We need to talk about tasteless, dangerous aestheticization of age differences in queer cinema.
Call Me by Your Name lands in a strange time in Queer cinema; the film doesn’t do anything new, innovative or very exciting. It’s potentially the first in a new wave of queer romance films. Following the groundbreaking Moonlight (2016), Carol (2015), and Blue Is The Warmest Colour (2013), Call Me by Your Name has the strange honour of being the first run-of-the-mill LGBTQ romance. This is deeply unfortunate, as Call Me by Your Name romanticizes pedophilia. This is a massive, massive red flag, and really is the beginning and end of any discussion around Call Me by Your Name that I wish to have.
But this is a review, and so I feel obligated to talk about aesthetics and camera work. The scenes that don’t follow 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and 24-year-old Oliver’s (Armie Hammer) toxic relationship are pleasant enough. The Italian setting is pastoral, languid, dreamlike and deeply romantic. There are beautiful – although exclusively white – people with high cheekbones and defined jawlines who smash faces. Everyone is contemplative and cool. The performances are good, some of the jokes hit, the cinematography is leisurely and beautiful. It’s a well-executed, if unoriginal, aesthetic for an indie film.
Now that’s out of the way, we need to talk about the box that the One Queer Film A Year gets to live in. There is a Queer Film Bingo Card that lazy directors and producers seem to use as a checklist for creating their films. This includes tropes such as idyllic cinematography, everyone smoking and unrealistically poetic dialogue. However there’s one particular “trope” that continues to dominate queer movies that is in danger of becoming a foul emblem for the community: the toxic age gap.
First, some context: In queer media, there’s often one in the couple who is inexperienced and submissive. Usually they’re short. Their love interest is confident, swaggering, experienced and dominant. In its initial forms, the pairing wasn’t purposeless. Viewers, sometimes in a period of questioning their identity in real life, identified with the inexperienced character and found comfort in a gorgeous, dreamy person embodying their own struggles. Among those identifying with the more experienced character, it fostered pride, and created a culture and awakening among queer youths to live authentically.
Originally a somewhat positive trope, it mutated: the experienced one got older and the inexperienced one dangerously younger, casually fetishizing barely legal teenagers. The queer community has been fighting against such harmful allegations for years, not to mention the added stigma against queer men as sex offenders and child molesters. What a fucking slap in the face, after all that, to be faced with a movie that makes some easy cash after exploiting those stereotypes for the aesthetic. When we’re done protesting against Kevin Spacey and Woody Allen, why do we lay down our picket signs and go fawn over aesthetic gifs of Elio and Oliver online and gush about it with our friends, thus normalizing this trope for another generation?
Call Me by Your Name is a generic indie film that preys on your desire for queer cinematic representation and uncritically tells a story that is fundamentally harmful to the community it apparently represents. Performances, aesthetics and music be damned: the world needs to demand better.