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Sunday, April 14, 2024
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Scenes That Stick: The finale of ‘Call Me By Your Name’ paints a perfect picture of betrayal and heartbreak

This film ending delivers top-notch emotion through its subtlety

During this month of romance, there is no better film to watch than Luca Guadagnino’s soul-crushing coming-of-age masterpiece “Call Me By Your Name.” 

The film details the story of teenage Elio Perlman’s (Timothée Chalamet) unforgettable summer at his family’s villa in northern Italy and his tumultuous relationship with his father’s graduate assistant, Oliver (Armie Hammer). 

The controversial film’s ending opens with a continuation of soft piano from the prior scene, where Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) is talking with him about Oliver and the heartbreak he’s feeling after Oliver’s return to the United States. 

The first shot shows important locations from the film such as the villa and Monet’s Berm now covered in snow, as the Perlmans are back in Italy again, months later, for Hanukkah. While the CGI snowfall is slightly disconcerting, these shots and their fading piano accompaniment placate the viewer before the film’s final emotional punch.

The music stops and Elio comes back from running errands, dressed in a now iconic white shirt covered in abstract doodles of faces. As Elio lounges on a chair, a phone call comes in. He manages to get to the phone first, as his parents (Stuhlbarg & Amira Casar) are combing through applications for next summer’s grad student.

On the other line? Oliver.

The initial swagger Elio held when walking back into the house at the beginning of the scene instantly melts away, his “Hi” holding a nervous softness, as if he’s afraid to sound too enthusiastic. Every pause hits like a truck due to the lack of background noise and music, inviting viewers to hold their breath until someone speaks.

Oliver is not actually shown in this scene and the tone of his disembodied voice is distant through the phone, like he’s putting up a wall. He asks basic things like how Elio’s parents are, really just wanting to cut to the chase. 

After all, if he really cared, he likely would have called somewhere between August and December.

The truth comes out when Oliver explains he has news to share with Elio and his family. 

Elio jokingly asks if Oliver is getting married with a smile on his face, but the fear in his expression tells a different story. When Oliver confirms his engagement to an on-again, off-again girlfriend he said nothing about the entire summer, Elio’s face ever so slightly falters. 

His cordial congratulations are then juxtaposed with a flippant eyebrow raise. Somehow, the only response Oliver can come up with is “Do you mind?”

In between that loaded question and Elio’s parents joining in on the other line, Elio remains silent, communicating his heartbreak only through facial expressions. Elio’s parents talk with Oliver, leaving Elio mere seconds to put the phone down and take a breath. After the Perlmans get off the line, they exchange what can only be described as “the look” that parents share when they know something.

As Elio and Oliver discuss that the Perlmans know about their summer fling, Oliver’s tone changes. 

His bass voice still sounds gruff, but it feels like he’s slipping back into his summer self when mulling over how lucky Elio is to have supportive parents. In a last-ditch effort to hold onto Oliver, Elio quietly says his own name into the phone, drawing back to the scene of their first night spent together and calling each other by the other’s name.

Oliver folds, whispering almost inaudibly “Oliver – I remember everything,” back through the phone.

After a few seconds of silence, Guadagnino cuts the shot there, with the phone still in Elio’s hand before the conversation ends. This frustrating but purposeful choice keeps the somewhat predictable plot still exciting at the midpoint of the scene, refusing to have the end of the film spell everything out for viewers and lose momentum.

Elio finishes the scene pacing into the dining room, putting down his Walkman, and plopping down in front of the fireplace. The camera cuts to his face, smirking knowingly as tears well in his eyes. Guadagnino lets Chalamet do the work to bring this story home, as “Visions of Gideon” by Sufjan Stevens plays in the background.

In the film’s final two minutes, a shot of Chalamet’s face perfectly captures the denial, depression and anger in his eyes, small facial movements and breathing. The sorrow on his face is obvious, but what takes Chalamet’s acting to the next level is how he makes one emotion seamlessly fade into the next. He can only use his face and not his body, needing to hide in plain sight from those setting the table behind him.

While this film was one of the first big hits in Chalamet’s career, it easily holds its own next to his other roles. 

He took the multi-faceted, awkward, deeply emotional teenager off the pages of André Aciman’s novel and adapted Elio’s inner thoughts without missing a beat. He doesn’t try to oversell the character, he just lets the subtlety and humanity behind his performance speak for itself.

The storyline of the novel and this adaptation, specifically the seven-year age gap between 17-year-old Elio and 24-year-old Oliver, has generated controversy among critics and audiences. 

Elio being underage is the main source of debate, as well as the difference in life stages that the characters are in. The age gap serves to communicate the theme of naivete. His relationship with Oliver forces Elio to undergo an intense emotional development and pain that most people never experience in a lifetime.

The way Guadagnino’s rendition highlights the aftermath and breakdown of their relationship serves as a warning about the consequences of being with someone older, and more importantly, being with someone under age, that critics should not ignore. This film and this scene serve as a reminder that difficult stories still hold value and should be told, albeit in the right way. And the magic of this scene lies in its delivery.

The crushing realization that Oliver was never his to begin with, which Chalamet brings to life in these final moments, makes this a scene that truly sticks.

“Call Me By Your Name” is available to watch with a Hulu subscription.

This article was edited by Bailey Hobbs, Sara Winick and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks and Sydney Kornmeyer.

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