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The Beauty of Emotion Narrative

A film review of “Call Me by Your Name”, directed by Luca Guadagnino, 2018

On a bright summer day in northern Italy, the 17-year-old Elio puts on his sun glasses and lies on a chair in the yard with sunlight washes over him. A typical pleasant summer afternoon with cheerful music, hot air, shiny green leaves, and cool water in the pond. Orange trees have filled the garden, leaving plenty of space for shades and gentle breeze. 

Elio writes music. Delightful and simple tones are the most beloved in the film, partly because it suits the best with the relaxation (and perhaps idleness) of the day to day life in the villa. He is having the best time in his youth, enjoying the glittering days of inspiration and exploration.

Things have changed once Oliver, a charming visiting scholar, arrives to spend the summer with his family. Every eye contact, body movement, and slip of word between the two becomes hint for emotion narratives. There are different phases of emotional development between the two protagonists. Elio and Oliver first begin with careful exploration of each other, where both of them are aware of the emotional tension, but will not disclose it. The awakening desire for sensual pleasure gradually dominates Elio, where he craves deeply for Oliver, for an unexplored territory and sensation in his life. These subtle desire are narrated in a very open and unsophisticated way that guides the viewers to appreciate the authentic desire and sensibility of human experience.

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As a viewer, the mundane day to day narration of their summer seems perfectly ordinary. But it is evident that Guadagnino embeds complex emotional tension within the simple family dialogue. By gradually unveiling the relationship of Elio and Oliver, Guadagnino in fact investigates the nature of love, emotion, and relationship, as well as their influence on human experience as a whole.

Specifically, Guadagnino conveys a stance on the significance of having courage to confront your own awakening desire in life, because there is nothing to be shameful of when you encounter your true emotion. As Mr. Perlman says to Elio, “you had a beautiful friendship...Maybe more than a friendship. And I envy you.” Encountering and embracing your true desire and emotion is a courageous thing to do, and it is incredibly beautiful too." 

In every stage of our growth, we gingerly perceive, silently observe, and sometimes reluctantly constrain our emotion toward a relationship, a desire, or an experience. Instead of snuffing the flame at the root, Mr. Perlman reminds us to all be gentle to these precious moment of emotion awakening. As Perlman points out “withdrawal can be a terrible thing when it keeps us awake at night, and watching others forget us sooner than we’d want to be forgotten is no better...to feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste!” Indeed, we value emotion and regard it as a unique human experience that distinguish us from the crowd. The process of emotional exploration guides us to understand ourselves, our identity and our value. When Oliver and Elio initiate their jargon of “call me by your name” and repeatedly call each other “Elio” and “Oliver”, the intimate affection leads to something symbolic and abstract that represent their hearts.

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Interestingly, in Chaucer’s writing, he also repeatedly mentions that “love is the greatest law above all”. However, in this film, neither the fidelity of love nor the promise of love matters that much. It is the emotion within human affection that moves us and guides the growth of the protagonists. Love can be arbitrary, demonstrated in the final phone call from Oliver, telling Elio that he will get married soon. Love hurts. But love, as well as other types of emotion, has the power to move us and reminds us of its preciousness.

Lastly, the title “call me by your name” is a hint of intimacy for those who are engaged in a deep relationship. It serves as a symbol that suggests a blurring line between “you” and “me”, which is referred by the blurring identity between the two names. Eventually, Guadagnino reminds us to never devalue the beauty of emotion, the confusing moment of ambiguity, and the precious awakening moment of desire.

Film ReviewAnnie Luo