It’s officially Hollywood awards season, which means anxious moviegoers around the world can finally watch and compare the movies we’ve been hearing about for ages.
Perhaps the most elusive is Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name. The film is currently only playing in New York and Los Angeles and awaiting a wider release, which means that you have time to read the book while you wait for it in another city or part of the world.
But contrary to all instinct, you may want to wait before reading. Call Me By Your Name is deeply fulfilling on both page and screen, but Call Me By Your Name may just be the rare case where you should watch the movie first before reading the book.
I read Call Me By Your Name in December, before seeing the film that had just arrived in New York. The novel is unapologetically gripping within the first few pages as André Aciman superbly describes Elio’s attraction – his love, his obsession, his unfettered desire – to Oliver. Aciman’s words are chosen with almost chemical precision to create a vivid and exact portrait of how young love consumes. The story soars, in large part, because of Elio’s hyper honest narration, which gives the reader an intimate and unparalleled account of one person’s journey through love.
Watching Call Me By Your Name on film lets the actor and audience interpret the meaning of every look and gesture.
However, the movie of Call Me By Your Name does away with Elio’s narration, so viewers don’t get those marvelous words. Instead, you get Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer acting the heck out of Elio and Oliver’s desires and impulses, without any words of narration to aid them in conveying their attraction.
Watching Call Me By Your Name on film before reading the book lets the audience interpret the meaning of every look and gesture of Elio and Oliver, before learning of every detail of every single thread of thought that led Elio to a single moment as Aciman depicts in the book.
Art is inherently subjective, much as we criticize it. Having the opportunity to freely interpret a relationship as complex as Elio and Oliver’s as an outside, third-person viewer, rather than through the novel’s first-person narration, only adds to the depth of Call Me By Your Name.
Take, for example, one crucial interaction the two share early on. Oliver touches Elio’s shoulder while a group of people are playing volleyball, and Elio wiggles away.
In the novel, you’re treated to this passage:
…I was so spellbound that I wrenched myself free from his touch, because a moment longer I would have slackened like one of those tiny wooden toys whose gimp-legged body collapses as soon as the mainsprings are touched…It never occurred to me that what had totally panicked me when he touched me was exactly what startles virgins on being touched for the first time by the person they desire: he stirs nerves in them they never knew existed and that produce far, far more disturbing pleasures than they are used to on their own.
It’s a deliberately relatable sensation, placed early in the book to show you that Elio’s passion is rooted in desires we’ve all shared. Not until later do we have the inkling that this brief moment is something beyond a casual interaction at a volleyball game.
In the movie, though, you see that scene play out over a split second as Elio squirms away. No explanation is offered, leaving the viewer to ask “Is he hurt? Is he being cautious? Is Elio even interested in Oliver?” Where the novel embeds you in Elio’s psyche, the screen version gives you neither Elio’s desire nor Oliver’s doubt in the moment. The scene is loaded with potential precisely because of its ambiguity — we could be any of those casual volleyball game bystanders, unaware that something far more tender is blossoming in their midst.
And those moments of viewer interpretation are echoed again and again throughout the movie. For instance, after Elio and Oliver’s first night together, Aciman spends pages and pages on Elio’s complicated thoughts about what just happened. As Aciman outlines in the novel, Elio and Oliver’s coupling is not the be-all-end-all bliss Elio imagined, but Elio feels that if it had remained in his imagination he would have gone mad wanting to live the experience.
Something bordering on nausea, something like remorse – was that it, then? – began to grip me and seemed to define itself ever more clearly the more I became aware of incipient daylight through our windows…I had known it would hurt. What I hadn’t expected was that the hurt would find itself coiled and twisted into sudden pangs of guilt.
Elio feels disgusted with himself, yet he cannot regret the decisions he never questioned. He feels an unbridgeable distance growing between him and everyone and everything tied to his life before the night with Oliver.
The beauty of the movie is that instead of analyzing [the scene] for us, we as the viewer get to watch Elio experience it.
In the film, all of those conflicting thoughts must be conveyed through Chalamet-as-Elio’s face, where it can be hard, as a an outside viewer watching an actor, to piece apart all those warring emotions just by watching.
But once again, that ambiguity may be the film’s strength. It seems impossible that this building, tumultuous romance would include the sort of temporary revulsion Aciman describes in the novel. It is the paradox of not wanting someone once you find out they want you, and the beauty of the movie is that instead of analyzing it for us, we as the viewer get to watch Elio experience it.
That’s not to say that Elio has cast away Oliver. The moment Oliver leaves for the day, Elio longs for his company as both friend and lover. In the book, readers are offered:
He was my secret conduit to myself – like a catalyst that allows us to become who we are, the foreign body, the pacer, the graft, the patch that sends all the right impulses, the steel pin that keeps a soldier’s bone together, the other man’s heart that makes us more us than we were before the transplant.
The very thought of this suddenly made me want to drop everything I would do today and run to him.
In the movie, viewers see this:
We see what Oliver sees, which is a confused kid grappling with sex and longing.
And perhaps that reveals the film’s greatest strength. Call Me By Your Name‘s not-so-secret weapon is Chalamet, whose performance communicates everything in Elio’s head and more if you watch closely enough.
Call Me By Your Name‘s not-so-secret weapon is Chalamet, whose performance communicates everything in Elio’s head and more
Take for instance, the film’s emotional closing, one long shot of Chalamet’s face presented during the credits in which we watch Elio process his relationship. Few other actors could carry such a powerful ending. Once again we are maddeningly distanced from Elio’s inner thoughts and can only wonder how he feels after everything that’s happened. You’ll relive every moment the two of them had together and hope it’ll yield answers. You’ll ache for him, a mere boy, as you watch the magnitude of the summer wash over him.
