Sympotic Love?: Love and Classics in Call Me By Your Name.
The recent 2017 film, Call Me By Your Name, has drawn much attention for its representation of a love affair that challenges our notions of how acceptable sexual relationships are and have historically been conducted. In a political climate that has rightly come to be more sensitive to sexual abuse, this film seems to bear a rather countercultural message. Nevertheless, the film has been received relatively well by its popular audience. This may cause us to wonder what exactly the use or importance of this film might be. Is its greatest virtue at this cultural moment in its relatively unabashed representation of homoerotic love? Does this film hope to make more palatable a relationship that we might discourage as we come to deal more seriously with cases of sexual abuse?
I propose that these questions might be answered through a thorough analysis of the historical and literary traditions in which the film and the novel on which it is based are operating. Certainly love between men and adolescent boys is no new concept, and its history can be taken as far back as Ancient Greece, where such relationships were acceptable under certain circumstances. The ancient exemplum of pederasty has continued to be used by authors exploring love between men and the aesthetics of such love. André Aciman, the author of the novel, is not unaware of this tradition in his depiction of Oliver and Elio’s relationship, which picks up on the elite cultural framework of Ancient Greek pederasty, nor does the director of the film, Luca Guadagnino, attempt to water this relationship down.
I will argue that Aciman, like many other authors composing in the tradition of romanticizing love between older men and adolescent boys, is drawing from Plato’s Symposium in an attempt both to lend his narrative the depth and importance of this classic work and to reinterpret the Symposium in order to make this kind of love story more palatable to an audience hesitant about the age difference of the two characters. I shall give special attention to his chapter “The San Clemente Syndrome,” where the themes of the Symposium are most thoroughly invoked, while also discussing the significance of the director’s choice to represent this part of the story quite differently from the novel. I shall also identify a history of the tradition in which Aciman is writing so as to critically discuss Aciman’s aesthetic influences.