A Close Reading of the Closing Scene of Call Me By Your Name (2017)
by Mollie Simpson
Polyphony, Volume 1, Issue 1
First Published March 2019, Manchester
In this essay, I attempt to outline the key cinematic techniques in the final scene of Call Me By Your Name, directed by Luca Guadagiano (Memento Films, 2017) that coincide with the thematic aestheticisation and tenderness of the romance plot. I have analysed the use of identification techniques in reference to Jacques Lacan’s mirror theory to amplify the cathartic elements of the scene by placing the spectator in relation to Elio, and related the camerawork and diegesis to realist theory to examine how this creates a raw, candid atmosphere.
Call Me By Your Name is a film of unrelenting steely beauty and aesthetic tenderness. (See note 1) The closing scene is exemplary of how the observational, naturalised mise-en-scene creates emotional impact on the spectator, combining realism and performativity to add cathartic dimensions.
The ending begins with a deep focus, wide-angle tracking shot that exposes us to each element of the scene in a seemingly unbiased projection. Elio leads the shot as he walks through a doorway and towards the fireplace, before pausing to flip a coin. The framing subtly moves in his direction as he walks, the camera then tilting down to show him sat beside the fireplace. The spectator is therefore positioned observationally in direct and central relation to Elio, the subject of the shot. The centralisation of subject representation gives the spectator a sense of unity and control over the scene. (See note 2)
While the spectator is given the illusion of control, Call Me By Your Name maintains its sense of realism through use of diegetic light. This scene is entirely lit by the burning fireplace, the soft glow of the Hanukkah Menorah, and the white light seeping in from the window. This choice of natural, diegetic lighting amplifies the atmosphere of realism, and viewers are invited to accept each aspect of the scene as true.
Once Elio sits beside the fireplace, the scene cuts to an extended close-up shot. Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s use of a close-up shot places the spectator at Elio’s inverse. In Jacques Lacan’s view, this scene acts as a mirror to the spectator, inviting us to identify and reflect the emotion portrayed. (See note 3) Viewing Chalamet’s emotive performance face-on adds a personal dimension to the scene that invokes catharsis and draws us out of the immersive naturalism of Guadagiano’s mise-en-scene and into a mode of identification. The realism of diegetic light is contrasted by the use of non-diegetic music. The close-up shot of Elio in front of the fireplace is overlaid with Sufjan Stevens’ Visions of Gideon, the swan song of the soundtrack tailored to the film. The use of a specified soundtrack adds a dimension of transmedia, and nods to the process of pre-production, a subtle but tangible indicator that we are watching a film. The emotive flow of the song moves with Chalamet’s performance, and as we follow the song to its close, the background, lost in the shallow depth of field, becomes filled with Elio’s family. He turns to face them, the song finishes, and the screen fades to black. Our view of the scene is revealed to be less objective, less placed in real time, and more dependent on the character of Elio, and the span of a single four minute song.
The combined effect of these audio and visual perceptual techniques creates a naturalised mise-en-scene contrasted with hidden subjectivity and the element of transmedia. We are reminded in this closing scene of the dual power of Call Me By Your Name: to present authenticity side by side with artistry. It is at once immersively natural and performatively stylistic, the overall effect cathartic and beautiful. This paradox of the meta-filmic juxtaposed with realism is at the heart of what makes Call Me By Your Name so intensely resonant and powerful: complexity masked as simplicity, superficiality embedded within authenticity.
1. Call Me By Your Name, dir. by Luca Guadagiano (Memento Films, 2017)
2. Barbara Creed, ‘Film and Psychoanalysis’, The Oxford Guide to Film Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p.6
3. Christian Metz, ‘Identification, Mirror’, Psychoanalys is and Cinema: The Imaginary Signifier (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1984), p.731