A Mirror and Filter of Reality
By Christopher Condon, Contributing Writer
Over the past several years, multiple films have risen as emblems of the advancement of LGBT acceptance. “Call Me by Your Name” and “Love, Simon,” while embracing this spirit wholeheartedly, also stand out as particularly great works of cinema, both garnering critical acclaim and broad appeal to general audiences. What is perhaps most striking about these two films, however, is the difference between them. Although they wrestle with tangentially similar themes and subjects, it would be a mistake to simply lump the works into the same category of “LGBT movies.” Their cinematic styles, scores, and tones separate them as distinct works of art, and both deserve this recognition.
“Love, Simon” focuses on a high school senior who grapples with his status as a closeted gay teenager. In his quest to come to terms with his own sexuality, he begins an anonymous correspondence with another student in a similar situation, using this bond as the spark for a burgeoning (and yet still anonymous) romance between them. After multiple hurdles concerning his identity and feelings for his classmates, Simon (the title character) ultimately comes to terms with himself and his situation. As a heartfelt work of teen romance, “Love, Simon” deals with the ambiguities of life as an LGBT teenager, and convincingly relates Simon’s struggles with internal and external acceptance.
The film’s cinematography struggles at times to capture the emotional palette of the characters, fully embracing the brightness and colors of typical teen romance narratives. While this style is adequate for the euphoria Simon experiences at certain points, a change in tone is sometimes warranted when one considers the various emotional crevices the characters are often forced to navigate. Lead actor Nick Robinson does an especially adept job encapsulating the struggles of LGBT youth, leading the viewer to truly consider the emotional toll the situational indecisiveness has on his character. Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel (Simon’s parents) also perform well as a type of companion to the audience in attempting to understand the inner angst of Simon. All things considered, the film tells an emotional story in an endearing, crowd-pleasing way, and is certainly a well-done movie worth a trip to the theater.
“Call Me by Your Name,” released in 2017 to rave reviews, brings highly intense emotion and artistic presentation to the general public. Following 17-year old Elio Perlman, an American vacationing in Italy with his father (a university professor) and mother, the film handles the theme of teen romance in a decidedly unique manner. Upon the arrival of his father’s academic assistant, Oliver, Elio embarks on a journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance. After sparking a romantic endeavor with Oliver, the two share a jubilant period of mutual experience and intimacy over the course of a summer. Elio undergoes excitement, heartbreak, and elation similar to that of “Love, Simon” throughout the season, but is ultimately left to draw different conclusions and struggle with different demons that truly touch the viewer.
“Call Me by Your Name” is as artistic as it is emotionally powerful, with Italian director Luca Guadagnino taking the reins of tone and production. As the film takes place in the 1980s, it utilizes a rather simple style of presentation and cinematography to let the costumes, settings, and acting truly shine. Shot on-location in northern Italy, this proves extremely advantageous as the viewer is left with little obstruction between them and the striking natural beauty of southern Europe. Likewise, this minimalistic presentation allows a fully-developed contemplation of the emotional gravity presented by lead actors Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer. These actors, relatively obscure before the release of “Call Me by Your Name,” have been universally recognized for their powerful portrayal of the inner struggles associated with self-acceptance and heartbreak. The score, buttressed by moving original compositions by Sufjan Stevens, assists in guiding the viewer through the sometimes murky waters of Elio’s inner turmoil. In sum, “Call Me by Your Name” is an essential coming-of-age tale in which the two main characters happen to be gay; it is truly a work of cinematic genius.
One common theme between the two films is the social and personal implication of coming to terms with oneself. Since the environment of “Love, Simon” is more inclined toward the pressures of modern social life, the viewer receives a greater impression of how others may react to a young person’s journey of coming out. Simon especially receives pushback when the actions he takes to conceal his identity ultimately cause adverse circumstances to befall his closest friends. He is also the victim of stereotypical harassment when his identity is eventually revealed to his peers, which only adds to his already difficult plight. Elio and Oliver, however, enjoy the relative isolation of their story from the outside world in “Call Me by Your Name.” Although Elio’s father becomes aware of his relationship with Oliver, he is accepting and delivers a tender, cathartic monologue in support of his son. The struggle for acceptance here is categorically private and internal, as opposed to that of Simon’s very public battle.
When considering style and presentation, “Love, Simon” and “Call Me by Your Name” are connected by few similarities. What binds them together, however, is their veristic portrayal of themes that are extremely difficult for those who haven’t lived them to fully comprehend. Even for viewers that aren’t members of the LGBT community, it is clear that the struggles faced by young members of the community are worth contemplation through these films and beyond. What is truly revolutionary about them is neither the broad-base appeal of “Love, Simon” nor the cinematic beauty of “Call Me by Your Name,” but the prompting of the heart and mind that arises from both. This is ultimately the purpose of art, and these films are nothing less.