Reviewed by: Jonathan Rodriguez
What is SEXUAL IMMORALITY? Answer
GAY—What’s wrong with being Gay? Answer
Homosexual behavior versus the Bible: Are people born Gay? Does homosexuality harm anyone? Is it anyone’s business? Are homosexual and heterosexual relationships equally valid?
What about Gays needs to change? Answer
It may not be what you think.
Read stories about those who have struggled with homosexuality
Armie Hammer … Oliver
Timothée Chalamet … Elio
Michael Stuhlbarg … Mr. Perlman
Amira Casar … Annella
Esther Garrel … Marzia
Victoire Du Bois … Chiara
Vanda Capriolo … Mafalda
Antonio Rimoldi … Anchiese
Elena Bucci … Art Historian 1
Marco Sgrosso … Art Historian 2
André Aciman … Mounir
Peter Spears … Isaac
Frenesy Film Company [Italy]
La Cinéfacture [France]
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|Distributor||Sony Pictures Classics|
“Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” —Proverbs 4:23
With the Academy Award nominations set to be unveiled, one of the films expected to be prominently featured is the critical darling “Call Me by Your Name.” While this review is not meant to be seen as an endorsement or recommendation of the film, I will attempt to explain the premise, explore the content, and examine the spiritual implications. The objectionable content of the film is strong, though, so consider this a warning to readers who might be bothered by it.
“Call Me by Your Name” takes place, as the opening title card tells us, “somewhere in northern Italy.” The year is 1983, and we meet Elio (Timothee Chalamet), a “book-smart beyond his years) 17-year-old spending the summer reading and transposing music at his family’s beautiful Italian villa. His father (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a professor and his mother (Amira Casar) is a translator, and each summer they choose a graduate student from the United States to come serve as a research assistant.
As the film opens, we meet the new assistant, Oliver (Armie Hammer) a dashingly handsome man in his mid-twenties who catches the eye of all the women in town. Initially, Elio is put off by Oliver’s swagger and flippant nature; when he leaves for the day, there isn’t a “goodbye,” simply a “later.” Plus, the girls in town who usually flock to Elio now have eyes for Oliver. All except one, Marzia (Esther Garrel), who genuinely likes Elio and wants him to like her back.
As he begins to date Marzia, his friendship with Oliver begins to grow as well. He watches Oliver from afar, equal parts jealous and intrigued and then, attracted. He is confused and frustrated by his feelings, especially considering how strong his physical feelings for his girlfriend are. But, as the end of summer draws closer, Elio and Oliver begin to explore something they both think is forbidden, and something that is bound to end when Oliver’s summer internship is over. That doesn’t stop them, and the rest of the movie explores the emotions and ramifications that come from it.
“Call Me by Your Name” is rated R for “sexual content, nudity, and some language.” The language isn’t as strong as you might expect from an R-rated movie. The F-word is used a handful of times, in English and in subtitles. A few other profanities are uttered along the way. The main reason for the R-rating, however, is the sexual content. And that is strong. I’m going to skip over mentioning casual things like people being seen in bathing suits or the like. I know some people like to know about every little thing, but for the sake of time and my own recollection, I am going to stick to the main stuff. We see male rear nudity a few times early on, in non-sexual scenes of them changing their shorts. Elio and Marzia strip down to their underwear for a swim, and the next day he tells Oliver and his father that the two of them almost had sex. We later see them making out, and Marzia mentions how aroused Elio is. They then have sex, clothed, but it doesn’t last long and both characters laugh off their first sexual encounter together.
We see them sneak away to a hidden room in the home later, where Marzia removes her bathing suit and bare breasts are seen before the two of them have sex again. Various nude male statues and photos of statues are seen, and frontal nudity is seen here. Elio sneaks into Oliver’s room and buries his face in Oliver’s shorts, pulling them over his head while positioning his body for imaginary sex. Elio and Oliver kiss for the first time, first quickly and then more aggressively. Oliver stops them and says they need to behave, so Elio responds by grabbing Oliver’s crotch. They kiss again later, and take each other’s clothes off. Rear nudity is again seen, but the camera is aimed at a tree outside the window, so, while sex is heavily implied, we see nothing. They are lying in bed together, naked, and we are lead to believe they have sex again. At one point, Oliver sits up shirtless in bed and wipes something off his chest. The scene leaves little doubt as to what he is wiping away.
