me about this ending is that it leaves so many questions unanswered. Days or even weeks after watching this film, you will wonder to yourself how certain characters really feel about each other, whether or not specific actions were intentional or coincidental and what things people said really mean. This film has the maturity to realize that just like in life, there sometimes aren't answers to your questions, or for better or worse you just never find them out. And the film expects a maturity from the audience to understand that as well, giving it extra depth and subtlety as a coming of age story.
I truly believe that Call Me By Your Name could be influential to generations of young people to come and that it will touch most of the people who watch it. It's undeniable beauty and depth really made it a standout this year, which I hope will bring it Oscar glory. I would like to see it succeed and inspire filmmakers, actors and screenwriters in the future to make more like it that will truly get the whole country to think on a more profound level.