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Why I love the lack of rainbows in “Call Me By Your Name”

Jun. 22, 2018
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As a teenage high school girl, it’s not common that I hear people around me talking about a film starring a queer relationship. The extent to which queer culture penetrates my high school bubble is usually girls talking about RuPaul’s Drag Race or wearing rainbow-clad apparel in June from brands who capitalize on the queer community for 30 days a year and promote heteronormative stereotypes the other 335 days of the year. Call Me By Your Name changed that.

Films like Call Me By Your Name come few and far between in today’s day and age. Even though those who are not in the LGBT+ community often claim “It’s 2018. Gays are normal. We don’t need more representation,” the fact that one of the first things kids my age think of when upon hearing the word ‘gay’ is a drag queen or the stereotypical effeminate, white, cisgender, gay man highlights how, although the idea of out and proud gay people is becoming more and more normalized to youth and adults alike, people still can’t picture a queer person just being a “normal” person who could live down the block or go to school with them. The idea of a ‘queer person’ isn’t just another kid who could be in your fifth period English class; it’s still an intangible idea of an ‘other’ to most people.

Call Me By Your Name has made leaps of progress towards normalizing queer people worldwide. Firstly, the movie isn’t inherently labelled an ‘LGBT+’ film. Amazing movies often get labelled as such and put into categories on streaming sites such as Netflix, which stops people from finding out about the movies and watching them. CMBYN avoids this issue by not focusing on the fact that the romance is between two men. By framing the relationship as just a normal, very aesthetically pleasing summer romance, CMBYN makes its protagonists’ relationship seem completely normal. Contrary to most movies featuring a gay couple, CMBYN does not center itself around the barriers being gay can entail. In fact, it almost completely avoids them. Although the movie has been criticized for doing so and romanticizing being queer, especially in the ‘80s, it’s a romance film. It’s allowed to romanticize and be cheesy.

Movies about queer couples are often not even given the chance to be cute and overly adorable, instead choosing to focus strictly on the queerness of their characters. By not dealing with the plight of being queer in the ‘80s, CMBYN makes Elio and Oliver’s relationship seem like a ‘normal’ relationship to straight viewers who typically associate queerness with drag queens and rainbows. I think it’s incredibly important that the film made the relationship so lovable and relatable: Elio’s coming-of-age storyline is so relatable, and the story of a lost first love is something almost everyone goes through at some point in their lives. Whether female, male, or anything else on the spectrum, viewers can relate to the classic storyline director Luca Guadagnino masterfully portrays in this film.

The fact that Call Me By Your Name is set in this secluded, paradise-like town and almost all of the major character and relationship development takes place with only Elio and Oliver present centers the viewer’s focus on the personal growth that stems from realizing one’s sexuality, not the struggle that comes with other people. Most films out now featuring LGBT+ leads delve into the themes of acceptance that come with coming out. Love, Simon is a prime example of this—Simon already knows he’s gay by the time the movie starts. The movie is mainly about the classic coming out arc. CMBYN is a love story, not a coming out story. The romantic aesthetic of the film, from the sweet fruit to the constant half-nakedness, fields, and biking, characterize this work as a romance film which just features two guys instead of a guy and a girl. I think, perhaps, that this is the most revolutionary feature of the movie. It’s a sign of times changing: it’s becoming normal for a couple to be thought of as either a guy and a guy, a girl and a guy, a girl and a girl, or literally any other mix of genders. Elio and Oliver’s relationship is just as normal as Marzia and Elio’s and Oliver and Chiara’s: there’s nothing forbidden about the chemistry between the two men.

Perhaps one of my favorite things about the way Guadagnino translated the film from paper to film is that he frames Marzia and Elio’s and Elio and Oliver’s relationships in similar lights. Typically in these movies, the relationship with the girl serves to cover up the relationship with the guy and keep up public appearances. Guadagnino includes shots of Marzia and Elio together at night, hidden from adults, and in the secluded privacy of the attic as much as he hides Elio and Oliver’s budding romance in fields far away and in the darkness of the night. There’s nothing more hidden about Elio and Oliver, because it’s just as fine for them to be together as it is for Elio to be with Marzia.

The movie has received some criticism for not accurately highlighting the struggles that come with being queer, but I think the ending of the movie handles that perfectly. In case you haven’t seen the full movie, spoiler alert! Although Elio and Oliver had a beautiful, fleeting romance in Crema hidden away from the world, when they left, reality came crashing in. The movie ends with Oliver calling to tell the Perlmans that he has gotten engaged to a girl, destroying any hope Elio might have had of rekindling their love sometime in the future. Ending the film like this brings back the reality that in the ‘80s, Oliver would have had to marry a girl, and although in their far away Italian town their love was normal, the world wasn’t there yet.

I absolutely adore Call Me By Your Name between the way Guadagnino directed it and Timothée Chalamet’s stunning performance as Elio. Although the movie doesn’t feature rainbow flags or Pride Fest, it still contributes to the normalization of queer life for the world at large.