The Role Of Consent, Maturity And Age In Call Me By Your Name

Image description: Set in front of a clear blue sky, Timothée Chalamet as Elio Perlman lies his head on his love interest's, Oliver’s, chest, played by Armie Hammer.

From its release, “Call Me By Your Name”, directed by Luca Guadagnino has received a countless amount of praise. With reviews from the likes of The Washington Post and New York Times, a whopping 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes as well as an Oscar under its belt, the film is an obvious favorite not only for critics but for the public as well. But the love for Guadagnino’s latest work has garnered has garnered criticism regarding the age difference in the film’s main relationship.

For many, the seven-year age gap between the two lead characters isn’t much of a question - what’s the problem of pairing these two together, so long as the 17-year old Elio is consenting to the relationship? However, the problem for some is that this age gap creates a power imbalance. Whether or not Elio is old enough to legally consent, the age gap also inevitably includes a gap in maturity between the two. Is it legal? Yes. But does that mean 17-year-olds are ready to embark in relationships with 24-year-olds?

The problem with the previous argument is that it doesn’t address the cultural implications of this relationship, as well as their individual levels of maturity. The assumption that what is legal is automatically moral and just is presumptuous and naive.

Studies conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, Prevention Science and the University of Virginia look at how age differences play a role within romantic relationships in influencing sexual activity, risk behavior and victimization. Within these types of relationships, younger (mainly female) partners, are more likely to engage in physical intimacy and risk behaviors, such as unprotected sex, with their older male counterparts. This is usually due to their older partners seeking behaviors that are common in “serious” relationships. These type of relationships can also make younger partners victims to physical or emotional victimization or abuse, normally due to these partners’ unhealthy lifestyles.

Although these studies mainly look at relationships between young women and older men, this doesn’t negate the fact that this same age and power dynamic is in effect in “Call Me By Your Name”. The issue of whether or not we see the effects age differences can have on romantic relationships in the film is subjective, but it doesn’t erase the fact that these type of relationships exist in real life and can lead to harmful habits.

But “Call Me By Your Name” isn’t the first LGBT+ film or TV show to feature age gaps in the romantic relationship, as seen in shows like Pretty Little Liars and Riverdale. But while straight media finds a way to somewhat address the roadblocks in these types of relationships, LGBT+ productions simply normalize them. We can see it in films and shows such as “Carol”, “Queer As Folk” and “Blue Is The Warmest Color” where these types of relationships are simply presented as romance and the audience isn’t meant to question how age plays in the relationship.

And unlike past works, “Call Me By Your Name” is seeing much more open criticism of its romance, especially from members of the LGBTQ+ community who have taken to social media to express their discomfort towards the film. And this discussion is important as it proves that the audience is thinking critically about what this movie represents. At a time where LGBT+ representation in film and television is much more likely to be antagonizing and/or dehumanizing, we need to give the LGBT+ community the space and platforms to raise their criticisms in order to inspire the creation of bigger and better LGBT+ content.

“Call Me By Your Name” might not be everyone’s favorite, but I hope that we can learn something from the discourse of this film. Instead of disregarding the backlash to the movie, we should be taking the time to understand why it makes people feel that way, which means to take the time and make the effort to listen.