You may feel like a full person, because you exist in a single body. Because every thought you've ever had occurs in the same place. Because people call you by your name. But are you whole?
When Oliver (Armie Hammer) and Elio (Timothee Chalamet) first lay in bed together in Call Me By Your Name, it is the moment of peak closeness—a resolved tension, of two opposite forces finally drawn into one another. Oliver strokes Elio's hair: "Call me by your name," he says, "and I'll call you by mine." The frame is angled yet near-perfectly symmetrical, and upside-down so as to confuse your brain's natural instinct to draw lines of distinction. It's difficult to discern where Oliver's body begins and Elio's ends. Their faces align so perfectly that they create a new shape in between.
Oliver's choice of words is entirely unexpected, strange, even fetishistic. But it's so common that people convey strange thoughts in expressing love. Here's an example: "You complete me."
I think I know what incompleteness is, and I think you do too. It's being alone in a crowd, or at home in the dark after a long night. It's witnessing someone who would surely fit perfectly to all your jagged edges and twisted curves, if only you were able to come together. It's that vacuum you might try to fill with money or drugs or accolades. The first heartbreak of Call Me By Your Name comes at a dance party, with Elio sitting and longingly watching as Oliver kisses a woman to the Psychedelic Furs' "Love My Way" on the dance floor. They feel a mile apart as the camera sits directly between the two, exaggerating their distance. This is Elio not whole. This is the incomplete...
Fundamentally, Call Me is a queer coming of age film about a summer romance. But the least interesting element of the story is what it's about. You'll have already gathered from the movie trailer or poster that Elio and Oliver end up in a romance, and that spoiler is okay: the through line isn't whether they get together, but how they fit together, and how they shape one another. Every emotion, every click of the drama comes in the minutia of social behaviors: the implication of the consistency of a peach; jumping into the cold water or just dipping your feet in; a conversation that pivots on a dime from casual to dire under the code of vague language. Every movement is a reaction that either pushes or draws together the two men.
The film moves in these anxieties of incompleteness: in not yet knowing who you are, not yet having what you desire, or having and losing the thing that seemed make you you. As Elio sits watching Oliver dance, as he considers whether it's better to speak his mind or die, I can't help but recall those times in my own life—perhaps you've had them, too—when I didn't go dance, and when I didn't speak up. The times that left me void.
When they do finally get together, Oliver and Elio make shapes. In the way their bodies coil around one another, or by the ridges of their noses just about...but not...quite...touching... When together, the hot air between them seems to take on its own form. The closer they are the greater the symmetry, like the symmetry of the names Elio and Oliver, or the symmetry of the sentence "Call me by your name and I'll call you by mine."
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