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Call Me by Your Name

Content Caution



In Theaters


Home Release Date




Adam R. Holz

Movie Review

“My room is your room.”

So 17-year-old Elio tells his father’s summer research assistant, Oliver, who’s 24, when the latter arrives at the family’s sprawling northern Italian home in the early 1980s.

There’s nothing particularly unusual about the arrangement. Each summer, it’s implied, Elio’s archaeologist father, Mr. Perlman, invites a graduate student to stay with the family during a few fleeting weeks of research. And so Elio dutifully surrenders his space to a stranger who joins the family.

Oliver’s lanky good looks combined with his brash American manner quickly draw the attention of several young Italian women. Oliver has an easy, sensuous way about him, one that attracts virtually everyone he encounters.

Including, in a quiet, halting way, Elio himself.

It seems like any friendship at first: bike rides to town for groceries. Conversations about music.

But a lingering glance, a casual touch, a word unspoken all tell a hidden, smoldering story of feelings beneath the surface. Feelings that Elio has (despite a budding romance with a young woman named Marzia, who’s desperately in love with him). And feelings that, it turns out, Oliver has too.

As the minutes tick away in this slow-burning same-sex romance, the audience knows it’s only a matter of time before Elio and Oliver consummate their mutual affection.

Positive Elements

Elio’s parents are both quite attentive to their son’s emotional frame of mind and to his relationships with others. In the abstract, that’s a good thing. The way they express their love, however, is fraught with deep problems, as we’ll see in the balance of this review.

Spiritual Elements

All of the main characters in the film are Jewish. Elio’s family, however, seeks to downplay their ethnicity. (“My mother says we are Jews of discretion,” Elio says.) Oliver, on the other hand, wears his Jewish identity for all to see quite literally: a prominent Star of David pendant. Elio seems taken by Oliver’s open embrace of his ethnic heritage (and it does seem more ethnic than spiritual here, as God and/or faith are never actually mentioned), so much so that he imitates Oliver and begins wearing a similar Star of David necklace himself. Elsewhere, Elio looks up at a cross on a church. Someone says, “Thank God.”

Sexual Content

Elio and Marzia have a couple of scenes in which they kiss and embrace. One involves breast nudity and explicit sexual movements, as well as comments from her about Elio’s anatomy. We also see her in a skimpy bikini, and in a bra. Elio and his father have a frank conversation about whether he’s had sex with Marzia yet.

Elio’s true interest, however, is obviously Oliver. The older man plays volleyball, shirtless. He rubs Elio’s neck and shoulder suggestively. Elio see’s Oliver’s bare rear as he changes clothes. The pair goes swimming together. Elio’s shown shirtless and in boxers, playing piano. When Oliver kisses a young woman, Elio’s clearly jealous. Elio secretly takes Oliver’s clothes and smells them.

Eventually the men get together physically. We see them shirtless as they kiss and embrace, but the movie stops short of showing us anything more (though it’s clear more has happened). Another scene implies oral sex. Still another includes hand-groin contact outside of clothes. There’s more kissing between the two. A piece of fruit is explicitly connected to one sexually oriented scene. Masturbation is implied.

At the end of the summer, Elio and Oliver take a trip together, and the film treats that interlude almost as if they were newlyweds on a honeymoon. They show lots of physical affection. After Oliver returns to America, though, we hear that he’s engaged to a woman.

The film opens with a montage of several ancient, nude male statues. Mr. Perlman, Oliver and Elio are on an archeological recovery project where they find another nude male statue. Men swim in their underwear at a beach. A brief scene involves an older gay male couple who join the family for dinner.

Violent Content

Oliver falls and cuts his torso.

Crude or Profane Language

Three or four f-words (one is indistinct, one is spelled out in subtitles that we see occasionally). God’s name is misused three times. We hear one use each of “d–mit,” “a–hole” and “p—y” (with the latter as a synonym for coward).

Drug and Alcohol Content

Characters drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes throughout, including teen characters. Two men who’ve been drinking quite a lot and seem drunk get in a car to drive home.

Other Negative Elements

Elio’s parents not only know about their teen’s torrid relationship with Oliver, they approve and even encourage it. Specifically, they enthusiastically support Elio’s long weekend travelling with Oliver before the latter goes back to America.


Call Me by Your Name, based on the book of the same name by André Aciman, is earning rave reviews and awards-season chatter from mainstream critics praising its “sumptuous,” “rapturous” and “beautiful” relationship between a 17-year-old boy and a 24-year-old man.

But almost no one is asking the most obvious question engendered by that age differential: Isn’t this statutory rape?

In the United States, it would be—no matter how in love the 17-year-old was with the 24-year-old, no matter that Elio is the one who has to coax Oliver into bed. In Europe, where the age of consent is lower (14 in Italy), it might not technically be a crime. At least that’s how a few commentators have dismissed the suggestion that this lusty affair might be morally problematic. Childhood, they seem to say, is defined not by physical and emotional development, but by bureaucracy—laws that change simply by crossing a border.

But in a time when our culture is re-examining sexual relationships where a more powerful man has taken advantage of someone without the same power, it saddens me that this story of adult-child sex is not only getting a pass, but getting praise.

The movie itself utterly dismisses any moral concerns. In a moving speech near the film’s end, Elio’s father tells his son:

“Look, you had a beautiful friendship. Maybe more than a friendship. And I envy you. In my place, most parents would hope the whole thing goes away, or pray that their sons land on their feet soon enough. But I am not such a parent. In your place, if there is pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out, don’t be brutal with it. … We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of 30 and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste!”

Call Me by Your Name invites us to believe that Mr. Perlman’s words here are wise and tender, understanding and compassionate. Later he adds that Elio’s heart and body are his to do with what he will. The only thing that matters is whether Elio is happy or not. In the name of “love,” what this father suggests is that any impulse his son might have is good, that any feeling and any experience is good. What a bunch of pseudo-philosophical gobbledygook!

Perhaps more than any film I’ve ever seen, Call Me by Your Name celebrates the lie of a culture that’s determined to crown every individual the king or queen of his or her life. There is no morality. There is no judgment. There is no truth. There is only the moment and the feelings in that moment. There is only the individual. That is all that matters. And when it comes to sexuality, any consensual expression of it—Elio engages in sex with a girl his age and an adult man—is, according to his parents, a “beautiful” thing.

To suggest that our sexual impulses should be guided by something other than our immediate emotions—or to believe that some forms of sexual expression, such as homosexuality or premarital sex are not what God intended—is anathema to mainstream culture today. In contrast, secular society wants us to believe that such radical individual sovereignty is the ultimate prescription for happiness.

But at the end of this movie, Elio is not happy. He sits weeping upon hearing that his lover is engaged to a woman, the lover who once told him, “I don’t want you to regret anything. I hate the thought that I messed you up.”

Seems a bit late for that sentiment, I think.

For more Focus on the Family resources related to the issue of homosexuality, check out “When a Loved One Says ‘I’m Gay’” and “Understanding Homosexuality.

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Adam R. Holz

After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.