Life is a Transaction
Adolescence is a strange part of everyone's life. We all seem to be trailing through our everyday routines in a paralyzing stupor. In a constant haze of uncertainty and confusion. In a way I think young adulthood is supposed to confuse us; challenge us to become someone that will not be trampled by full fledged adulthood. Being young is filled with pain, love, happiness, every single emotion amplified by a thousand. Call Me By Your Name taught me to invite all of those feelings in: accept them, appreciate them, and learn from them.
Call Me By Your Name seemed to come to me right when I needed it to, and taught me as much about life as a personal heartbreak could. The bildungsroman is chalk full of lessons from our relationship with ourselves to our relationship with our family, friends, and lovers.
For those who haven’t read the book or seen the film, the story takes place in northern Italy during the nineteen eighties. Following a precocious young man, Elio’s, journey throughout a formative summer when a graduate student stays with his family to write a manuscript under Elio’s father’s jurisdiction. A romance between the two ensues. Though one of the most obvious takeaways from the tragic tale is managing heartbreak in both how we celebrate and heal from it, an equally important passive theme involves the relationships which unfold between the characters which also serves as a reflection of our transactional society.
I hope to continue to delve into the latter topic in order to explore a secondary argument this novel sheds incredible light on, that isn’t as commonly discussed. I will achieve this by noting the essence of some of the key transactional relationships throughout the novel, what they represent in our capitalistic society, and the effect it has on the course of the book and potentially in our own lives.
Primarily, the characters of Anchise and Mafalda the handyman and maid seem to be worthless yet hold the utmost value at the same time. Almost suggesting if they were completely removed from Call Me By Your Name few physical changes to the plot would be made yet it would be a different story entirely. The two lend themselves to the story’s clear narrative of how we tend to our relationships, yet supply a completely different narrative beneath a capitalist lens.
Anchise and Mafalda are older italians that also live in the Perlman’s Villa. They are undoubtedly the backbone of the family. They cook, clean, do chores, fix odds and ends... Any peculiar job that wouldn’t be on the well-off’s day-to-day radar seems to be theirs. As the mother of the house sun bathes and cultivates lavish meals with her friends, Mafalda is always simultaneously seen healing over heaps of dishes or directing a rowdy crowd for dinner. Similarly, Anchise can be found whipping up medicinal creams for guest’s bike wounds or catching fish for the next meal. They are the glue that keeps the Perlman family from falling apart.
As their affiliation suggests, the Perlman's do regard the helping hands as family. Mr. Perlman specifically suggesting that he would do anything for Anchise. Yet their role within the household compared to the traditional members of the family would propose an alternative position. Anchise and Mafalda are only introduced into a scene when they are needed for something work-related. Whether that is to set a table, aid someone back to health, fetch an ice pack, the list can go on. There are almost no remotely tender moments shared between the two with the family, therefore their relationship lacks the symbiotic nature that a blood bound kinship would have.
This suggests the existence of a two class system within the family (which of course can be reflected onto our society’s entirety). This entails the presence of social stratification: an upper and lower class. As their roles offer on a contractional level Elio and Mr. and Mrs. Pearlman as the upper class (the waited-on) and Mafalda and Anchise as the lower class (the wait-ing). The upper class often pays them no mind when there is no personal benefit and they often feel like second class citizens in their own home.
To continue, profit motive is a strong subconscious theme throughout the novel. In the form of making decisions deductively based on one of the two underlying questions, “How does this help get me and what I want?” And “What will I gain from doing this?” Though it should be clear that our humanity (hopefully) doesn’t allow us to act totally selfishly with only these questions in mind completely disregarding the emotions of our counterparts. With this in mind Elio and Oliver seem to act reasonably recklessly regarding their relationships with their female partners solely for profit motives.
To expand, Elio and Oliver both enthral themselves in summer flings to repel themselves from each other and essentially use their partners for sexual activities and personal fulfilment. Not only for play but to keep up with social appearances and feed their own egos. To be heartlessly blunt, in the film Elio takes Marzia’s virginity and ghosts her the next night. Once a week or two goes by the only explanation he has for her is, “I uh had to work. I just uh… had a lot to do,” which is a lie and she knows it.
Profit motives are soul crushingly common. People lend themselves to transactions where they will benefit even if they have to use or rip-off someone or some system to get there. Its present in our relationships with others and therefore our communities as a whole. Eventually we have to take a step back and ask ourselves who we are hurting with our selfish actions and if what we have to gain is worth what others have to lose.
To transition to a lighter note, willingness to change is a neutral capitalist ideal where a market acts as a chameleon to cater to an audience’s ever changing and ever growing desires yet serves as a heartwarming turning point for Elio in Call Me By Your Name. Elio’s odds with his sexuality is embedded in the plot, never as a heartbreaking internal conflict, but something he has to confront nonetheless. His obligatory dinner exchange with his parent’s friends allow him to do just that.
These friends of Mr. and Mrs. Perlman are two married men (who Elio calls Sonny and Cher) whom might as well be the first same-sex couple Elio has ever met. He pays them less than any mind at first, but a shift in character comes when Mr. Perlman exclaims, “You are too old not to accept people for who they are! What’s wrong with them?” I think these words rung truer for Elio’s view of himself than that of ‘Sonny and Cher’.
Elio serves as the market and the audience in this example. As we explore more of ourselves we must cater to those needs and sometimes it just takes an outside force to realize exactly that.
In summation, you can always find the parallels you are looking for in every piece of media you consume, because like it or not art is constantly holding up a mirror in front of society. Andre Aciman and James Ivory’s take on this story shines a light on our multifaceted society with the headlining story about finding ourselves and a multitude of truths that lie beneath.
It’s impossible not to draw marxist conclusions from any piece of media where one system is interacting with another. But in Call Me By Your Name I wanted to specifically call attention to the following: the most hardworking and loving often exist as second class citizens, profit motives aren’t a victimless crime, and change on all levels is a fact of life.