"Love that dare not speak its name", Amira Casar, Andre Aciman, Annie Proulx, Armie Hammer, Attraction, Bisexuality, Bret Easton Ellis, Brokeback Mountain, Call Me By Your Name, Elio and Oliver, Esther Garrel, Father-Son Relationship, fathers, Film, film review, First Love, Gay, Gay Literature, Gay Men, Homosexuality, Italy, Literature, Love Story, Luca Guadagnino, Masculinity Studies, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mr. Perlman, Novel, Parents of LGBTQ+ Children, Peach, Queer-Bashing, Sexual Exploration, Sexual identity, Sexuality, Timothée Chalamet, Young Gay Love
I’ve never openly considered using any food for masturbation. I know being of the American Pie generation I was supposed to have stuck my penis in some sort of food at this point. Apparently the Millennial coming of age ritual, apart from eating tide-pods, snorting condoms, and killing virtually every sector of the economy according to snarky facebook posts your uncle leaves on your facebook page, is performing some sort of onanistic ritual with a pie, a piece of fruit, or anything sweet and delectable. This demonstrates a clear divide between the generations because, as Portnoy’s Complaint demonstrated, Baby Boomers had the luxury of getting their rocks off by jerking it into raw liver. There’s almost assuredly a writer out there somewhere who is going to write an essay about generational divides and the compulsion to fuck food, and it’s probably me, but I’d prefer to write a few more reviews of great films before I tackle food lust.
Apart from my wife, who reminds me everyday that I’m hers and hers alone and then laughs maniacally before adoring her kitty cats, the reason why I could never date another man is because it would almost assuredly end in violence or bloodshed. Now I’m not talking about Days of Our Lives Soap Opera bloodshed, where people are slapped and/or shot and hit the ground without starting to scream or hemorrhage out all over the credenza before Stefano’s evil twin drags the body away to clone the victim. Violence against LGBTQ couples and individuals, often referred to as Queer bashing, is a mode of violence that has unfortunately become almost tropic. If two gay people in a film love one another the ending will almost always imply that they cannot be together because straight people will not understand their love and will enact violence against one or both partners.
Perhaps the best example of this is the novella Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx. A melodrama about two ranch hands for hire who fall in love in the mountains of Montana, the pair are in bed together when Ennis explains why they can’t be seentogether:
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. It ain’t goin a be that way. We can’t. I’m stuck with what I got, caught in my own loop. Can’t get out of it. Jack, I don’t want a be like them guys you see around sometimes. And I don’t want a be dead. There was these two old guys ranched together down home, Earl and Rich—Dad would pass a remark when he seen them. They was a joke even though they was pretty tough old birds. I was what, nine years old, and they found Earl dead in a irrigation ditch. They’d took a tire iron to him, spurred him up, drug him around by his dick until it pulled off, just bloody pulp. What the tire iron done looked like pieces a burnedtomatoes all over him, nose tore down from skiddin on gravel.”
“You seen that?”
“Dad made sure I seen it. Took me to see it. Me and K.E. Dad laughed about it. Hell, for all I know he done the job. If he was alive and was to put his head in that door right now you bet he’d go get his tire iron. Two guys livin together? No. All I can see is we get together once in a while way the hell out in the back a nowhere—” (29-30).
This violence is a threat to existence is often at the root of something in Queer literature often referred to as “Love that dare not speak its name.” Due often to the fact that homosexuality was often listed either as a sin, a vice, or as a mental disorder, homosexuals over the ages have had to bury their sexual and emotional passions, and those of us that were artists had to find a way to express our frustrations and desires through art. Often is two characters in a story were gay, or often as was the case hinted at being gay, then by the end of their story no matter how happy they were there had to be a ending in which they could not be together. Sometimes this resulted simply in heartbreak, but far more often it was the case that one or both partners wound up being killed.
The ‘Love that dare not speak it’s name” is a trope which has haunted queer literature and queer art for decades, even centuries and so when watching Call Me By Your Name I was waiting and expecting for it to happen. And in a way it did, Oliver and Elio did not wind up together, but not because there was anything wrong with their love.
