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What I’ve Been Reading (and Watching): Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman

I wanted to read Call Me by Your Name after I watched the movie (directed by Luca Guadagnino) . I was especially interested to check it out after the movie won Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars (screenplay written by James Ivory). The movie was a truly excellent adaptation of the source text. Overall, I enjoyed the movie more than the book, although I did like both versions. As with nearly any comparison of a book and movie adaptation, each has its merits. The following might have some spoilers, or at least information that might make your first viewing/reading less enjoyable.

What I liked about the film…

Pop music was very important to the story. I believe the book was set in 1983. Most, or all, of the pop music from the ‘80s on the soundtrack was diegetic in the movie, so the fictional characters were actually experiencing the songs. In addition, some really beautiful -more current and non-diegetic- music was present in some of the most powerful scenes in the movie. Classical music plays a part in both the movie and the book, but pop music was, arguably, as important to the film. The pop music was so relevant to the film that I realized I genuinely expected them to mention some of the songs in the book. They didn’t, as far as I remember. That seems like an odd expectation, but when you watch a film first, especially one that is very well done, you develop some ideas about what you’re going to read in the book. Those ideas are frequently unfounded. I think it was an excellent decision by Guadagnino to tie in pop music; beautiful song choices and effective execution.

Timothy Chalamet and Armie Hammer had great chemistry that added a special element to the movie. Beyond just the film, watch them in promotional interviews. They seem to be great friends with great respect for each other’s acting, and it showed in their commitment to their roles.

One of my favorite shots in the movie came on Elio and Oliver’s trip to Rome. After a lingering shot of Elio sleeping after their long night of carousing, there is a quick and silent cut to their previous night. They are climbing a statue, embracing, and generally having a good time. The quick shot is entirely done in a “negative” effect (like a photo negative). I thought it was a great way to show how important and long lasting the memories will be for both of them – aside from just looking cool. Ironically, their drinking may have made some of the memories a bit foggy. But a lot of people can relate to “remembering” a great night without recalling the details.

The final scene/credits. Amazing music choice. Though dialogue-free and almost totally devoid of movement other than facial expressions, an incredibly hard-hitting bit of acting and emotion.

What I liked about the book…

Written from a first person perspective. The repetitive and intense longing of Elio is written and re-written in the book. I think this captures the obsessive levels that teenage love can reach where it feels impossible to even go through the motions of everyday life. Oliver may have had very sincere and passionate love for Elio, but he was still much more proficient at temporarily putting aside his feelings to conduct his daily activities. This is simply something that happens as people age. Timothy Chalamet acted out those feelings wonderfully, but the book actually documented Elio’s thoughts in full detail. I think this is one of the most common differences between books and their film adaptations.

The trip to Rome was much more of a full life experience for Elio in the novel. He met like-minded folks from Oliver’s publisher who drank, partied, and conversed with him throughout a long night. Not to downplay the romance of Elio and Oliver in Rome, but meeting those people would likely have been a life-altering event. For an adolescent on the cusp of adulthood, just spending time with older people who fully accept and respect him as individual can completely shift his thinking. I thought this was important to the evolution of Elio, and it wasn’t shown in the film. This was one of my favorite sections to read in the novel.

The fact that Elio and Oliver meet again later in life is a little more satisfying and sweet to read (this doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best choice for characters, it’s just pleasing for the reader). At the same time, it destroys any notion that Oliver “came to his senses” after a year or two, divorced his wife, and got with Elio to live happily ever after. The book actually tells the reader that decades have gone by and the two have not rekindled their relationship. Yes, I liked both the book and the movie ending. I think there are equally valid arguments for both endings.

General thoughts…

Regardless of the medium, Call Me By Your Name is the kind of story that should be told in our art and entertainment. While I can’t personally vouch for it, it seems to be a beautifully and painfully accurate depiction of the experiences many gay men and women have as young folks. It also captures the general weirdness of adolescent sexuality and experimentation, and I think that’s equally important to this particular story. I can identify with some of that. I’ve never had relations with a piece of fruit, but it’s not impossible that it ran through my adolescent brain and I just don’t recall.

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