The boy is experiencing the first love that every young person, at some point in his or her life, has experienced - the thrill of the initial attraction, the wracking nerves of the first confession, the peaks and valleys of getting to know that person he or she holds dear. The man has clearly experienced that already, and hindsight guides him to keep himself guarded. He has lived - only a few years longer than the boy, sure, but enough to know that the guard upon one's heart should be as tight as a corkscrew. And still they fall, for those are the ways of the heart. This is a truth that Call Me by Your Name understands with its every limb and fiber.
The slight generational gap is important to note in this film, an adaptation of the novel by Andre Aciman, and it is captured by two close-ups of faces that are separated by a tincture of time. The first is of the man as he realizes the weight upon the boy's shoulders. The second is the final one, which lingers on the boy's face as the credits begin to roll. Perhaps the boy and the man have switched places by this shot. One shouldn't presume to know. Certainly, the boy is wiser, one step closer to being an adult. That doesn't necessarily mean that a threshold has been crossed, but it certainly feels like it.
That's why the last shot lingers in the mind as much as on the screen. It gives us, the viewers, time to process the revelation that has just occurred in a crucial telephone call between these two lovers, the boy and the man. This is a movie that constantly gives us the time (at 132 minutes) and pacing (which is leisurely, relaxed, and calm, even in heated moments) to consider the sights we see in the setting, which is somewhere in northern Italy in the early 1980s, and the story, which follows the activities of Elio (Timothee Chalamet), the boy, and Oliver (Armie Hammer), the man.
Elio has accompanied his parents (played by Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar) to the north of Italy as he has done every summer of his youth. His father is a professor of the arts, seemingly specializing in the Roman sculptures of the masters of the form. He brings a student along for a portion of that stay every summer, and this year, he has brought along Oliver. At first, the boy cannot stand the man: Every farewell is nonchalant and informal, as if Oliver cannot be bothered to conjure any kind of emotion. His insistence upon correcting even Elio's father both humbles and impresses the professor, who can only offer a bemused smile. He is impossibly good-looking, too, because he is played by Hammer, a classically handsome individual, with his strong jaw and chiseled form, recalling the movie stars of the 1950s.
Soon, though, something not entirely explicable about Oliver draws Elio closer into his grasp, and the same happens in reverse, almost without Elio taking notice of it. Each develops an attraction to the other. Initially, it is physical, which they consummate a few times in scenes of passion that, rather than focusing on explicit nudity, conveys a lot of implicit longing and the release of that longing (A scene late in the film involving a peach, which will be discussed for how shocking it is more than how crucial it is in Elio's sexual journey, does the best job of conveying this). Then, it is more dependent on their philosophical and emotional similarities and compatibilities.
Only at the edges of this romance does James Ivory's screenplay hint at the potential controversy of its same-sex nature. It's an elephant in the room not really dealt with, apart from a climactic heart-to-heart in which Elio's father lays out for his son everything that his "friendship" with Oliver will mean for the remainder of his life. It is a scene that could have fallen flat if performed in any way other than genuinely sincere, and Stuhlbarg never steps wrong in the delivery. Otherwise, the romance between Elio and Oliver is a natural speed bump for Marzia (Esther Garrel), a girl from town who longs to be with Elio and, because of the things that go unspoken (perhaps a little cruelly) on his part, cannot.
It just isn't meant to be, and Chalamet's performance is a revelation in just about every moment, asked upon to convey a lot of mixed and conflicted emotions as a boy growing into manhood and not really understanding how any of it works. "If you only knew how little I really know about the things that matter," he confides in Oliver. The statement rings true for the audience, who remembers that part of their lives when they were starting to get a clue but still had none. For Elio, though, it carries a double meaning that Oliver, who understands things about Elio that he himself does not, immediately grasps. Their lives extend surely beyond the final credits of Call Me by Your Name. It is a rarity that we find ourselves not only wondering where these characters are headed but genuinely concerned for their welfare. Here is that rarity.
Timothee Chalamet (Elio Perlman), Armie Hammer (Oliver), Michael Stuhlbarg (Mr. Perlman), Amira Casar (Mrs. Perlman), Esther Garrel (Marzia).
Directed by Luca Guadagnino and written by James Ivory, based on the novel by Andre Aciman.
Rated R (sexual content, nudity, language).
Released in select cities on November 24, 2017.