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.
Buy our Call Me by Your Name Special Issue eBook for only $4.99, and gain access to this issue the way it was meant to be read.
We’ve gone deep on some of the queer films Brandon mentions in this piece which have also been misread as featuring two-dimensional characters. We interviewed Beach Rats director Eliza Hittman about the sculptural quality of the male body and telling a subjective story. We talked to actor Josh O’Connor about the self-destructive streak of his character Johnny in God’s Own Country, then went even deeper on what makes his performance so moving and nuanced. And we talked about Russell’s fear of the outside world in Weekend and how it relates to Andrew Haigh’s explorations of the comforts and toxicity of home in all of his films.