Last weekend I went to a nearby suburban cinema to see a matinee of Call Me By Your Name. Later I read some of dozens of reviews of the film, and they clearly indicated whether the reviewers were gay or straight by how they saw the film.
For me, it raised a hosts of ghosts. Although I was never that beautiful at 17, I was just as skinny when I fell in love with a boy for the first time. We never consummated that relationship, but we remained extremely close until he died of AIDS in 1990. A weekend in Venice with a midshipman (again never consummated) came flooding back in my memory as I recalled the most romantic setting. I was 44 when my 19-year old partner-to-be descended upon my condo looking out of desperation for someplace safe. We lasted for eight years before circumstances broke up our relationship. It has been many years since I was in a relationship, and the loneliness and regrets have taken their toll on my life that was spent too much hanging out in bars hoping for love and only finding empty sex.
The implication of the film is that when people are coming to terms with their sexuality, their inherent bi-sexuality is dominant and externals may determine which way they choose to develop. For me, being gay never was a choice even though I remained in the closet for a decade. The pressures to marry were especially strong back there, and I almost took the plunge once. That would have been a big mistake for both of us.
I won't comment on the scenery or the acting since everyone else already has beaten that horse to death. I will say that in the end, I didn't find the story line romantic even though this clearly was Elio's first real love. The film wasn't just another "coming out" story. In retrospect, it came across to me that Oliver was just taking advantage of a beautiful summer fling that wouldn't have turned out any different if it had been with a girl. To me he appeared arrogant, self-absorbed, and cruel.
So what is love, and how is it expressed, depending upon your sexual orientation or gender identity? In the most simple terms, love is when we intimately and deeply connect with another human being, which usually is expressed in a sexual relationship. Of course, we have familial love of parents and children and other blood relatives. We have love between long-term friends who have shared many interests and experiences together. A lot has been written about "male-bonding" in sports and in war time that usually does not include sex.
The Christian and Jewish religions have a hard time with considering the beauty of sex as anything other than the simple biological act of procreation. Of course, sex without love is as common place as the world's oldest profession which caters to fill one of our basic human needs for sex.
But our first love is always special, simply because of the process of discovery and all of the emotional intensity that involves. That was the beauty of this film.