Call Me By Your Name: Oliver is a manipulator (1300 words)
The fact that Call Me By Your Name should be so widely perceived as a beautiful romance is absolutely terrifying.
---Not because Oliver and Elio are men. Not because there’s an age gap. Not because Elio is sad at the end of the film and Oliver marries someone else--
Because this story is flatly NOT the one of a love story and there’s absolutely NOTHING beautiful about what happens in this movie, that is the destruction of a 17 years old kid by two crazy parents and a morbidly narcissistic man.
Here's a review that perceives the film as being about an abusive relationship and not a love story.
(Edit: In order to make things clear: a beautiful love story between a 17ish and a 24ish man that they keep secret for fear they might be judged for it, is beautiful. I'm not denying the possibility. I'm just saying it's not the case here.)
The Perlmans have been coming in their beautiful villa in the north of Italy for ages. Elio has known Marzia for ages. They both slowly developed feelings for each other (real, healthy ones, even if I believe Elio was more interested in Chiara) and it is only natural that on this 1983 summer they should have formed a couple and had their first love and sex experiences together.
The problem is that Elio's homosexual father is married to a heterosexual woman but they raise their kid as if they were both heterosexual.
It’s very important to realise that if Call Me By Your Name was about some kind of secret and forbidden love story, it would have made no sense to make Elio’s father a homosexual.
Applaud the post-traumatic propanga. "What you had with Oliver was beautiful. Marzia is meaningless. I've always hated the little slut... but Oliver ? Damn I would have banged him hard." "Dad, you do realise that I'm not you ?" "I do, but could you call me by your name son ? Just once."
Mr Perlman is homosexual, and Mrs. Perlman always has a lit cigarette in her hand: she is frustrated sexually***. The direct consequence of that is that she’s developed a peculiar relationship with her son (slightly/borderline incestuous).
*** It's my fourteenth clue of a subtext.
And here you have a father who wants to vicariously get his wasted youth back through his son, and a mother who doesn’t want to see him grow up and go to another woman.
This woman takes initiatives to have her 17 year old boy get sodomized by a 7 years older stranger. And by "takes initiatives" I mean that she is probably picturing it in these shots, and it arrouses her. (sorry for the crudeness of these claims).
How healthy does this sound to you ? Not much, does it ?
Perlman has a student spend six weeks with them in order to work on his PhD. Where does the guy sleep ? In Elio’s bed. Could this have been more symbolic ? They put a man in their son’s bed. (Edit: Actually this is even more meaningful than I thought it was. Putting Oliver in Elio's bed means 2 things: 1-They want Elio to have sex with Oliver 2-They want Oliver to be their son).
Not only do they destroy his privacy by doing so, but the movie makes the meaning of this even more obvious by putting Marzia in Elio’s bed at the beginning of the film and by making her react exactly as if she knew what was to happen. She’s worried. She leaves without explaining why. She’s quite cold with Oliver.
This bed was the bed in which Marzia and Elio should have made love for the first time of their lives... if Elio's parents hadn't been psychopaths. They'll end up in the attic ! The place of forbidden, shameful, monstrous secret things !
First word of the movie "Ursupateur." Elio knows what to expect from Oliver and at the same time he mispronounces the word.
She is perfectly aware that putting a man in Elio’s room is telling her to clear off and stay away.
And so the farce starts. Elio doesn’t like Oliver, for perfectly justifiable reasons: Oliver is arrogant. (Elio at 16min40s). But strangely enough, both his father and his mother are going to defend the American, worse, they are subtly going to forbid their son from disliking him.
You’re amongst intellectuals here, the violence is a lot more subtle and a lot more pervasive.
Very simply, Elio is influenced by his parents. Vexed by their enthusiasm towards Oliver, he is going to try and prove himself that he can “seduce” the man, not in a romantic way, but in the sense that he is going to want his skills to be acknowledged by him.
The “apricot etymology” scene is quite meaningful.
Both Annella and M. Perlman (the father who has no name), fancy Oliver and they know it. Oliver corrects Perlman on the topic of the etymology of the word “apricot” and emasculates him symbolically. Elio witnesses his dad getting emasculated in front of his mother, and nobody seems to mind. Elio witnesses his dad acknowledging the fact that Annella should be more attracted to Oliver than himself… that which is perfectly understandable as Perlman is homosexual and doesn’t care about being attractive in the eyes of Annella. But what’s important here, is that Elio doesn’t know about all this and thus assimilates Oliver as a superior man to his dad. For a boy who is entangled in an (non-consummated) incestuous relationship with his mother, it means a lot.
"You were trying to show off the power you have over me Mr Perlman, let me ridicule you and show off in return."
And thus it carries on. Elio becomes irrepressibly drawn to the idea of seducing Oliver, not because he is in love with him but because the situation messes him up. He is looking for his parent’s recognition; he is looking for psychological stability.
This goes hand in hand with the very morbid title of the movie: Call Me By Your Name. No love story can revolve around the idea that the two lovers can swap their positions/identities. Love is other oriented; otherwise it’s a narcissistic psychopath who is devouring a prey.
Elio wants to be Oliver because he is firmly convinced that his parents wished that he were Oliver… because both these idiots are attracted sexually to the student and Elio cannot know that, he thinks he is in a normal family. And he doesn’t even know what sex and sexuality are yet.
Elio discovering himself homosexual isn’t a coming of age story, it’s an alienation. Elio is heterosexual. He is a heterosexual kid forced into a homosexual relationship with a pervert manipulator in order to correspond to his parents’ expectations and desires.
They go for a romantic post-sex swim. Yep, there's about a mile between them. What a beautiful love story.
If you look closely at Oliver’s behaviour you’ll spot several things:
First, the older student subtly rebukes Elio a few times so that the teenage boy has to work to get his approval back.
