I recently listened to the audiobook for Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman. I have been a bit obsessed with this story since I first heard about it. When I got the option to listen to it, I jumped at the chance. I also immediately requested the movie from the library, so I could watch it once I had finished.
I do want to preface this ‘comparison’ with the fact that I did only listen to the audiobook and that was a month or so ago. It is the first time I have truly considered a work that I didn’t have the text in front of me to reference. So I very well may miss some things or my recollection may not exactly match up. It is a bit more difficult to go back to reference an audiobook than the book itself, but I will do my best.
For comparison sakes, I am going to hold back on some of the minor things, such as the change in house tours or conversation switches. You have been lucky so far to miss my Harry Potter book to movie comparisons as I am hyper critical. I’m going to tone it down for you lovely people.
So for those not familiar with the story: Elio is 17 when an American doctoral student, Oliver, comes to stay at his family’s Italian villa for the summer. Elio, played by Timothée Chalamet, details the six weeks Oliver, portrayed by Armie Hammer, spends there. Over the course of the summer, the two slowly reveal their attraction and begin a spirited and erotic affair. It is a coming into your skin story wrapped within the discovery of what lies beneath another person’s mask.
I loved the audio book, drinking in the story whenever I had the chance to listen. It spurred me to walk to and from work, just to get an hour a day to hear Arnie Hammer’s voice. Yes, the actor who plays Oliver narrated the version I listed to. The first time that he told Elio ‘Later’ in the film, I was right back in the midst of the story, captivated by his voice.
Alright, let’s get to it! **SPOILERS AHEAD**
The first change that I want to mention is that Elio and Oliver share a bathroom in the movie, instead of the adjoining balconies from the novel. I know, I know. You are probably wondering why I’m brining this up when I said I was going to tone down the pickiness. However, I loved the connection that was provided by the balconies. It was a metaphor for me as they had to ‘come out’ to the balcony to connect to each other. The shared bathroom did not provide that same sense of connection. It also lost some of the tension. Elio is easily able to access Oliver’s room and escape if need be. It is not restricted in the same ways and actually diminishes the relationship. It seems to easy and obvious with a clearly shared area. I loved the scaling of the balcony wall to access each other in secret and I missed that detail in the movie.
One reason that I thoroughly enjoyed the movie (as with most movie adaptations) is that it brought my imagination to life. The melodies that Elio mentions playing are given substance that I can actually enjoy. It added to the beauty of the story to hear the notes played on the piano and guitar. This is also true of the visions of the Italy, which evoked a longing in me. Italy is a destination on my travel bucket list. Seeing pieces of the setting wrapped within the context of the story was beautiful.
A classic symptom of adapting a book to a movie is that things have to be chopped. You are boiling a large volume down to a couple of hours. It is a necessary evil, but as someone who enjoys the book, it is difficult to see anything be left out. In this case, I think there are points where it worked well for the movie and those where it did not. The book has much more build up in the relationship between Elio and Oliver, taking time to bring them together over the first few weeks. Yet, in the movie, it almost seems too fast-paced to truly allow connection to grow. However, these cuts do work in the movie’s favour when it comes to Elio’s guilt and shame. He spends a little less time over thinking things and enjoying the moment. This allows the viewers to enjoy it as well.
It is interesting how reading the book can add insight where you did not even realize it was needed. When Elio finally tells Oliver that he doesn’t know anything about what matters, my wife turned to me. She asked me ‘is this about the gay thing?’ I had to laugh. It was incredibly clear to me from Elio’s commentary in the book what they were talking about. However, it wasn’t immediately obvious to Ashleigh.
Before I get to my biggest issue with the movie adaptation, there are some moments that I loved and want to touch on quickly. The conversation of “Is it better to speak or die?” was beautifully brought to life by Timothée and Armie. This is followed by the Monte’s Berm scene, another wonderful moment between these two characters. There is a rawness in their interactions and a vulnerability that was captured perfectly. It leads well into their eventually first time together. Played out on screen, it was adorably awkward and hesitant which is true, not only to the book, but to real-life interactions. Just beautiful, even if our vision is limited.
Alright and it is time for the final rant! They basically cut off the entire ending. They destroyed the conclusion by leaving Elio in tears in front of the fire. They don’t give him the time to heal or to come together twenty years down the road and have a few hours together. They wiped out their closure. And I get that there is only so much you can include, but the ending is kind of important. This is especially true when we are left with Elio’s heartbreak, instead of his clarity and understanding. Elio and Oliver are able to come together to have a final conversation.
Overall, I loved the both the book and movie of Call Me by Your Name. They both bring different things to the table. It makes a comparison difficult, but I do enjoy considering the strengths and weaknesses of each. It has been an entertaining pursuit for me considering that Pride Month is right around the corner.
While I was doing some research for this post, I found an interview with the author, André, on how he wrote this story. I wanted to share it as it is interesting to see how he came to develop this novel. So you can watch The Advocate’s video here.
Have you read the book and seen the movie? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.
What’s to come:
- More pride month posts, including a review of Annie on My Mind
- More recommendations