Call Me by Your Name is the latest in a long line of same-sex romances to have its characters diminished as empty vessels, yet this couldn’t be further from the truth. This is the fourth piece in our Special Issue on Call Me by Your Name. Read the rest of the issue here.
Empty vessels in love.”
That’s the four-word critique of Call Me By Your Name that stuck like a spitball to my Twitter feed a couple weeks after I saw the film at the Toronto International Film Festival. A summer romance between a Looney-Tunes-vibing only child and his father’s Disney-prince-looking research assistant, Call Me By Your Name has enjoyed such a sunny reception that some viewers are bound to be disappointed. The tweet’s a teapot-sized take, so I hesitate to provide the tempest. The problem is that it’s not an isolated event. “Empty vessels in love” is how detractors describe every new same-sex romance.
You could set your watch by it. As soon as a queer romance gets a wide release, it gets diagnosed with a complete lack of characterization. Moonlight is a fine film, but Chiron is too blank and chameleonic for us to get to know him. Carol is so formal and remote, it may as well be Rivendell. Don’t even get people started on Looking, that HBO slow drip, emphasis on drip. No matter the context — a child coming of age, a ‘50s melodrama, an understated everyday romance — our cultural woodpeckers routinely discover gay characters to be skin-deep.