Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name has made quite the impact on audiences as one of the most celebrated films of 2017 for its tender and emotional depiction of queer romance. It centers on the relationship between a teenage boy named Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), who is spending the summer in Italy with his family, when Oliver (Armie Hammer), a doctoral student studying abroad under Elio’s father, joins them for six weeks. The film exhibits a warm and youthful energy that’s consistently in tune with an underlying sensuality just waiting to be expressed. One scene in particular has caught the attention of both critics and audiences, which encapsulates much of the emotional spectrum that the film traverses through. It involves Elio masturbating with a peach alone in the attic of his family’s countryside estate, waiting in anticipation for the arrival of his lover, Oliver.
The controversial scene has gathered buzz due to its explicit suggestiveness, yet it also embodies the sultry tenderness of the film’s tone with the intense passion felt by its main characters and their longing for each other. The film’s slow-burn pace initially builds Elio and Oliver’s relationship as one that gradually grows with subtle indications of attraction through brief gestures and touches. It’s not until some time passes in the film do they sexually pursue each other. As their relationship grows, their attempts to keep it a secret and the concerns that arise as to whether or not what they’re doing is wrong is specifically expressed in the peach scene. Their relationship essentially begins through these seeded initial gestures, eventually growing into a fruitful, yet impermanent romance.
In a long take, Elio lies down on a dusty mattress where he’d previously had sex with his on-and-off girlfriend, Marzia. While reading a book and eating freshly plucked peaches from the garden, Elio examines the texture of the peach with his fingers. As he pokes his finger through and extracts the core, the messy act and texture reminds Elio of his sexual experience with Oliver the night before, and so he uses it to masturbate with. He finishes quickly, places the used peach to the side of the mattress, and falls asleep. Once Oliver arrives later on, Elio wakes and Oliver notices the used peach beside Elio. Oliver initially pokes fun at Elio for using the peach, but then interacts with it in a way meant to express his acceptance of Elio’s sexuality. However, Elio misinterprets Oliver’s gesture as a shaming act, exposing his insecurity in having to hide his desires from his family and friends. When he finally breaks down crying, Oliver embraces him, because he and Elio both know that their relationship is temporary, as Oliver will soon be leaving to return to America. The concluding moment of the scene combines understated passion and love with the very real fear felt by Elio, coming-of-age and afraid of the impermanent nature of the situation. Guadagnino’s decision to utilize long takes during these scenes are communicative of the way in which time seems to freeze in the present, until the present finally becomes the past after a sudden cut.
The peach scene essentially capsulizes the film’s narrative arc from Elio’s perspective. Other than its graphic nature, it begins in a place of intense closeted eroticism, similar to how Elio’s feelings for Oliver take time to develop as they maneuver around each other throughout the first half of the film until they finally find a way to express that energy. However, the second half of the scene constitutes a significant tonal shift more reflective of a metaphorical aftermath. Now that they’ve declared themselves to each other, they must find a way to sustain that passion. Along with their own individual uncertainties, they worry how their actions might have affected the other in a potentially negative way, since Elio is young and still in the preliminary stages of entering adulthood. As the film continues, Elio and Oliver try to maintain a strong relationship, making every attempt to spend time together until it runs out. The peach itself is presented as a textural symbol of their temporary, yet sweet romance, mirroring the transitory nature of art and life similar to the statues and sculptures studied by Oliver and Elio’s father; what was once fresh will decompose, and so what efforts must be made to preserve it?