With the Call me by your name film receiving critical acclaim and taking home an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, the question must be asked is how the novella, that the film is based off of, compares. I decided that before I would watch the film I should read the novella. My eyes and my brain were still fresh and I had only an outsiders understanding of the films brilliance so in order to give the novella its fair due I wanted to read it without any preconceived notions going in. What I found was shocking. I ended up falling in love with the novella and feeling indifferent towards the critically acclaimed film. Here’s why:
Call me by your name by Andre Aciman is a novella about two young men, 17-year-old Elio and 24-year-old postdoc, Oliver, embarking on a summer long romance in the mid 1980s somewhere in northern Italy. I have never been to Italy but after reading this novella I felt like I almost didn’t have to, or desperately wanted to. One of the two. It makes one feel as though the Italian Riviera is their long lost home that calls to them as they flip through the pages of this short book. Salty air, tanned skin and the slight blurry haze that sweeps over a warm mediterranean day are sensory details that are saturated in this books pages. This overall setting attributes to the romance and sensualism masterfully depicted in this novella and invokes a parallelism to a fond distant memory that is permanently cemented in Elios mind.
This story grips you from the first few sentences. “‘Later!’ The word, the voice, attitude. I’d never heard anyone use “later” to say goodbye before.” Instantly I’m hooked and drawn in with a slew of tension that only cominutes to build, and it doesn’t let me go until somewhere in the final chapters. This is not a book to read on your lunch break unless you plan on being late to work. This is a book that I completely devoured from the moment my eyes darted across the first page.
As I was immersed in the tension I was also consumed by the world in which these characters presided. It was not a world I was familiar with, because they were all so smart and well-read (the main male characters at least). It was as though Elio emerged from the womb playing Bac and could recite Aristotle’s teachings in his sleep as a toddler. When his parents and Oliver asked, and sometimes begged, him to play his music he was reluctant, saying that he didn’t feel like it, but when he finally gives in it is as though the room itself gives a long sigh of relief. I could almost sigh along with it. I heard the music through the pages.
When I went to go watch the movie after the book I found that I wasn’t as enthuzed or enthralled as I thought I would be. There was so much more tension and passion in the book that I think my expectations were too high. And while the screenplay won an Oscar I found myself looking for more of the words that I fell in love with in the novella. The movie was beautiful but it couldn’t live up to the novella in my eyes. The two main characters spoke very rarely–which admittedly did add some tension–but I was still left wanting more. I got to know the characters so well in the book, but felt hardly acquainted with the Elio and Oliver that I saw on the screen. This is something that is always difficult to do when adapting a book into a film, but I really didn’t feel much emotional attachment to the characters at all. I didn’t know who they were, what they wanted and what they cared about. When Elio put Oliver’s underwear on his head and began humping the air in Olivers bedroom I was somewhat surprised. The silence hadn’t created the tension enough for me yet for this to feel expected. Perhaps it is just because I am a writer but I wanted more words, or more reason for silence.
The endings varied drastically. The novella ended in such a beautiful way that really encapsulated the premise of the story. Oliver is more Elio than Elio ever could be and the same goes for Oliver. These two souls are intertwined so tightly that even time itself could not tear them apart. This is why they call each other by their name, because they are one. The ending of the movie expressed a deep sadness and I will admit that it elicited a deep emotional response on my part from watching someone cry for so long. I found myself wondering when the last time I just stared at someone crying and I couldn’t think of a time. That’s because we as humans don’t like to watch crying and so to end on this note is powerful. It was not; however, an ending that stayed true to the novella. I felt more like it was the end of an era for Elio. That his heart had been broken, but I figured that he was young and that he would learn how to heal. This is not the impression that the novella sets out to give, which is what upset me most about the film. I think I would have truly enjoyed it had I not fell in love with the novella beforehand. Although is that not the way with every film that attempts to bring a beloved novel to life?