When it comes to summer love, the end is inescapable. Days become shorter, nights become cooler, and eventually, it’s time to go back to the harsher realities of life. Even knowing the inevitable ending is encroaching does nothing to help ease the pain of love fading away with the heat of the summer sun. But still, despite the imminent pain and heartbreak, these ephemeral romances are worth fighting for.
In Call Me By Your Name, Luca Guadagnino‘s 2017 film detailing one of these brief, passionate affairs, precocious Elio (Timothee Chalamet) becomes infatuated with Oliver (Armie Hammer), the older graduate student staying in his family villa for the summer. From the first time they meet, Elio is unable to handle himself around Oliver, his gazes often lingering for a moment too long. He’s thrown by Oliver’s confidence but intrigued nonetheless.
At first, Elio feigns hatred for Oliver’s overly-American sensibilities, his sloppy eating, his blunt later! when he leaves a room. Elio whines and complains to anyone who will listen but is always met with the same response: it’s only for six weeks. Both of Elio’s parents adore Oliver, who instantly made himself part of the family, but — perhaps in an attempt to stifle his same-sex attractions, perhaps just in fear of Oliver not feeling the same — Elio is constantly curt with him despite obviously yearning for his approval.
When Oliver doesn’t show up for dinner one night, Elio is clearly hurt. His normally bubbly mood shifts dramatically, unable to hide his disappointment in Oliver’s absence. The next morning, Elio lays in bed, deep in thought, when Oliver bursts into their somewhat-shared space. Oliver teases him about not hanging out with his friends by the river and invites Elio to swim with him instead. As they talk, a fly lands the edge of his bed.
Like the lifespan of a fly, Oliver and Elio’s relationship — friendship or more than that– was always destined to be brief. This moment in Elio’s bedroom notes a turning point in their relationship and a close friendship finally begins to form.
As their relationship evolves through the summer, Elio eventually works up the courage to speak his feelings. Oliver, in turn, reciprocates, but not without hesitation. “We haven’t done anything wrong yet,” he says after they first kiss and he pulls away. But unlike his older, less naïve counterpart, the perceived societal stigma of a queer relationship isn’t what holds Elio back; he was simply terrified of the possible rejection.
Even after their first kiss, their relationship still meanders towards further intimacy. Elio believes Oliver to be canoodling with one of the town girls (“Traitor,” he hisses to no one, alone in his bedroom) and momentarily does the same. But eventually, they find their way to one another for the end of the summer and one of their few nights together, whispering in the moonlight, Elio and Oliver confess similar sentiments: they both regret not taking the chance sooner in the summer.
“God, we wasted so many days.”
The days continue to fly by and, just as they knew it would, Elio and Oliver’s summer comes to an abrupt ending. Following an amorous trip away from the family home, the men finally have to part ways. Oliver is cool and collected as always but still visibly hurt; Elio holds it together just long enough to wish Oliver farewell before breaking down crying. Though the relationship always had an expiration date, that does nothing to ease the heartbreak and sorrow they felt at separating.
Months later, upon returning to the idyllic Italian landscape, a thick blanket of snow has fallen. Elio dances into his home, cheerfully dancing to the music blasting through his headphones. The passage of time helps to heal Elio’s broken heart but when Oliver calls to reveal his forthcoming marriage, Elio is devastated all over again.
Desperate to avoid bringing attention to his despair, Elio resigns himself to a melodramatic cry in front of a crackling fireplace, reminiscing on the past summer alone. The home is flooded with memories of his whirlwind fling and Oliver’s call dredges up feelings Elio likely worked hard to forget. As he sits in front of the fire, his face flashes through a flurry of emotions, alternating between laughing and crying, smirking and grimacing. Tears pour down his face and amongst it all, a fly buzzes softly around him.
Even in the dead of winter, long after the summer has long passed, Elio is plagued by the memories of his love for Oliver. Just like the flies and warmth of summer, it came and went quickly, but the memories will stay with Elio and Oliver both forever. Just because it was short and ultimately painful doesn’t mean the love wasn’t worth all the pain. Those brief summer nights were worth all the lasting heartache they may have caused. Like the princess in the story the Elio’s family reads together says, “Better to speak,” than to live with any regrets.