I tried thrice – writing down my thoughts about this movie – and failed all three times. Every time I would begin scribbling, my fingers would come to a gradual stop, my throat would detect a considerable lump and my heart would turn an arid land over which sharp, silent currents of memory would whip a nostalgic dance. I would succumb to an unbearable pain, a sense of acute restlessness and loss that would haunt me for many hours hence.
I stopped writing about the movie.
But it wouldn’t leave me. Because it’s so devastatingly beautiful that it is inescapable.
It is over three weeks now since I saw it the first time. My eyes are a mild-red dry now. My heart has slowly reconciled. It has, I humor myself, stabilized. I can, once again, keep my hand over it without being immediately swamped by a sinking, crippling feeling. And perhaps, just perhaps, I find myself in a state today to record my impressions of this marvellous, heartbreaking movie.
But am I really?
Well, I shall take my chance nonetheless, because a movie that outgrew its conventional montage and lodged itself in my soul turning into a silent stream of blood and reminiscences warrants a podium felicitation. In my world, at least.
Set in the summer of 1983 at the idyllic Italian Riviera, this movie chronicles the journey of first love experienced by the 17-years old, precocious Elio and the 24-years old, sensitive Oliver when the latter comes to stay with the former’s parents, the Perlmans, in the course of completing his doctoral thesis. Under the nurturing sky of his parents, Elio feels the pangs of first love in all its glory – the desire and the envy, the play and the silence , the romance and its understanding, the wait and the madness. Oliver, initially tentative but eventually surrendering, turns into the perfect lover who everybody should have for a first love – the kind of partner who not only falls back in love with you but also leaves you with such a beautiful foundation of this emotion that you shall never forget its essence and significance in your life.
But not all love stories last. And this one doesn’t as well. But something else lasts in this movie, and that something filled my heart with things I cannot express in words.
It is not that I haven’t watched heartbreaking love stories in the past. But I don’t remember the last movie I saw which hit home at two fronts with thundering resonance. First, Elio had Oliver and Oliver had Elio.
Timothée Chalamet made Elio his own and played the character with such incredible panache and gusto that I was held utterly transfixed. He was so fierce and natural that he became dangerous – he gained this odd superpower of digging right into me and scratching open wounds that lay hidden deep, very deep inside. He accessed my scars that were out of reach for almost everyone, for many years now. His luminous face was like a river – the serenity and turbulence of his heart was for me to see without any effort, and to feel miserable and sorry for him (and myself), without any effort.
On the other hand was Armie Hammer who imparted such immaculate subtlety and mesmerising aura to Oliver that Oliver turned an indubitable charmer who swept me off my feet not just with his intellect and quick wit but a sensitivity of very rare kind. His instinctively hesitant responses to Elio’s advances were gorgeously replete with confusion, attraction and everything that lies suspended in between.
The blooming of love and its beautiful, intoxicating goodness that transforms people into better versions of themselves was so delicately woven into the narrative arc that I rewinded many scenes over and over again to catch every small nuance, every trivial breath, every tiny moan, every slight rustle. I must mention here, Luca Guadagnino’s obsessive love for details and art – the director’s vision of the love story and his lead actors was surreal, bordering on real and dream.
Grieving for the love lost, Hammer in the penultimate scene and Chalamet in the final scene put up such powerhouse emotional performances that the only way to be was to sob, sob harder, sob softer.
Second, when one love leaves, another fills it, and blessed are those who can boast of this kind of fulfillment in their lives. Because even when Oliver departed, Elio had Prof. Perlman, his father. The attitude of a parent towards his/her child’s sexual and emotional awakening is one of the most significant factors in shaping the child’s future. And while we see many parents chiding their wards for pursuing love affairs at young age, Prof. Perlman, who clearly discovers not only his son’s first foray into the world of romance but also his inclination towards same sex love with great ardor, is nowhere near that stereotype. In one of the best scenes across all movies I have seen till date, Michael Stuhlbarg, in his restrained but immensely affectionate and empathetic demeanor, talks to the heartbroken Chalamet and attempts to pull him out of his misery.
But make no mistake – he doesn’t force him out; he simply stands by him to extend moral support while his son takes his own tiny steps towards regaining normalcy. He advises him to go slow, nurture the pain and let it flush out of the body, acting like a cleanser, a tranquilizer. And once again, this numbing conversation ploughed into my life, taking me many years back and bringing forth memories of a time I cherish with a throbbing in my heart.
I know my heart splintered in places when I saw this movie. And yet, I have seen it now not one but five times. Because sometimes, pain is what makes us alive – when we cry, we feel we are not stone; that the love we experienced once is still keeping a part of us from being corrupt and pungent. And because this movie about fierce love, uncompromising passion, unconditional surrender, irreconcilable loss and unwavering support is a testimonial of love as much as it is of pain, it became a part of my life even though it continued to break and make me.
I cannot recommend this movie enough. Watch it if you have ever been in love. Watch it if you have ever lost in love. Watch it if your desires have ever been supported by your parents. Watch it if you have ever known what goodness is. Watch it if you have ever come across someone in your life who made you a better person. And if none of these apply, watch it for living it all, vicariously.
[Images courtesy out.com; seventh-row.com; newsweek.com, nylon.com; imdb.com]