Oliver never lets Elio know what he does. He appears and disappears randomly. He lets the boy worry, letting someone worry is a way of forcing someone to think of you, and to force someone to mistake worries with feelings. Being scared of having someone angry at you doesn't mean you love that person. Even less when that person is associated with your parents' approval of yourself.
Elio never worries about Marzia. Not because he doesn’t like her, but because he knows where he stands when it comes to her.
Oliver answers a message from Elio with “grow up.” Everything is said about the morbidity of their relationship in these two words. If you’re fu***ng flirting with a kid, the last thing you should allow yourself to say is “grow up.” What about you date someone your own age ? Also, the note he got from Elio was already a very disciplined version of an “over-the-top” one. Imagine how Elio must feel when he reads this “grow up” as an answer to the most mature thing he could have written.
After they’ve made love, Elio doesn’t feel enthusiastic or elated. He becomes depressed and avoids Oliver. That’s not what would have happened with Marzia. Because he’s happy with Marzia. You remember Marzia ? Elio's super nice and smiley girlfriend ? What about the fact that Oliver never asks anything about her ? Explain to me how that doesn’t make him a worthless individual not to tell Elio that he cannot accept to make love with a girl who’s in love with him while they’re having their own little secret story. Explain to me why he gets a pass at having zero consideration for anybody and that's fine.
Oliver destroys Elio and what he indirectly inflicts Marzia is extremely serious too. The fact that he should never talk about it doesn't make him innocent.
Another Creepy moment is when they are again swimming but the teenager is also writing music. Oliver asks "what are you thinking about," he has this desire to be in the boy's head. Elio answers "it's private", Oliver counter-attacks "then i'll go see your mum." It's so subtle that you can hardly see how this could be any violent. Still, Elio jumps out of the water, nearly destroying his notebook, and pushes Oliver away from his mum: the kid is scared of seeing Oliver take his place or take his father's place. These dynamics are very serious, and Annella reinforces them by always taking Oliver's side. Elio will call her a witch at some point, for no obvious reason.
Also, at the end of the movie, there's this beautiful moment when Elio guesses that Oliver called to tell him that he is going to marry. Why would he guess ? Because deep down he knows that the whole story is a lie. He knows that Oliver is a sadistic man who revels in destroying him.
And destroying the boy he does, through a constant "attention back-and-forth." For example, at the end when they spend a week together. Oliver flirts with Elio in the street, brings him to a kiss but then suddenly withdraws himself and runs away because he "heard music." The purpose of this is only to make Elio feel how powerless he is in front of his attraction while Oliver is entirely independant from him.
Also, he already did this to Elio several times. Earlier, it was because they were in public that he couldn't kiss the boy.
This doesn't exist in the world of passionate love. This doesn't exist in the world of love. This doesn't exist in the world of respect. This only exists in the world of manipulation, cruelty and sadism. You cannot choose to see a love story in this movie, there isn't one.
The music comes from the radio of a car. For no reason, Oliver starts dancing and flirting with a woman. And he ends up asking Elio to translate what she says. He is asking his lover to partake into his flirting with a woman. Pure initiative of a psychopath who revels into destroying people.
Their relationship is never about love, but about ego. Oliver devours Elio's ego, like he would bite into a fruit.
The "later" trick is absolutely fascinating and is very revealing. Elio explains that he finds Oliver's "Later" arrogant. Why does he raise this point ? Because Oliver vexed him on their first bike trip by suddenly ditching him with a "later." Of course, everybody tells Elio that he is imagining things, there's nothing wrong with "later." And thus, the boy is brought to believe that the reason why he was vexed is because he didn't want Oliver to go, he didn't like to be dismissed by Oliver, because... he has feelings for him ?
It sounds far-fetched doesn't it ? I wish I could snap my fingers and make people realize how much this is common. This is basic manipulation. Because, of course, Oliver purposely left just a little bit too suddenly. He truly was impolite. He totally measured the impact of his behavior on the kid.
There are two things that I find particularly vicious in all this and it's when Oliver tastes Elio's sperm and gives him a short fellatio. Both these degrading initiatives convey the feeling that Oliver truly isn't in a dominating position, they're like a "look at what you make me do ! I'm obviously not in control."
Except that they're exactly the kind of initiatives in which a manipulator revels. They are not degrading for him, on the contrary they are gratifying in that he can witness the huge impact these have on Elio. When he sucks the boy off, he does so because he's worried of having lost a bit of his influence.
Desperate move to show Elio that he can give him an erection, after the failed attempt of the previous evening.
So he does this, authoritatively, five seconds. A pure pathological initiative of manipulation that is going to confuse Elio entirely.
It's not something emotional, it's not a joke, it's not a request, it's not a display of physical attraction, it's a pure "Oliver pulling a string." And that kind of behavior is specifically the one of a psychopath.
It's the same thing with his desire to hear the real Bach version of what Elio is playing on the piano. Or with the "it's the kindest thing I've been told in weeks." All lies perfectly used in order to obtain a specific answer from Elio.
"I would kiss you if I could." Except that he perfectly can at that moment. And he is supposed to say this line as an expression of his happiness to see Elio, but says it like a robot. No kiss, no warmth, just seduction and the disembodied information: "I'm happy that you came." Pure string pulling.
Also, what about the fact that the freer Elio and Oliver are to enjoy their relationship, the more Elio obviously collapses as an individual.
The "sperm tasting" is very subtle in that it's hard to see it as a sexual abuse or aggression when it totally is. Elio is shocked by Oliver's behaviour, and he feels violated, and ends up completely falling appart psychologically. It's not love. it's not harmony. it's not appreciation. It's a confident man abusing a fragile and desoriented boy.
There was a love story in this movie, it was between Marzia and Elio and it transformed into a nightmare.