Is it better to speak or die?Call Me by Your Name: A Novel by André Aciman
Note: Even though I took today’s quote from Aciman’s novel, most of my commentary references the film adaptation of the same name. But you know how things go here at The Voracious Bibliophile—we start off on one path together and end up taking another road entirely. Enjoy!
This is, in my opinion, one of the best quotes from CMBYN. I can’t remember exactly how the scene plays out in the novel (time for a re-read), but in the film, Elio (Timothée Chalamet) is being counseled and comforted by his parents, Samuel and Annella (Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar, respectively), about his love troubles. Now, Elio never really comes out and says exactly what (who) is troubling him, but they are not fools. That aside, anyone living in the same house with Elio and Oliver (Armie Hammer), their gorgeous summer house guest, would have to be completely oblivious not to notice the mutual sexual attraction that practically crackles every time they’re in the same room together.
This scene in particular is as heartwarming as it is awkward. I mean, is there any delicate way to tell your parents not only that you like boys but that you’re both enjoying and being tortured by a once-in-a-lifetime summer love affair with their houseguest? Now, don’t misread me. The Perlmans are highly-educated and cosmopolitan. They have same-sex couple friends and wouldn’t think twice about their son becoming involved with another man. No, their concern stems from that basic parental instinct that kicks in when you know your child is in pain. Annella caresses her son’s hair while he lies in his father’s lap, and she reads from the book containing the line which provides us with today’s quote.
Anyone who can watch this scene and not ache with longing must have their soul stripped of all feeling. The world around you disappears and the wall that separates the performers from the spectators crumbles. In that moment, you become part of the scene, and a feeling of exposure, of becoming emotionally naked, surrounds you and fills you up. Returning to reality feels not unlike leaving Eden, filled with a beautiful and terrible knowledge.
Bonus: I found a YouTube clip of the scene where this line is spoken, and it’s just as powerful after repeat viewings.
Double Bonus: The entire soundtrack to CMBYN is sublime, but Sufjan Stevens’s “Mystery of Love” is on another plane entirely. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song as well as the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Visual Media.
Thanks as always for being a faithful reader of The Voracious Bibliophile. If you like what you see, please like, comment, follow, and subscribe to my email list to get notified of new posts as soon as they drop. You can also email me at email@example.com or catch me on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest @voraciousbiblog. Keep reading the world, one page (or pixel) at a time.