Monday, January 15, 2018

Call Me By Your Name: Reflections

I went to see “Call Me By Your Name” last night. After having read the book twice, I had been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the movie. 

Here are my thoughts:

I was disappointed that the setting of the scene of the movie was not the same as in the book. In the book, Elio’s home is a seaside villa; in the movie, it is located in the hill country of Lombardia. The sea becomes a river. Other scenes were not the same, no doubt in an effort to lower production costs. Most pointedly, in the book, the final scenes take place in Rome; in the movie, these scenes are transferred to a mountain town in the far northern reaches of Italy.

I was curious to see how the screenplay would transmit an intensely psychological book to the screen. In this, I think the screenwriter was largely successful, and I particularly liked the depiction of the love scenes between Elio and Oliver. They were tasteful, believable and – so it seemed to me – perfectly natural. So much of gay love is depicted as primarily lustful, but it was powerfully clear in the way these scenes were handled in the movie that Elio and Oliver were very much in love.

Of course, as I watched the film, I was powerfully reminded of two things. 

First, my mission to France. “Call Me By Your Name” is set in the same time period as my Mormon mission, in the early-mid-80’s. As I listened to the conversations in French between Elio and his mother and his friends, I was reminded of my time in France; and as I watched Elio and Oliver’s “dance” over how to deal with their feelings, I was also reminded of the intense struggle I faced while there with “unwanted” feelings of attraction to men. Paradoxically, however, it was while I was in France that I finally “accepted” these feelings while at the same time deciding to deny myself ever experiencing their fulfillment …

… Until I came out and met Mark, that is. Of course, watching the film also reminded me of him, of a great love experienced, then lost. It was for this reason that my favorite scene of the entire film—which was taken virtually verbatim from the book—was that between Elio and his father near the end of the movie, in which the father lovingly, gently and so insightfully affirms the relationship that he suspects Oliver and Elio had and encourages his son to value it, to feel his emotions – both negative and positive – and to be grateful for what he experienced with Oliver:
“ … if there is pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out, don’t be brutal with it … We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty … to feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste! … Right now there’s sorrow. I don’t envy the pain. But I envy you the pain.”
I know whereof Elio’s father spoke. I have felt much pain over the loss of Mark, but I rejoice in what we had. I have tried to allow myself feel that pain over the course of the past 22 months so that I can honor what we had and allow myself to move healthily into an unknown future.

Finally, the ending of the film is different from the ending in the book, as I suspected might be the case. I preferred the latter, if for no other reason than the opportunity to read the following lines:
“In the weeks we’d been thrown together that summer, our lives had scarcely touched, but we had crossed to the other bank, where time stops and heaven reaches down to earth and gives us that ration of what is from birth divinely ours … We had found the stars, you and I. And this is given once only.”

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