The film, which is based on the novel by Andre Aciman, explores the life of Elio Perlman, the son of a jewish classical art professor. The family lives in Italy and occasionally hosts graduate students of Elio’s father while he performs his research. One such graduate student, an American by the name of Oliver arrives and very quickly catches the attention of Elio who is a teenager and developing his sexual and personal identity as he is on the cusp of adulthood. Elio explores his sexuality with a young woman who lives in town, but he finds himself more and more drawn to Oliver who appears distant until, over time, the pair of them eventually abandon themselves to a love affair. The story is about falling in love in a Pre-AIDS era and how two men were able to find one another, and for Elio, the story revolves around the discovery of his sexuality and the “first love” of his life. By the end of the film the pair of them do not wind up together, Oliver winds up marrying a woman while never completely abandoning his erotic truth.
This would at first seem to satisfy the old “Love that Dare Not Speak It’s Name,” henceforward referred to as LTDNSIN, no never mind that’s a terrible acronym, but watching the film and having read the novel I’m not so quick to slap that label on what is arguably one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever watched. Luca Guadagnino has made a visually stunning film that, even when it is not experimenting with camera angles, is just gorgeous to watch. Guadagnino captures the landscape and feel of Italy taking timeto film the peach trees, the ruins that litter the landscape, the pools of cold water in which the characters swim, or even simply the actual Italians themselves that call this beautiful country home. Elio and Oliver exist in a sort of timeless space caught between antiquity and the contemporary period of the early 1980s. And this attention to detail allows for the exploration of sensuality and sexuality of the characters.
In one moment of the film Elio and Oliver are discussing their mutual attraction beside a roman ruin and the camera follows them around the ruined edifice as they talk:
Oliver: Is there anything you don’t know?
Elio: I know nothing, Oliver.
Oliver: Well, you seem to know more than anyone else around here.
Elio: Well, if you only knew how little I really know about the things that matter.
Oliver: What “things that matter?”
Elio: You know what things.
Oliver: Why are you telling me this?
Elio: Because I thought you should know.
Oliver: Because you thought I should know?
Elio: Because I wanted you to know.
Elio: [to himself] Because I wanted you to know. Because I wanted you to know. Because I wanted you to know.
Elio: [to Oliver] Because there’s no one else I can say this to but you.
Oliver: Are you saying what I think you’re saying?
Oliver: Wait for me here. Don’t go away.
Elio: You know I’m not going anywhere.
The scene is powerful for the shot Guadagnino uses and the way the music builds the dramatic tension. By the end of the scene, even though it doesn’t at first appear that much of anything has actually taken place, the reader feels that something powerful has happened in the film.
The love affair between Elio and Oliver was beautiful to watch, and I admit that the film made me nostalgic for the days when I was young, discovering myself, and falling in love. But for whatever reason the most powerful moment of the film was not any of the scenes between the two lovers, but a moment between Elio and his father after Oliver leaves the villa. Elio is emotional about the separation and he goes to speak with his father, and what occurs between the pair of them is arguably one of the most powerful demonstrations of affection between a gay child and a parent in recent cinema.
Mr. Perlman offers his son several moments of honest sentiment.
Mr. Perlman: You two had a nice friendship.
Mr. Perlman: You’re too smart not to know how rare, how special what you two had was.
Elio: Oliver was Oliver.
Mr. Perlman: Parce-que c’etait lui, parce-que c’etait moi.
Elio: Oliver may be very intelligent but…
Mr. Perlman: Oh no, no, no. He was more than intelligent. What you two had, had everything and nothing to do with intelligence. He was good. You were both lucky to have found each other, because you too are good.
Elio: I think he was better than me. I think he was better than me.
Mr. Perlman: I’m sure he’d say the same thing about you. Which flatters you both.
He clears through the suggestions and offers his honest take on the relationship,
Mr. Perlman: In my place, most parents would hope the whole thing goes away. Pray their sons land on their feet, but… I am not such a parent.
Mr. Perlman: Right now you may not want to feel anything. Maybe you neverwanted to feel anything. And maybe it’s not to me you’ll want to speak about these things. But feel something you obviously did. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to make yourself feel nothing so as not to feel anything – what a waste!
And finally he offers his son, with obvious tears in his eyes, one last final offering.
Mr. Perlman: Have I spoken out of turn? Then I’ll say one more thing. It’ll clear the air. I may have come close, but I never had what you two have. Something always held me back or stood in the way. How you live your life is your business, just remember, our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once. And before youknow it, your heart is worn out, and, as for your body, there comes a point when no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it. Right now, there’s sorrow, pain. Don’t kill it and with it the joy you’ve felt.
Elio: Does mom know?
Mr. Perlman: I don’t think she does.
