Illustration / Mia Carnevale
What I learned on the first day of 2018
On January 1st 2018, when I was back in my hometown for the holidays, I went to see the much-hyped and equally controversial “cinematic ravishment” (NYT Manhola Dargis) known as Call Me By Your Name. My mother accompanied me, and tried to convince my younger brother to do the same by explaining that “it’s not a film about gay people, it’s a film about love!” As though those two things couldn’t be true at once.
I will admit that I was extremely surprised by the sheer force of the impact that this film had on me. I couldn’t speak to my mom for about twenty minutes after the credits finally rolled because I was sobbing uncontrollably. Driving home from the movie theatre, trying to get a grip so as not to worry her, I felt an incredible catharsis. At first, I didn’t really understand why. I didn’t, and still don’t particularly think that Call Me By Your Name was a phenomenally well-directed or clean-cut film. As one of my friends mentioned to me later, it seemed more like a Hollywood movie “trying to be a European art house film”. For a film set in Italy and with a dialogue alternating between three different languages, it felt undeniably American. Though the camera-work was beautiful, and the aesthetics of the Northern Italian setting were very obviously meditated and carefully constructed, the narrative lacked consistency and sometimes felt forced and unnatural. I wasn’t really feeling the chemistry between Elio (Timothee Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) until later on. Though I can’t discredit their performances, as they were both excellent, the film as a whole didn’t strike me as a Best Picture candidate.
I also don’t particularly think the film is an accurate portrayal of what it means to be queer, or to have queer relationships. The age gap between Elio and Oliver (seven years, with Elio being 17 and therefore, still a minor) is worrying at best and paedophilic at worst. Even though the film is set in 1983 and not in 2018, there was a certain disconnect between the director’s intentions in representing queerness on screen, and the authenticity that I believe should be afforded to queer characters. Those who were mainly represented are both cis white men whose sensibilities and interests I don’t particularly relate to. So why did I react so viscerally?
I’m sure that Call Me By Your Name‘s stellar soundtrack also played a role in my subsequent breakdown; a host of musicians, from Sufjan Stevens to Ryuichi Sakamoto, scored the film to make sure I’d feel as heartbroken as possible once it reached its inevitably sorrowful conclusion. There was one song I found myself listening to over and over again after I’d seen the film: “Love My Way” by The Psychedelic Furs. This is the song that plays while Elio watches Oliver on the dance floor, and finally joins him in a moment of self-assuredness. The chorus goes like this: Love my way / it’s a new road / I follow where my mind goes. As 2018 dribbled on, I kept listening to this song and feeling more and more connected to those lyrics.
The more I think about my reaction, though, the more I think that in a way, my mom was right. Call Me By Your Name is a film about love and how deeply fleeting it can be, yet still incredibly meaningful and enriching. Towards the ending of the film, Elio and his father are having a conversation about Oliver’s departure and Elio’s sadness at the thought of never seeing him again. His father shares with him the following: “In your place, if there is pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out, don’t be brutal with it. 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!”.
I’d never heard anyone so accurately describe something that I had thought about many times before. In love in all its forms, we are taught to suppress our feelings very early on in order to avoid pain in case of failure. This is a question of survival for most of us, and I think it applies to most of the things we are passionate about. But sometimes, it makes us passive. I’m tired of passivity. I’ve been taught to stay quiet and manage my feelings in the corner for long enough.
So on January 1st, 2018, I made a promise to myself to feel everything as deeply as I could this year, to follow my instincts, and to react accordingly. To me, it meant something that this was the first piece of mainstream media I consumed in 2018. I’m looking forward to a year where complacency is gradually pushed out of the picture, where being passive is no longer an option, and where we fight even harder for what we believe in. Where queer stories can be told in more accurate ways without the weight of a hegemonic Hollywood limiting them. I’m looking forward to love, my way.