I had a very visceral reaction to Call Me by Your Name and it wasn’t a good one.
The film is about a relationship between Elio [Timothée Chalamet] and Oliver [Armie Hammer] when Oliver stays with Elio’s family in Italy as a doctoral student and assistant to Elio’s professor father. It is well-written and the performances are fantastic. But I feel unqualified to assess this movie on its cinematic merits.
What I didn’t like about the movie was what a lot of people found uncomfortable about the movie: the age difference between Elio and Oliver. Elio is 17 and Oliver is 24. Granted, if we’re just counting years, that’s not that much. My own husband is 6 years old than me, so I might sound like a hypocrite. However, I did not begin my relationship with my husband when I was 17.
I watched this movie over a week ago, and have been mulling it over since then. My reaction to this movie comes from two places, one was immediately apparent to me and one was not. The obvious perspective I have that made me dislike this movie is that I am a high school teacher. I have taught hundreds of students of Elio’s age and in my mind, teenagers are students and absolutely off-limits. Teenagers are still children. I spend every work day with 15-18-year olds and am more familiar with teenagers’ psyche than are most adults. If one of my students told me that they were having a relationship with someone in their mid-twenties, I would be very concerned.
Which brings me to my next point, a thing I generally avoid thinking about and have trouble writing about. When I was 18, a year older than Elio, I had a relationship with someone much older than I. And that relationship was psychologically damaging to me, because of the power imbalance among other things. Watching Call Me by Your Name and having the reaction I did made me realize how predatory that relationship was. That’s obviously my own personal baggage; there are probably people with a similar experience who did not find it harmful. But my negative experience certainly colored the way I viewed the movie.
This is not a question of sexual harassment or assault. The relationship between Elio and Oliver was not lacking in consent. Elio certainly gave enthusiastic consent -- he was the one who actively pursued Oliver. But I just couldn’t see it as a portrayal of a beautiful relationship the way others are seeing it because to my mind, Oliver should have never let it happen. He should have been a responsible adult, realized that Elio is just a kid with raging hormones, and put a stop to the whole thing.
Maybe this all makes me sound like a prude, but I can’t help it. I found the movie upsetting.
In addition to its nomination for Best Picture, Timothée Chalamet is nominated for Lead Actor, James Ivory is nominated for Adapted Screenplay, and “Mystery of Love” is nominated for Original Song.
What to make: Apricots are mentioned throughout the film, as Elio’s family grows them. There is also that scene with the peach. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about. So a peach and apricot pie would be suitable. Or, is it going too far to suggest peaches and cream?