Confessions of a Crybaby – Addendum to ‘Call Me by Your Name’ Review
Donald Spoto, in his fascinating critique of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, described that film as taking place in the “mind of the viewer.” This is true, I believe, of all films and indeed all art. Personal experience and individual perception affect how each of us sees a film. When we watch a motion picture, we don’t see what’s on the screen, we see our own perceptions of it. Those perceptions are invariably influenced by past experiences and the emotions they made us feel.
In most cases, I try to keep my personal life out of my reviews as much as I can. But sometimes that’s simply impossible. As a cat person, I felt it necessary to reveal my love for felines in my review of Ceyda Torun’s cat documentary, Kedi, as I was bound to have a favorable opinion of the film. As surrealism is highly personal, I couldn’t review Darren Aronofsky’s Mother without relating my personal experiences with its themes and images. And for the sake of honesty, I felt it necessary to qualify my mixed reaction to Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting sequel by discussing how it brought up my personal regrets at wasting a significant part of my life through substance abuse.
After seeing Luca Guadagnino’s gay romance, Call Me by Your Name and experiencing the intense emotional response of which I wrote in my review, I knew it would be impossible to write about it without relating it to my past experiences as a gay movie-goer. As I recollected in my review, Guadagnino’s film inspired a five-minute crying session after I left the theater. But it didn’t end there. The next day, just thinking about the movie brought me to the edge of tears. Three days later, when I took a close friend to see it, my voice cracked several times as I discussed it with her.
I have never had such a profound emotional response to a movie before. In the final paragraph of my review, I listed a few reasons for my reaction, but they just didn’t seem to adequately explain it. It’s been five days since my first viewing of the film. My review is published, and my head is clearer. I’m now at a place where I can more honestly evaluate my reaction.
One of the themes of Call Me by Your Name, expressed in a heart-felt conversation between father and son near the film’s conclusion, is that of grief and how we deal with it. Elio’s father advises his son to own his grief and not to try to bury it, lest in doing so, he dulls his ability to love again. He relates a personal story of how, in his youth, before his body became old and unattractive, he missed an opportunity to experience the joy that Elio experienced with Oliver. This, I believe is the true source of my reaction.
I am very much like Elio’s father. As I reach the end of middle age, I have many regrets about the life I’ve lived, particularly that I’ve never experienced the joy of love that Oscar and Elio had. I’m not dead yet. And I suppose it’s still possible, but time is unkind and gay men can be brutal to those who don’t fit their Greek god ideals. Of course, real love is seldom as idyllic as Elio and Oliver’s sunlit romance in the Italian countryside. And in that sense, despite the film’s realistic depiction of a young man discovering his attraction to another man, it’s fantasy. But deep down inside, I think it reminded me not only of what I lost, but of what I never had, and of the foolish decisions I made that prevented these things from occurring.
I am not unhappy. I have my friends and two cats to dote on. And this blog is a hobby that keeps me entertained in my downtime. But there will always be that part of me that regrets that I spent so much of my life afraid of living. That, my friends, is something worth crying about.