c/o theplaylist.net

c/o theplaylist.net

After a handful of my friends had been badgering me to see it for weeks, I finally watched “Call Me by Your Name” over winter break. To my surprise, I walked out of the film feeling disappointed.

The movie centers around 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet), who falls in love with Oliver (Armie Hammer), a 24-year-old PhD student studying with Elio’s professor father for a summer in the 1980s. As the two young men flit through the picturesque northern Italian landscape, have their respective flings with women, and take advantage of the lazy days of summer, they begin to—ever so subtly—take note of each other.

My dislike for the movie came from my lack of ability to empathize with Elio, and the effortlessness with which he embraces his queer identity. Elio doesn’t seem to experience any anxieties about discovering his attraction to men, which invalidates the inner strife that many queer people feel when reckoning with their sexuality. He doesn’t so much as miss a beat before acting on these feelings of attraction and hardly worries about coming out to his family and friends.

When I first realized that I was attracted to someone of the same gender, I was mentally shaken. It took me a long time to process these emotions, much less act on them. When I first decided to act on such feelings with another boy, my next internal crisis was equally, if not more intense. What would he think of me? Maybe I had been picking up the wrong signals and he only wanted to be my friend? Lastly, dealing with how to bring up this part of my identity with my family caused significant anguish.

I left the movie feeling unsettled. I was then surprised that just five days later, watching the Academy Award nominations, I still hoped for “Call Me by Your Name” to take home big wins. I was devastated that neither Armie Hammer nor Michael Stuhlbarg was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, and only then realized that the reason I wanted the film to secure the nominations was because, despite my disappointment with it, I supported the expanded representation of LGBTQ stories in the media.

My issue lies in that I should not have to grapple with disliking a movie but still wanting it to succeed simply because it’s the only form of representation I have. Thinking back to why I didn’t enjoy the movie in the first place, it seems that the film is hardly an ideal form of representation. Part of why I didn’t like the movie came from what I perceived as the sterilization of a queer relationship, and I don’t necessarily want others to view this narrative as a model for how most queer relationships start and end. It certainly is not like any that I’ve ever had.

Every year, I watch a multitude of movies that each center on heterosexual romantic relationships. Not all of these movies are enjoyable, and certainly, not all are Oscar contenders. However, in my eyes, these movies are allowed to flop at the box-office or serve as film’s answer to a beach-read (not critically acclaimed but fun to watch nonetheless) without letting down a group of people they seek to represent. They do not have to serve the role as the one movie each year that attempts to represent an entire demographic of people whose stories are not usually told.

Because there are so many iterations of heterosexual relationships depicted onscreen each year, if someone were upset at how a certain movie portrayed a relationship, there would be plenty more to choose from. But the queer community doesn’t react to each movie centered on a queer relationship as how they would to, say, “Moonlight” or “Carol.” These films seem to be chosen, every awards season, as the one film that discusses the queer experience. With each of these films, I’ve ultimately felt pressured to support the movie, regardless of my personal opinions on it, simply because I know I am expected to be happy that queer people are being represented in Hollywood at all.

There were plenty of LGBTQ people who saw “Call Me by Your Name” and loved it, and I’m thrilled that they feel there’s a movie that represents them and has been widely accepted by the greater arbiters of cinematic quality. But for the LGBTQ-identifying people who don’t particularly like the movie, we either support the movie regardless of our opinions or go through another awards circuit with no stories like ours to root for.

There need to be more queer writers, directors, actors, and producers to tell the stories of historically marginalized people. Moreover, there needs to be a spectrum of stories told so that there is not so much pressure on each LGBTQ-focused film to encompass all queer experiences. While I disliked the movie because of how I could not relate to either Elio or Oliver’s experience, the film was undoubtedly inaccessible to queer trans people of color and poor queer people who can’t participate in the white privilege that Elio’s family had.

I stand in a position of privilege in that, as a cisgender white male, there is still a myriad of shows and movies that I can watch to find people like me, but my response to “Call Me by Your Name” made me more clearly understand issues of representation. There should be movies about Black queer people, disabled queer people, economically disadvantaged queer people, and the list goes on. To call this film a queer film is not fair to the greater majority of the queer community.

In her collection of essays, “Bad Feminist,” Roxane Gay argues a similar point with respect to the HBO show “Girls.” Gay discusses the way the show neglects to portray any characters of color with the same depth and complexity it portrays white characters. However, she concedes that the show does take a large step in advancing the representation of women-centric stories on television, a feat which should be celebrated. She concludes that in order to praise “Girls” for its accomplishments and still feel adequate about representation on television, there ought to be more examples of female representation created for television so that each attempt does not have to be all-encompassing. “Girls” can focus on four white women so long as we also make ample room for shows about women of color as well.

The same is true with regards to “Call Me by Your Name” in that we need to put more effort into representing the full spectrum of queer experiences. If we don’t, each attempt in portraying the queer community projects on to the community as a whole, which just makes people feel conflicted about whether or not to endorse it.


Cole Land can be reached at cland@wesleyan.edu.

  • creepingdoubt

    Cole Land: One step at a time, one movie or book or play or painting or sculpture at a time. Think of other scorned, neglected, marginalized and under-represented groups, e.g., women, African-Americans, Jews, Catholics, the disabled, the imprisoned, addicted or lonely. It took many works of art and much time for their stories to reach the mainstream, and many more of their stories remain to this day untold.

