The Hyper-Criticism of "Call Me by Your Name"

This winter saw the widespread release of Call Me by Your Name, a film by Luca Guadagnino based on the novel of the same name by André Aciman. Even before its release, Call Me by Your Name was singled out as a major Oscars contender, and the advance praise for this film was so numerous and profound that I was certain it could not disappoint—and it didn’t. Prior to seeing the film, I read the book, a phenomenal piece of literature which has been lauded for the past 11 years, and rightly so. The story focuses on a young man, Elio, who falls in love with a visiting graduate student of his father’s, Oliver, over one unforgettable and life-changing summer. It is an intimate, acute look at all that comes with falling in love, but also an insightful, poignant, and necessary LGBTQ+ coming-of-age story. And yet, despite all the reasons this masterful film should be received well by general audiences, and its target audiences, it seems to be facing intense hyper-criticism upon its proliferation.

 

The greatest criticism of this film, and one that is completely false is that it advocates for and excuses pedophilia due to the age difference between the love interests. This is a serious accusation and one that should not be thrown around in any context so casually. Yet I’ve seen multiple people with no knowledge of this story lob such a complaint, watch the film/read the book (or both), and then return and immediately retract their prior statement. The obvious group mentality which has contributed to this “hot take” picking up speed is ultimately incorrect, but it continues to spread on social media. Even LGBTQ+ viewers have picked it apart, questioning whether it is even a valid look at same-sex relationships due to its decision not to include graphic sex scenes. Not even its most acclaimed scene has been spared the backlash, with people calling Michael Stuhlbarg’s (Elio’s father) speech “bullshit” and completely unrealistic. And it led me to wonder—are journalists, Twitter personalities, and generally uninformed audiences more inclined to criticize LGBTQ+ media within an inch of its life?

The truth is, had the same age difference been presented between a man and a woman, no one would have batted an eye. We’ve seen it before, and even praised older female characters for pursuing younger men, deemed them “cougars” and applauded teenage boys for “catching” such a woman. We don’t demand sex scenes between straight couples, we don’t think that a portrayal of heterosexual romance is invalid when those scenes are missing, and we certainly don’t pit heterosexual romances against each other and force them to speak for their entire community. For many LGBTQ+ viewers, this film was a rare opportunity to see pure, gradual, unobstructed same-sex love and intimacy on the big screen, and an even rarer portrayal of healthy bisexuality. Nothing and no one tried to hinder the relationship (in fact quite the opposite) and it was left to blossom on its own terms, in its own way. While that may be “boring” to straight audiences who can’t understand the nuance associated with same-sex love or those who crave procedural romance films, it was a moving portrayal of acceptance and affection for its LGBTQ+ viewers, and a story so obviously and deeply respected and cared for by its creators that such a genuine adaptation may never be seen again.

While I could rant and rave about the various criticisms this film has faced over the past few months (and how I think a lot of it is due to the tendency to become cutthroat around awards season, pit every single nominated movie against each other, and single out a lamb for the slaughter), and how the performances here are so incredible they’re nearly baffling, I truly believe that Call Me by Your Name is a story which needs to be discovered, in any form, according to the individual. It is a journey and an experience, a well-written, stupendously-acted, so-intimate-watching-almost-feels-like-an-intrusion, exceptional film. While we should be critical of that media which attempts to represent marginalized communities, we should first make sure our arguments have some basis and remember that when we hyper-criticize LGBTQ+ media, that criticism also reflects back on the real people and communities which connect with and perceive themselves in LGBTQ+ stories.

 

Image Credit: Feature,1,2