As it happens, the book ends well beyond that, with Elio recounting Oliver’s whereabouts and their missed connections well into adulthood. If the movie broke you, the book may offer some comfort in filling in what follows. Then again, it may break you all over again.
This isn’t as simple as a book or movie being better than its counterpart. Call Me By Your Name can and should be experienced in both forms: each text only enriches the other and bolsters this already soaring story of love, lust, and longing.
The novel is phenomenally written, but the film offers a rare opportunity to interpret two people’s incredible journey of falling in love. It’s an opportunity that should be experienced before reading exactly what the main character feels in the novel. Instead of poring over the text beforehand, we can savor the opportunity to witness Elio and Oliver’s love without expectation, subject to our honest reactions and the actors’ raw performance. And afterward – as the Oscar buzz builds – we can read the book and marvel over what inspired such a magnificent movie.
We do not deserve either, to be clear. But we can damn well try to earn them.
Captive State review ambitious sci-fi thriller offers up uneven intrigue
“A jumble of themes and ideas jostle for space in an audacious, but often messy, film that takes a familiar alien invasion set-up and goes for broke
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Buried somewhere underneath the wreckage, theres a smart little sci-fi film pulsing at the centre of Captive State, a scrappy, unwieldy curio with plenty on its mind, coherence not necessarily included. Shot over two years ago and pushed around the release schedule, its a troubled project that feels troubled, with confused editing and clear structural issues clueing us in on its difficult journey to the screen. Its a frustrating experience but one that remains worthwhile because theres just enough of a glimmer of the film it could have been to make it worth watching the film it turned into instead.
Were presented with a familiar set-up: aliens have invaded Earth leading to destruction, division and plenty of dust. But unlike the majority of similar films that have come before, were then presented with an idea of what comes after. What if aliens stuck around? What if an uneasy arrangement was made with Earths governing bodies? And what if the invaders were now seen as the main legislative force whose presence had actually led to a statistically safer society? Its a fascinating conceit and one that raises a string of intriguing questions, some of which the film answers with skill.
Pitched somewhere between District 9 and The Purge, writer-director Rupert Wyatt, whose 2011 prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a surprisingly urgent and necessary blockbuster, focuses the action on Chicago and how the new world order affects a city already struggling with crime and economic disparity. His lead is Gabriel, played by Moonlights Ashton Sanders, existing in one of the poorer districts and working in a factory tasked with wiping data from digital devices, which have been outlawed. His brother Rafe (Jonathan Majors, a rising star after his charming turn in Sundance darling The Last Black Man in San Francisco) was leading a resistance against the state but after his death, Gabriel finds himself scrambling for an escape………………………………………………………………”
Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’ demands to be watched and watched again
There’s a reason this lady has an Oscar.
“When the credits rolled on Us, I realized I needed a minute.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like the film – quite the opposite. It was that the film, written and directed by Jordan Peele, is so rich, so layered, so diabolically clever and emotionally astute, that it felt an enormous undertaking to process in a single sitting.
Several hours and many conversations later, I’m still convinced this film has secrets I haven’t uncovered yet, and I’m just eager for my next chance to go digging through it again.
Which is not to say it’s without surface-level pleasures. Moment to moment, Us is a film designed to make you react – to get you to giggle at Winston Duke’s extreme dad-ness (“You don’t need the internet. You have the outernet!” he tells his exasperated teenage daughter), or scream at a villain silently materializing in the corner of a frame. And it shapeshifts so frequently, and so deftly, that it’s a fool’s errand to guess at any moment what might happen next.
But it quickly becomes obvious that Us has a lot more on its mind than making you jump. Every detail here seems carefully considered, down to the amount of dust gathered on a coffee table in a rarely used living room. In the hands of a filmmaker this precise, much of the fun is in waiting to see just how his intricate puzzle will come together.
Duke, Lupita Nyong’o, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Evan Alex are instantly winning as the Wilson family, whose beach vacation is cruelly interrupted by funhouse-mirror versions of themselves. These strangers – clad in blood-red jumpsuits and armed with gleaming gold scissors – are hell-bent not just on killing them, but on explaining exactly why they’re doing so…………………………………………………………..”
Fighting With My Family review, Stephen Merchant has all the right moves
The writer-directors story of a British female wrestler striving to make it big in the US winningly balances oddball humour with affection for the antics of the WWE
“These are big movies, insists Michael Lerners studio boss in the Coen brothers 1991 hit Barton Fink, about big men in tights, both physically and mentally! Hes trying to explain to John Turturros angsty writer the inherent parameters of a wrestling movie, insisting: We dont put Wally Beery in a fruity movie about suffering. Yet just as William Faulkner reportedly did uncredited rewrites on Beerys 1932 picture Flesh, so writer-director Stephen Merchant here manages to subvert the genre and inject some of that Barton Fink feeling into this uplifting romp. Inspired by Max Fishers similarly titled Channel 4 documentary about a Norwich wrestling clan, Fighting With My Family is a hugely likable underdog tale, packing plenty of crowd-pleasing comedy wallop, and boasting a smack-down turn from the indomitable Florence Pugh.
Building on her brilliantly modulated performances in Carol Morleys The Falling and William Oldroyds Lady Macbeth, Pugh gets physical as Saraya (AKA Britani), punchy daughter of wrestlers………………………………………………………..”
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