    Not all of us are Wyoming or sheep herders, as in “Brokeback Mountain”, but the tragedy that came from Ennis and Jack’s struggle to love became imprinted on the national, indeed the world’s, consciousness. No one can erase that movie’s impact. Today, movies like “God’s Own Country”, about two men finding love against a harsh English landscape, get another fresh piece of the story — our story — out.

    “Call Me By Your Name” isn’t about all of us. But it does represent the human need, shared by everyone, regardless of orientation, for a love that satisfies and fulfills one’s deepest desires, sanctioned or not. This is not easy for anyone to actually achieve, though many straights act as though their happiness is automatic and assured.
    Privately they know it needs to be earned and won daily, despite society’s sanctioning. That’s true for all human beings.

    So “Call Me By Your Name” is obligated to — and does — portray only the truth that James Baldwin so piercingly articulated — “the absolute terror that lives at the heart of love.” That’s the power of its story and a message that everyone willing to do so can understand.

  • johnwesley

    @creepingdoubt. Well, that just begs the question, has anyone done a film based on Giovanni’s Room? Now might be a good time.

    • creepingdoubt

      Superb question. I couldn’t agree with you more.

  • dianesef

    The whole attitude about coming out and sexuality has always been different in Europe (especially Southern Europe) so this argument never occurred to me. American has always been infinitely more repressed.

  • Robert

    I respectfully disagree with this review of the film because it’s important to note that there is no “cookie cutter” way of coming out and coming to terms with one’s sexuality. Every LGBT person comes out differently–based on culture, geography, age, and religion. There are so many factors that come into play that determine’s a person’s coming out process.

    This film completely RESONATED with me because when I came out to my father at the age of 16 (very much like the character Elio), he accepted me with open arms in the same way Professor Perlman accepted Elio. I could watch that particular scene over and over again and think of my Dad.

    As a gay, Filipino-American Jewish man–THIS FILM TOTALLY RESONATED with me. I’m sure it rang true for many other viewers as well. That’s the beauty of cinema. Art is so subjective and open to many interpretations.

  • ’17

    You don’t take into consideration Elio’s parents and how accepting they were. Growing up in a European society like Italy and in such an accepting family, it is understandable that Elio would not repress his feeling for another man as you may expect him to. Additionally, Elio and Oliver only get into an intimate relationship towards the end of Oliver’s stay with Elio’s family. So it wasn’t like Elio was comfortable talking about his feeling to Oliver during his first week of stay. Finally, you seem to expect queer movies to represent the trauma that the LGBTQ+ community has been historically experiencing. To have a movie where none of the main characters are repremended for their sexuality and no one is banished by their family or society is revolutionary. It allows the viewers to see how valid love and affection between two men can be without bring persuaded to accept such feelings and identities through sympathizing/emphasizing with persecuted characters.

  • ’19

    I feel as though these comments miss the point of the article. This isn’t about the film so much as it is about the level or representation of queer films in hollywood as a whole. It’s messed up to be queer and feel like you have to support a movie only because there are queer characters. Not every movie with queer characters is for every queer person. Cole’s piece is not about how accurate the film is. Nor is it about some need to show the trauma of every queer person in all queer related films. This article was about the total lack of representation overall and the position queer people, myself included, get forced into by having to support queer movies that we don’t even like.

  • Joe

    The rare alchemy of this film means it’s going to resonate very personally with viewers. Positively and negatively. Most of the negative reviews of the film seem based on an individual’s unique and personal relationship to the movie. I have seen it with a variety of people. Gay, straight, actors, accountants, filmmakers, homemakers, you name it. Upon my 1st viewing, I left feeling like I’d taken an emotional time-machine back to my own fist love. My companion had an entirely different reaction. Having never experienced falling in love, they felt uplifted by the thought that they could look forward to that sort of consuming love in their own future. So, I understand that there will also be viewers that superimpose their own less than positive personal stories or well-intentioned agendas over the one they’re witnessing on screen. I think the important thing here is to hear all POVs, but not to attribute intention or agenda to CMBYN itself. If we can all celebrate one remarkable thing about this movie, it’s that it does the most a movie can do to its audience. it makes itself about US. The movie has changed many lives in very positive ways even as it has brought some back to painful memories. But this feat of cinematic storytelling should never be dismissed or marginalized.

  • Andrew Simpson

    The author makes a cogent argument there are a paucity of queer films in the cinema. Cmbyn is a good film BUT I think the author missed Elio conflict is internal not external. Remember at the train station Elio and Oliver do NOT kiss good bye they only hug. The homophobia in Italy prevents them from having an open relationship. Sure Elio parents are accepting of his homosexuality but he is not completely accepting until end of film. Oliver is closeted he marries a woman in the end. So Oliver living a double life. My complaint about the movie is Oliver we know so little about his life. The focus if a sequel needs to be about Oliver.

  • GabrielOak

    I loved Call Me By Your Name and I’m sorry it didn’t reach a wider audience. I’m reading the book now and there’s one thing James Ivory’s fine screenplay didn’t capture from the book. In the novel after Elio first sleeps with Oliver, he feels guilt and a bit of disgust and thinks he will never sleep with Oliver again. That mood isn’t conveyed in the film. However in the novel Elio quickly wants Oliver again a few hours later. I don’t know if a sequel can’t recapture the magic of this sublime love story but as in the novel it will be interesting to see what happens when Elio and Oliver reunite years later.