Based on the parts of André Aciman’s book that didn’t make it to the screen, we ask: What would a Call Me by Your Name sequel look like anyway?
SPOILER ALERT: The following article discusses the end of the film Call Me By Your Name and details from the end of the book that could potentially be incorporated into the proposed sequel. If you’d prefer not to know, check out this article about a possible sequel that reveals much less.
First, it’s worth noting some of the key ways in which the end of the novel is faithful to and different from the film. On screen, Elio is inconsolable — a pile of tears on the way home from the train station and for much of the rest of the film. In the book, he’s much more concerned with plots to keep the memory of their romance alive: e.g. he plans to hold on to pieces of clothing that smell like Oliver. When he discovers that his mother has orchestrated the returning of Elio’s things to Oliver’s room, Elio is maddened — only to then joyously discover they had not yet changed the sheets, leaving yet another reminder of him. The amazing speech Elio’s father offers in the film, offering both an understanding of the Elio/Oliver relationship and his blessing, appears here in near exactly the same form in film and book.
Here’s where things start to diverge. There’s an extended scene of Oliver calling to report that he’s made it back to the United States. It’s an almost painfully awkward conversation as the pair had previously developed such an easy rapport. But they had also both consciously avoided discussing the future during their last days together, so they lack a shared vocabulary to discuss what they are to each other and what they could be. Oliver holds the phone up to the window so that Elio can hear the sounds of Spanish Harlem, and it makes Elio feel both close to him and far away.
Instead of the devastating Christmas phone call from the end of the film, Oliver returns to visit the family. Thus, it is face to face and not over the phone that Oliver shares the revelation that he plans to marry a woman in the spring. One might think this would be more heartbreaking with them in the same room, but instead of getting to watch the naked grief register on Elio’s face, we see him try to put up a brave front. Hurt, Elio even seems to pull away from a final kiss. There’s also a scene in which Elio’s parents ask Oliver to help them pick his successor — the academic who will come to live with them the next summer. In the course of this, it’s revealed the it was Elio who campaigned for Oliver to be initially chosen from the moment he saw Oliver’s picture, intimating that – in a way – their love affair began long before Oliver’s arrival.
Fast forward to Elio, now in college in the United States. This time it is he who is calling home for the holidays. Oliver has returned there to visit Elio’s parents with wife and kids in tow. Elio finds it difficult to grapple with the still-deep connection he feels for Oliver and sounds of Oliver’s wife and kids in the next room. He tells them that he wishes he could be there with all of them, but, in truth, he fears that he could not handle it.
Fast even further forward: Elio (now in his early 30s) goes to visit the New England university where Oliver is teaching. He approaches Oliver at the end of a class, and Oliver does not immediately recognize Elio — who has grown a bushy beard. Elio describes Oliver as remarkably the same — no hair lost, no weight gained. Elio does notice some spots on Oliver’s hands. “I have them all over,” Oliver explains — blaming too much sun in his youth. Assuming they might be attributable to something other than sun exposure, this is the only real hint we get to the idea that either of them might be grappling with the AIDS crisis, which would have been raging at the time, but it seems unlikely.
Oliver invites Elio home to have dinner with his family; he wants Elio to meet his wife and kids. But Elio can’t bring himself to do it — to see the parallel life Oliver has lived without him. Instead, he proposes they share a drink at a hotel bar. Their conversations — both in Oliver’s office and then over martinis at the bar — are largely nostalgic. Elio mentions that they briefly catch-upup on what’s been going on in their respective lives but does not go into detail. (Certainly, this is a point where a second film could fill in a few gaps.) But mostly they return to the topic of what they were to each other and how each has held onto the other’s memory over time.
For his part, Oliver still displays a postcard and a framed bit of memorabalia that hearken back to their shared summer. Elio admits that every time he is in Rome, he revisits a certain spot where they kissed. After Oliver points out that his oldest son will soon be the same age Elio was when they met, they discuss a short story about a man who falls in love with a woman and – when she dies – falls in love with her daughter and then, subsequently, her daughter’s daughter. It makes the reader wonder if we’re headed for a circle of life moment — with Elio ultimately romancing Oliver’s son. But Oliver preempts this, insisting he would not want his son in Elio’s bed.
“Would you start again?” Oliver asks at one point, and it’s not entirely clear what he’s asking. Would Elio start life over again and make different choices? Would he start again in order to be able to relive their summer together? Elio’s thoughts turn dramatically toward death. He wants to tell Oliver that he is the only person he’d like to say goodbye to before he died. He wants to tell him that if Oliver died, the Elio he knew himself to be would cease to exist. But — as with most ot the book — Elio says much more of this in his head than he ever says aloud to Oliver.
Fast forward once more to Oliver arriving at the house where it all began, exactly 20 years after their summer of passion. It is not completely clear why it has taken so long for them to reunite again nor why Oliver has finally made a point of coming. There is an accounting of the story’s other players — who has died and who is still living (no spoilers here on that front) — and a tour to some of the spots where their relationship blossomed. It is clear that they have each held tightly to the memory of their time together — that it has shaped the people they’ve become. One gets a sense that, for Oliver, it was a brief, shining moment of ecstasy before he began the more traditional life into which he ultimately settled. On the other hand, it seems to be the quintessential experience to which Elio has compared every other partner, every other decision, every other point in time. And it is clear that, whatever else happens, Elio still longs for Oliver to turn to him, at least one more time, and call him by his own name.
Is this enough to make a movie out of? Entire films have been set over the course of one winding conversation, and here we have several: Elio calling home when Oliver is visiting with his family, Elio and Oliver meeting at the university and going out for drinks, Elio and Oliver ultimately reuniting where it all began. But it’s also worth noting that (at least in terms of plot) about ninety percent of the book made it into the first movie. So it would seem that director Luca Guadagnino is left with a choice. On one hand, he could expand the story significantly beyond the scope of what’s in the book, fleshing out the lives each character lived apart from one another or inventing new adventures for them to share that are not drawn from the page. On the other, he could remain slavishly faithful to the book and simply tell the story of two men who had shared something extraordinary and are still trying to figure out what it was and how it changed the courses of their lives, for better or worse.
Either way, we love Elio and Oliver and will be glad to revisit them, despite the distinct possibility that their most romantic days are already behind them. What would you hope to see from a sequel to Call Me By Your Name?
Last modified: April 2, 2019