For a few weeks now, as the Call Me By Your Name fever has penetrated the airwaves, there have been discussions about the infamous age gap between both of the main characters. Elio is 17-years-old and Oliver is 24-years-old. At first sight, to some, this is quite a questionable circumstance, one that makes many even feel guilty about supporting the film. I, for one, had my opinions set based on discussions that had already occurred between fellow Affinity writers about the teacher-student relationship in Riverdale. However, I still decided to educate myself on this narrative and form my own opinions on something that I found to be a very important, and frankly understandable conversation.
In three days, I found myself finishing the book Call Me By Your Name. Not going to lie, I found it an absolutely magniloquent book that, because of the authenticity, finds a way to pull at the heartstrings. I connected with it because of Elio’s overbearing lust, his need for romance, sexuality, for his almost oblivious approach to his intelligence, his wisdom. Elio is my age during this summer tryst with Oliver and as a gay man myself, that does something to me, to know that a character out there carries himself with such poise and unrestrained lust. The book is one cornucopia of Elio’s desires. He’s discovering a part of himself that had previously been slightly opened but not entirely welcomed. That, above everything, speaks to me, but of course, some antagonistic conversation about the age gap always finds itself knocking at your door.
Those often ignorant conversations can be slightly maddening at times for me because I am one who has invested time and thought into a book that is an incredible representation for the community, particularly for bisexuals in same-sex relationships. This is a success in all shapes and forms.
Let’s begin with the facts. The setting of Call Me By Your Name is in Europe; particularly in Italy where the age of consent finds itself being 14-years-old. Elio is, well, 17. I don’t see any laws being broken for there to be a technical discussion about the age difference. It almost feels as though anyone declaring the film a pedophiliac one is, to begin with, declaring their understanding of pedophilia to be based on the age of consent. To end with, this further on seems to fit itself into an Americanized idealized mindset that is flawed. Why is it that, at times, people revolve everything around the ideals of America? Shockingly, even in America, in thirty-nine states, their sexual activities are entirely legal. So the real question is, what exactly is the issue at hand?
In addition to that, the ignorant claim that in some way their relationship is “pedophilia” is entirely incorrect. It’s textbook definition incorrect. To reiterate, pedophilia is “an ongoing sexual attraction to prepubertal children.” Generally, the age of pre-pubescent children is under 13-years-old. The average male goes through puberty at around the ages of 12-16. Elio is 17.
Throughout the book, there are rarely discussions about the differences in ages alluding to its insignificance within the text; furthermore, this signals that Oliver isn’t interested in Elio because of his age. Only towards the end (“‘I’m not telling anyone [about having sex]. There won’t be any trouble’” said Elio. ‘I didn’t mean that, I’m sure I’ll pay for it somehow though’” said Oliver. “‘And for the first time in daylight I caught a glimpse of a different Oliver. ‘For you, however you think of it, it’s still fun and games, which it should be. For me it’s something else which I haven’t figured out, and the fact that I can’t scares me’” said Oliver. Page 143-144.) is there is the slight suggestion about age but even then, it is dismissed once it becomes clear that Oliver is ridiculed with fear about the thoughts of his father. (“‘My father would have carted me off to a correctional facility’” said Oliver after praising Elio’s father for being so accepting of their relationship. Page 227.) This also reaffirms the underlying, common issue of homophobia. Their relationship wouldn’t be seen as forbidden because of their age, but because its based in the 80’s, a taboo time for homosexual relationships.
Now, let’s begin with the question regarding your own personal morals. Elio is 17; Oliver is 24. Ask yourself, based on your morals, what seems far more appropriate, a couple whose ages are precisely 18 and 64, or a couple of 17 and 24. What exactly stands between these two relationships – legalities (or lack thereof)? Do legalities dictate your morality, your sexuality? Your well understood consent? See, I’ve always found that in literature and film, one must ask themselves these questions for the point of building a solid argument. Say, your favorite story is A Clockwork Orange. Would that make you a rape apologist? Instead, one should look at the larger argument in the context of the story; questioning your morality. Alex DeLarge is a criminal, a rapist but does that give the government the right to control him given his crimes or other people accused of criminal activities? These are questions you ask yourself and in film/literature, it is blown up to exaggerated proportions to ferment this questioning. Sure, the author of Call Me By Your Name, Andre Aciman, probably didn’t create the age difference as a catalyst for conversation on age differences within the context of sexual relationships, but this is what incredibly written literature does.
And even then, there still is no solid argument for anyone to state that the narrative is a pedophiliac or even predatory one. Everything is well within bounds, laws and more importantly, their approval. The consent is very much there.
There’s passion in my voice about getting this message across because it’s incredibly rare for the LGBT community to get a beautifully shot, incredibly acted, passionately written and unique portrayal of love in a film. Carol was thrown to the curb at the Oscars, Moonlight got what it deserved, but it would be unfortunate to see Call Me By Your Name continue to be repudiated by the same people that it is helping in some way or another because they haven’t given thought to a portrayal of life.