In 2017, many Americans struggled to reconcile themselves with the current state of the country. Regardless of whether you fell to the left or to the right, much of America spent its year longing for a different time – be it when our country was “great,” or when it just had a different president. When we look at the films that critics loved this year, that yearning for a different time is almost universally present. In the critically acclaimed and mildly controversial Call Me By Your Name, the film’s central premise seems to be anchored in a sense of aching, desperate desire.
The film, which depicts a balmy, lazy Italian summer in the 1980s has struck a chord with audiences and critics alike, most of whom are moved by the film’s depiction of a short lived (truly the central relationship lasts no more than a few days) but deeply felt romance between a seventeen year old boy and a visiting graduate student. Surprisingly, in the age of #metoo and #timesup, and especially coming on the heels of Kevin Spacey’s long rumored allegations finally coming to the surface, the age difference didn’t bother most viewers. As for me, I found the film to be disturbing on several levels; first of all, that it’s incredibly boring, to the point where the two lead actors – who are for some unfathomable reason receiving acclaim, have absolutely no chemistry. They are cast to be icons; the younger boy standing in for the erotic Greek ideal of youth, whereas the older man stands in for the brusque, masculine but idealized Adonis.
The director’s fascination with these old tropes of homosexual desire is puzzling, as I think we can all agree that the erotic ideal of the white male body (queer or not) has been explored to its absolute maximum. And unfortunately, that is what most of the film is made up of, spending tedious hour after hour looking at how hot Armie Hammer is. We’ve all seen the Social Network – a. k. a., we all already know how hot he is (hint, if you have an ounce of self-respect, he’s not that hot). But this brings me to why so many people (especially gay, older men) feel drawn to a film that features exactly zero gay men. The film is just open enough, blank enough, yet textured enough that it is exceedingly easy to place oneself into the film.
Call Me By Your Name gives its viewers the romantic Italian summer romance that they never had. The viewers don’t need to do anything besides passively let themselves be swept away with the idea of a hunky grown man lusting over their teenage bodies—and what teenager wouldn’t enjoy that kind of attention to some extent? The problem comes, of course, when it’s adults engaging in this kind of inherently exploitative relationship. And furthermore, I would challenge viewers who look at this film through rose colored glasses to consider the public reaction the film would have would the central younger character have been a teenage girl.