How The Music In Call Me By Your Name Is Its Secret Weapon
One of the finest examples of how you can tell a story through music.
There are many things to appreciate about the brilliance of Call Me By Your Name. The brilliance of James Ivory’s script, the cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom that keeps the romance as hot as the Italian summer sun, and of course, the chemistry between the two leads. But one element that proves to be rather potent is the movie’s use of its soundtrack. Instead of using voice-over narration so the main character Elio (Timothée Chalamet) can explain his thought process, director Luca Guadagnino chooses to let his songs act as a narrator, making the film both innovative and emotionally potent.
According to Guadagnino in an interview with Indiewire, “It is less heavy, less present, and more enveloping than a voice and text. The music in the movie in general is coherent with the characters, a lot of piano music and songs off the radio.”
Since the film is set in the 80s, there are songs that fit both the narrative and the time period. For instance, there’s “Love My Way” by Psychedelic Furs, which plays as Elio observes Oliver (Armie Hammer) while he’s dancing. While the song plays, Elio watches him with fascination and curiosity before he finally steps onto the dancefloor as soon as these lyrics are sung:
“Love my way, it’s a new road
I follow where my mind goes”
As Elio starts dancing, Oliver is caught up in the ecstasy of the song, yet Elio still dances flexibly in order to try and catch his eye, following his instincts or “where his mind goes.” The feelings Elio harbors for Oliver are a new experience for him, a “new road.”
Of course, when talking about the film’s soundtrack, one must talk about Sufjan Stevens, who was nominated for an Oscar for the song “Mystery Of Love,” and also wrote both “Visions Of Gideon” and “Futile Devices (Doveman Remix).” The first two songs are impressive, but the use of “Futile Devices” is especially so because of its mystery. One would think it’s sung from Elio’s stream of consciousness based on these lyrics:
“It’s been a long, long time
Since I mesmerized your face
It’s been four hours now
Since I’ve wandered through your place”
The song plays while Elio is sitting outside at night, waiting for Oliver to appear, with a blue tint in the cinematography to capture his depressed state of mind. It’s at the point in a story where Oliver keeps his distance from Elio and it feels like it’s been a long, long time since they’ve been with each other. However, these lyrics suggest that the song might be told from Oliver’s point of view:
“And I would say I love you
But saying it out loud is hard
So I won’t say it at all
And I won’t stay very long”
Oliver harbors the same feelings for Elio and similarly is unable to verbally express his feelings. Devastatingly, time is of the essence since Oliver is only staying with Elio and his family for about six weeks. They both want to act on their feelings, yet they can’t come up with the words to do so. Meanwhile, the days are wasting away.
How can Elio show his love? In what way can he tell Oliver how much he loves him? His conflict is perfectly captured in a song with the most fitting title: “Words” by F.R. David.
“Words don’t come easy
How can I find a way to make you see that I love you
Words don’t come easy
Words don’t come easy to me
This is the only way for me to say I love you
Words don’t come easy”
Rather simplistic and on the nose, yet still impactful. During the scene where Elio tries to have sex with his friend Marzia, this song starts playing on his radio. As it continues, Elio starts glancing at the radio as if getting an idea of how to express his love for Oliver. Because the song asks, “How can I find a way?”, it seems that Elio has realized that physical intimacy is one way, and later that night, both men do finally consummate their feelings.
It is uncanny how Luca Guadagnino was able to find songs that fit the storyline so perfectly. They fit so well it’s as if they were written specifically for the film, even if they were released far before. Quite honestly, the use of music makes the omission of traditional voiceover narration a relief. The novel the film is based on gets to let us read Elio’s thoughts. But the film lets Elio’s face act as a storyteller, with the music accompanying his thoughts.