Forgive Me, Armie
Don’t Call Me By Your Name or I Will Call the Police
No one loves Armie Hammer more than me. He is gorgeous, talented, funny, and self-deprecating in a charming way that is the antithesis of the usual Hollywood ego. I even love his beautiful wife, Elizabeth Chambers, who owns our local, delightful Bird Bakery in my adopted home of San Antonio. And Armie looked huggably sexy at the Oscars in his plush deep red velvet tuxedo, which is not easy to pull off if you are 6′ 5″. He might easily have resembled a gigantic skinny beetroot on the red carpet instead of the daring fashion risk-taker and GQ heartthrob that he was.
Both Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer are amazing actors (especially my Armie), and it is always a win-win when movies about gay or normally discriminated-against characters are nominated for Academy awards in my book.
And I totally want to run off to that slightly run-down Italian chateau circa 1983 and spend my life picking fresh apricots, lazing about in intellectual loucheness and exploring my burgeoning sexuality in a charming village of never-ending summer. Where there is a cook and where housework is unnecessary as somehow the resulting lubricious dustiness is appealing and reflective of great academic standing, as opposed to bacteria-inducing filth.
BUT. You knew it was coming. Call Me By Your Name is completely absurd and let’s face it; Armie, a.k.a. Oliver abuses the trust of his hosts by having sex with their son, Elio while he is barely of age, and he also does it within their house, where he is a visiting academic who never helps with the dishes. More disturbingly, the parents don’t understand that they are supposed to feel their trust has been betrayed, and that is where the problem lies for this movie-going, pro-gay, Armie-loving parent.
The fact that Oliver was not appreciative of the cultural pastime of slowly savoring sumptuous food and then engaging in the European post-prandial tradition of good conversation and political banter puts lie to his apparent intelligence. His inability to perceive his host’s post-repast obvious disapproval and confusion borders on idiocy and I wonder if the filmmaker was making a point about ignorant Americans or if the cast just suffered from indigestion. Nevertheless, after eating a lone egg he up and leaves for destinations unknown each day on a borrowed bicycle, offering no clue to his daily pursuits or location. Makes me want to invest in bike GPS. But don’t worry he is usually back for more free food the next day.
Appearing and disappearing with no warning, Oliver is somewhat reluctant to assist his professor host in cataloging or indexing or whatever he was invited there to do. He also finds it necessary to contradict his host in an initial discussion in the professor’s area of expertise on the first day. No respect accorded for age and experience, never mind rent-free living. I can only hope my kids turn out that socially dense. Billed as a graduate student, we can only assume that it has taken Oliver more than ten years to become a P.hD candidate or he is not a very bright because he’s clearly in his thirties.
Now Onto that shy young girl, Marzia, who believes that Timothée Chalamet’s Elio, likes her, which makes sense since he appears to be charmingly pitching woo, after months of ignoring her in favor of a livelier, prettier member of the group.
In fact, Elio is more fond of lounging on his mother’s lap while she plays with his hair and he reads classic novels than interacting with his peers in town. I mean what adolescent boy raging with hormones doesn’t prefer that really?
The young girl eventually has sex with him, introducing him to a world of pleasure that makes him scream in exultation. It is intimated that she too is a virgin, but her response to the event seems to be shy gratitude. Happily, she is then tossed by the wayside once Elio’s homosexual love affair transports him to a place where the feelings of others matter not. This young girl then forgives him for using her and even comforts him when he is nursing a broken heart over his absent gay lover. I love realism in movies!
You have to wonder if Marzia’s character is included merely to ensure that later Oliver is not actually deflowering a virgin, a cinematic taboo. No birth control or prophylactic protection is utilized no matter who has sex, which speaks to that European 1980’s summer-of-love sensibility, the fact that AIDS isn’t well known yet, pure carelessness, or most likely that French Marzia is in the habit of giving herself to horny Italian boys all summer and therefore must be on the pill.
But if Oliver is not a virgin, he should have bought some nice Italian condoms. Elio’s emotional immaturity seems more reflective of fourteen or fifteen to me, but what do I know, as the parent of two young men? Ok, so not a virgin and not a minor, not a movie about predatory, irresponsible and illicit sex, using people, the fickle nature of teenage boys, and no, Harvey Weinstein was never even up for a part in it. #metoo.
Back to the plot. After having hetero sex and becoming part of his summer peer group, Elio is inexplicably drawn to his American bathroom-buddy houseguest. Spying on him, watching him undress, and being jealous that he is excluded from Oliver’s grown up and mysterious daily jaunts, all of which leads to sheet sniffing, underwear cuddling, and masturbating with a peach. Don’t get me started, the fruit imagery is overt enough to make Howard Crabtree’s When Pigs Fly’s dancing banana seem subtle.