There were so many moments during Call Me By Your Name, where I found myself “remembering.” When Elio smells Olivers shirt I “remembered” the discovery of the sensual power of your partner’s smell. When Oliver masturbates into a Peach I “remembered” the early experiments with masturbation. When Elio tries to kiss Oliver I “remembered” the early attempts at demonstrations of affection and how some of them failed. Mr. Perlman’s talk with his son however was the only moment of the film where I felt a real emotion to the point that I was actually crying. I wish had I had a moment like that when I was young, and I wish I had had the courage to be myself, and have someone there to offer such a net. I wish I hadn’t been so afraid to just be who I really was, which was gay.
I love my parents, and I do not wish to speak out of turn towards them. I am who I am today because of them because they offered me endless love and support. All I am saying is, there might have been a different man writing this post if I had had someone in the form of a guardian who allowed me the language and space to feel safe acknowledging my attraction.
And this emotion isn’t just limited to myself, as Bret Easton Ellis points out on his review of the film, commenting first on Michael Stuhlbarg’s final speech,
And yet Stuhlberg sells it with a hushed technical virtuosity that makes every word land and vibrate even though at times he overdoes the saintly Jewish-Daddy thing. Stuhlberg makes this the real climax of the movie—it becomes a primal scene—and in the packed theater I saw the movie you could hear the gay men (at least half the audience) barely holding back muffled sobs. Call Me By Your Name is the movie generations of gay men have been waiting for: the fullest, least condescending expression of gay desire yet brought to mainstream film. It ends with a nearly wordless four-minute shot of a tear-stained Chalamet staring into a fireplace, a myriad of emotions subtly morphing over his face while the credits roll and which reminds us: there cannot be love without pain, the two are intertwined and intractable, and that the boy might be destroyed but a man will emerge and survive.
Mr. Perlman’s speech to his son can at times be just that, a speech. And speeches are, by their nature, a one sided affair where one person delivers their thoughts, sentiments, philosophies, and opinions with an understanding that this is a passive affair for the listener. What felt different while watching it was how the man seemed to be not just lecturing his son, but honestly trying to communicate to him. Mr. Perlman is a man who has obviously experienced great frustration in his life, but just as likely he’s a man who’s starved for desire.
Growing older is a sensation that is often defined by such starvation of spirit. I find myself wondering more and more “what do I want out of life, and shouldn’t I have figured it out by now?” And looking back only feeds such hunger as one feels the advantages of maturity and personal agency and wonders “why didn’t I take advantage of that? Why did I choose not to pursue this?” And this desire tends to feed a bitterness of spirit that can sap one dry. Sexuality especially can starve the soul and leave one often wondering, why was I not more ambitious, spontaneous, more confident, and Mr. Perlman’s speech offers a kind of closure for such pain.
But as Ellis points out, Call Me By Your Name wasn’t an opportunity to mourn the loss of love, but to recognize that love. Too often the “first love” of our lives are encouraged to be forgotten or cynically dismissed as foolish or naive, but such a recommendation is not only barbaric it’s false. That first love is real because it is felt with such profound passion that will never be repeated in our lives, and while some are fortunate enough to turn that love into a lasting commitment, often such passion just cannot last. What’s important about the film is not simply that the film is a “gay movie,” but that it’s a film which explores the first love of homosexuality and does not dismiss it as something obscene, foolish, or doomed. It’s instead portrayed as the first part of a long and beautiful life.
Call Me By Your Name is a film gay men have been waiting for for decades, centuries even. And like the sexual grace carved into the hellenistic statues of Greek Gods, it’s a sexuality that cannot be denied, nor ignored, long after the men who experienced and recorded it are just the dust beneath the treads of bicycle wheels.
All quotes cited from Call Me By Your Name were provided by IMDB.com. All quotes taken from OUT’s review of Call Me By Your Name were provided by their website. If the reader is interested in reading the full review I’ve provided a link below:
I’ve taken the liberty of supplying a few reviews of the film and novel Call Me By Your Name below in case the reader would like a few more opportunities to read about the film instead of just taking my biased opinion.
In case the reader was curious, I really didn’t have any rhyme or reason for including the image below into the essay. I just typed in “supergay” into Google Images and I got this wonder. I used it as the temprary “Featured image” while I waited to get around to editing this one, and by the time I had everything ready I didn’t need it anymore, but I didn’t want to give up this guy because, he’s, well, perfect.
So, please enjoy this supergay photo because lord knows I certainly do.