Reflecting on Heartache: Call Me by Your Name


A friend who was dealing with the breakdown of a romantic relationship once told me they would more readily accept the death of someone they know than to acknowledge the end of their romance. Another friend told me that following a break-up, they had to have someone sit with them whilst they showered, as they were left unable to perform even the simplest of tasks alone; things we, the non-heartbroken, are often able to do without a second thought.

Heartache, when it doesn’t concern our own hearts directly, is inviting. Countless hits revolve explicitly around heartbreak, and it’s a trope films can rely on as a predominant reminder of the (almost inevitable) human experience, knowing the respective audiences will nod to themselves, acknowledging the relatability of it all. This has also become a touch predictable, especially in film. However, what happens when heartache is more than a device, and is, instead, the plot itself? In Call Me by Your Name, heartache – both pertaining to longing and loss – colours almost every movement, every exchange. Set in the 1980’s, against a glistening backdrop of an Italian summer, characters Elio and Oliver explore their mutual desire. 

I believe Call Me by Your Name to be a masterpiece; each frame visually stunning and emotionally rich. In particular, I find one scene to be wholly unforgettable; Elio and his father Mr Perlman sit together, and what follows is a monologue, given from father to son, about compassion and intimacy:

“If there is pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out, don’t be brutal with it. Withdrawal can be a terrible thing when it keeps us awake at night, and watching others forget us sooner than we’d want to be forgotten is no better. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of 30 and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste…”

This short interaction is one of the most exquisitely tender moments I have ever come across in film. Although it is a clearly difficult time for Elio following the departure of Oliver, Mr Perlman urges him not to suppress his feelings, instead encouraging him to feel the full weight of his emotions and allow space and time to heal. 

Comfort can be found in the idea that Elio has been granted the opportunity to share this moment with his father – and we can share our own, silently, with the two of them. It grants an effectual catharsis. Heartache will likely be experienced by everyone at least once in their lifetime. Perhaps even numerous times. Loss can feel entirely personal, but Call Me by Your Name offers a different view; first love, followed by such an intense sadness - this is typical of the human experience, reminding us that we are smaller than we think, and this reminder is a welcome one.

The final scene of the picture is just as touching. When Elio learns of Oliver's engagement to another, he does not suppress his emotion. Rather than hide from his melancholy, he follows his father's advice and lets his feelings flow right out of him. The final scene closes in on Elio’s face, streaming with tears. In my view, this is the most fitting ending for Call Me by Your Name, a film which uniquely understands the precarious state of first love.

image: Sony Pictures Classics