In Call Me by Your Name, Timothée Chalamet conveys how words aren’t enough for Elio. His body reveals the feelings he leaves unspoken. This is the first piece in our Special Issue on Call Me by Your Name. Read the rest of the issue here. Buy the eBook of the issue here.
And I would say I love you, but saying it out loud is hard.” – ‘Futile Devices’, Sufjan Stevens
When Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) finds the courage to speak and tell his family’s summer house guest, Oliver (Armie Hammer), how he really feels about him, he does so indirectly. The 17-year-old’s words are futile devices, posing questions more than providing answers. Words alone can’t convey the enormity of Elio’s feelings for the 24-year-old American graduate student. His body, moving closer to Oliver’s, speaks more clearly. The question “Is it better to speak or to die?” – drawn from a medieval tale in which a young knight anxiously wonders if the woman he loves feels the same way – echoes throughout Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name.
Timothée Chalamet’s performance as Elio reveals just how out of synch Elio’s words and actions are when it comes to his burgeoning desire for Oliver. Elio is a character who barely speaks; when he does, he’s rarely able to say what he means. Chalamet’s line readings convey how Elio’s precocious intelligence and bookish knowledge are a shield against his lack of life experience. As the son of an academic, Elio has faith that language can reveal the truth about the world; that words give ideas a discernible shape. But Oliver’s arrival completely dismantles this. Elio comes to understand his desire for Oliver through his body, not his mind.