In another scene, Oliver briefly performs oral sex off-camera and we only see Elio’s reaction. Oliver then gets up, pleased with himself for being able to arouse him. And then…there’s a scene with a peach. I have been trying to decide whether to fully describe it, or just leave it as a “trust me on this one” kind of thing. And, I’m just going to leave it. You probably won’t want to read the details. This movie is not for children, teenagers, or for adults offended by extreme sexual content. Of course, prayerful discernment and caution is recommended before viewing any film, but especially one of this nature.
This film is designed to be sensuous, in the truest sense of the word. Its visuals are lush—the verdant grounds of the villa, the ripe vineyards, the sparkling, cerulean waters of the lakes and oceans. The director, Luca Guadagnino, wants the viewer to be able to indulge in the very same ways as his characters. He wants you to be able to smell and taste and touch. This is not his first film where beautiful people are surrounded by incredible scenery and indulge in forbidden lusts and primal urges.
Much has been made of the acting in the film, and rightfully so. The performances are all very good, but Timothee Chalamet and Michael Stuhlbarg stand out. They are both having quite the year, Stuhlbarg in particular. He shows up briefly in “The Post” (2018), turns in a strong performance in “The Shape of Water,” but saved his best for this one. In a year of great performances across all the Academy categories, Stuhlbarg might get passed over. And that would be a shame. But, it is Chalamet who firmly plants himself on the list of actors to watch. Elio is a nuanced character, one of confidence and doubt, intelligence and cluelessness, joy and deep sadness. And it never feels false because Chalamet captures it all perfectly.
But, how to approach a movie like this as a Christian? The Bible says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” As Christians, we know that were it not for the grace and forgiveness of God, we would each be lost in our own sin and destined for an eternity apart from God. It is the love of Jesus that changes people’s hearts. It’s what changed mine. Because, within all of us is a desire to be loved. And while we will all try to fill it with something, many will choose something that isn’t Christ. The fact that they have chosen ANYTHING over the love of Christ should sadden us more than what they choose to fill it with, and it is our duty as believers to love them anyway.
I didn’t see this movie as an incredible love story, although I can see how others might. I have heard it asked whether this would constitute statutory rape, and technically the laws in Italy regarding the age of consent are, and were then, very different to how they are in America. But that doesn’t take into account mindset and maturity, and I don’t know of a 17-year-old on the planet who is emotionally ready and healthy enough to make the kind of potentially life altering decision that choosing sexual partners can be. There is a reason God has ordained sex inside the boundaries of marriage. To me, the movie was more a cautionary tale about giving your heart away to anything that can’t, or won’t, protect it. That’s why the only One we can trust with our hearts is the One who made them in the first place.
Watching this movie, I was saddened for Elio. It seemed clear very early on to me what Oliver’s intentions were. He never really shares feelings with Elio. Anytime Elio asks a question, or shares feelings, Oliver responds with a question of his own. I was struck how over and over and over Oliver would turn the conversation back to Elio, never really seeming like he intended to answer him or acknowledge the depth of feeling he was creating.
If you do happen to see this movie (which I can’t recommend), watch for how often Oliver asks instead of answers. He would tell Elio to not act a certain way, and then would do something to encourage it. Some might see that as flirtation, but, because of the aforementioned way he handled conversations, I saw it more as stirring up something in Elio that he had no intention of truly reciprocating. He knew he was leaving at the end of the summer, and (we find out later) he knew what he was going home to. Stirring up a little something in someone else’s life and then leaving them didn’t really seem to faze him. At least not initially. Sure, near the end we believe that Oliver cares about Elio, but along the way it felt summer lusts being stirred and acted on. And when a heart is broken, it isn’t Oliver’s that’s breaking, and it’s up to Elio’s parents to deal with it, because Oliver is half way across the world.
The final shot of “Call Me by Your Name” might be the most powerful of the film. Even as the credits roll, the camera holds steady on Elio’s face as he sits in front of a fire. He is trying to remain strong, but he is broken. And as the fire glows and the wood crackles, his broken heart is bared for all of us to see. It is a powerful reminder, Christians, that the world is full of hurting people looking for a love that will protect them and never let them down. We know that love like that is only found in the life-changing love of God. And, no matter our differences, it is our job to be the love and light of Christ to the world if we ever truly expect to see hearts change for the glory of God.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.