As I pointed out in my last column, there is nothing more disappointing than the realization that you can never read a book for the first time again. Once you’ve opened it, exposed those cherry blossom pages dripping with condensation made out of thoughtful metaphors and keen sentiments, the first impression has been made. Once you’ve read it, ravished those words with attentive eyes, spent long nights under the comforter with a flashlight soaking up the smell of pages, soft like tissue, you cannot go back.
Looking at my copy of “Call Me By Your Name,” this reality is readily apparent. The vibrant blue of the binding, the color of an Italian sky that is faded from reckless reading reminds me that I will never toss the novel across the room, awestruck and speechless at the conclusion again. I will, instead, set it down quietly and ponder my second read in a quiet swirl of emotion that will be powerful but not as momentous as the first time.
I read “Call Me By Your Name” in about five days. With nothing to do and the heat of a Los Angeles winter break making everything unbearably sticky, I picked up a copy at a Barnes & Noble to pass the time, jumping in completely unprepared.
As someone who is perpetually plagued with the travel bug, the cerulean coastal backdrop of Crema, Italy hooked me into the world of the text. The tangible descriptions of dusty trattorias and cobblestone streets, willow-draped swimming holes and long, grassy fields that I was familiar with from my own trips there connected me to the story.
Drawn in by the summer abroad narrative and transcendental details of the landscape, André Aciman secured me with the honey-sweet love between Elio and Oliver, wrapped in the sour arms of the coming-of-age framework. With each interaction between the two, from Elio evading Oliver’s glance to their confessions, to their lives 30 years later, I was Tantalus wading in a pool of water but unable to quench my thirst. No matter how much I read, it wasn’t enough, and with the end of the novel came that disappointing knowledge that there was no more story to be told.
This reality that a story will never be as good as the first time you read it genuinely haunts me. In the case of “Call Me By Your Name,” it is why I am so grateful for the film adaptation.
The movie version of “Call Me By Your Name” offered me the wonderful ability to experience the narrative for the first time — for a second time. While the plot was inherently the same, Luca Guadagnino’s interpretation unfolding vibrantly across the silver screen left a uniquely different impression on me.
The film highlighted dynamics and characters that did not pop out at me from the novel. Secondary personalities were more vibrant on screen than in the text. Mrs. Perlman’s subtle looks and soft smirks when in a room with Elio and Oliver solidified her support of their love and moreover, her son’s identity. After all, she is who Elio calls to pick him up after Oliver departs, her quiet hand on his shoulder as he cries, serving as the perfect act of comfort.
Marzia, the object of Elio’s gaze for a part of the story, is not just a way for Elio to channel his jealousy, as it read to me in the book, but a representation of the uncertainty of his own sexuality. In the film, Elio is not a bruting male when he is with Marzia but a kid wading through confusion about his identity. Alongside him, Marzia and her vulnerability rolling off her tongue in French, added another raw layer to the story.
In fact, even Mafalda and Anchise, the hired hands, stood out throughout the film as a comic relief and an important taste of the local spirit of Italy.
Yes, I can never read a book for the first time twice. But film adaptations offer the chance for two first impressions of the same story. And as time goes on, I will have two second impressions with the story, two third and fourth and fifth impressions.
While the on-screen narrative of “Call Me By Your Name” was true to the text, following sections of dialogue word-for-word, very rarely changing significant moments for the sake of the screen, reading and watching are simply two different experiences.
Engulfed in Sufjan Stevens’ tailored songs, watching Elio shed tears into a smouldering fire, I am again awestruck. And if I could, I would indeed throw the film across the room as I did once before.
Maisy Menzies writes the Thursday arts & entertainment column on milestone moments experienced through art. Contact her at [email protected].