Early on in Oliver’s hedonistic summer of love, he inexplicably places his hands on Elio’s shoulders during a volleyball game. Elio is clearly uncomfortable with this physical contact and jerks away. That pivotal event is the single clue that Oliver harbors a burning sexual desire for Elio and is intended to foreshadow the great tumultuous love story to come. Because you know, hands on shoulders.
Let’s not forget the apparent teasing he subjects Elio to that comes over more as fraternal humiliation to me. Yet Elio is masterfully won over by this courtship ritual straight out Survivor: Sicilian Frat Party.
Despite the oft-mentioned and robust sexual chemistry between young Elio and Oliver, I just couldn’t sense it, but I may well be deficient in homosexual-chemistry perception, who knows? The final seduction is portrayed as a gentle expression of longing that, shhh, luckily does not wake the sleeping parents. No violent coupling of an adult and child. No rape, but I couldn’t escape the reality of an older seemingly heterosexual man suddenly having sex with a seventeen-year-old boy, despite the cinematic genius of place and time the Luca Guadagnino achieves. I found myself wondering if Oliver was just so horny that he would suddenly have sex with Marzia too. Or maybe the cook? I also noticed no bed sheets were changed throughout that summer, despite being subjected to a backdrop of perspiration so wet that comparatively 1981’s Body Heat could have been set in Alaska.
The oblivious hair-fondling mom gets happier the more time her son spends with this visiting American. Inexplicably, she suggests (and pays for) the two of them to spend a long weekend together in a slightly larger charming Italian town, where they are free to indulge openly in their homosexual love story. I am sure when my sons need cheering that will be my go-to instinct as well.
I admit the eponymous moment when Oliver tells Elio to call him by his own name, and he will do the same perplexes me. I was unaware that mistaking the identity of your lover was a good thing. Arguably intended to symbolize the extent to which each felt they belonged to the other, and the muddying of identity that occurs with the intoxicating union of soul mates, I still felt confused by Armie’s sudden declaration of mis-nomenclature and Tim’s agreement. But it must be important cause it’s the title, right? I’ll get back to you.
When young Elio, tearfully calls his mom to come pick him up after Oliver’s solemn departure (the star-crossed lovers train trope is used to advantage here), and their lost weekend of forbidden love, she happily drives to get him, maternally fretting over his perfectly normal broken-hearted reaction to a supposedly innocent friendship between a grown man and her teenager. Clutch the pearls and tighten the apron strings.
Now for the best bit. As poor Elio recuperates emotionally, he has a father-son conversation that acknowledges the inappropriate physical relationship he just experienced, and his dad admits to his own unfulfilled homosexual desire for the great love of his life who is not Tim’s mom. Yes, Tim is heartened by this admission of maternal betrayal and the tragic suppression of his father’s true sexuality.
It also reinforces the idea that homosexuality is an emotional, not merely genetic inheritance, and that gay stereotype that all men are gay but only some come out. Elio’s father’s intention was to tell his son that he should just be grateful he got some sex at all because he himself never got to go full hog with his own crush. Because it’s healthy to be jealous of our children’s sexual experiences and to remind them just how lucky they are to be sexually active, regardless of emotional pain, right?
The denouement is six month’s later when Oliver calls up from America to share some news. The parents greet this phone call with sentimental reminiscing, the kind usually reserved for thirty-year college reunions with those sorority sisters who toilet-papered trees with you in freshman year. Good times. They call Elio to the phone with a congratulatory air more suited to an announcement of admission to Harvard than of a telephone call from an ungrateful boarder.
Oliver is really calling to announce his engagement to an apparent female with whom he will have children and live in a fifty-year sham of marriage that is socially acceptable. Because you know, 1982 and all, they are still hanging gay men and he might have to share a cell in the tower of London with Oscar Wilde or better yet hang out at the lake with Walt Whitman studying leaves and grass.
Happy news. In turning his back on his own homosexuality, Oliver repudiates the emotional truth of Elio’s first love affair, while also denying him a future and subjecting him to years of What Ifs and The One Who Got Away fantasies.
Further, the unspoken understanding that Elio will also face this choice one day; forced to use an unwitting woman’s emotions, denying her requited love in a morally-justified bid for societal acceptance.
Just two nice Jewish boys doing the summer sex thing.
Can’t wait for the sequel.