I mentioned in last week’s review that Call Me By Your Name, despite its character’s flaws, is a stunning film to look at. This scene is no exception — and not just because of Timothée Chalamet’s jawline. Just like I could write a whole dissertation about the film, I could probably write a whole book about the final scene. But, for now, here’s a bonus review of some of the best four and half minutes of acting I’ve ever seen.
First, some context. Normally, I avoid major spoilers, but it’s kind of inevitable here, so here is your official warning.
Over one summer in the Italy of the 1980s, 17-year-old Elio becomes infatuated with 24-year-old graduate-student Oliver, who has come over to work with Elio’s father. Towards the end of the summer, they begin a passionate affair; sadly, all summers have to end, and Oliver leaves to return to America.
In this final scene, it is now winter; warm and hazy sun has turned to cold white snow. The love story has concluded, and the family have returned to the holiday house for Hannouka celebrations. Elio speaks to Oliver on the phone briefly, and Oliver tells him he is engaged to be married.
Next, Elio walks to the dining room, flips a coin, and takes off his walkman and headphones. Seeing the fire glow in the warm colours of summer and beckoned by its soft crackling sound, he pauses for a moment, and decides to sit down in front of the fireplace. The final shot of the film lasts around three and a half minutes, and consists of one static shot: Elio’s face staring at the fire, which sits just below the camera.
He stares into the fire as if searching for something; he seems drawn to it inextricably, and nods when he sits down, perhaps recognising memories from summer in the twisting flames that eventually must mark his retinas. A mix of tears, sobs and smiles, the moment —along with Elio’s emotional journey— is bittersweet. He bites his lip, chewing on a memory; later, a tear falls down his face and he lets it enter his mouth, letting himself literally consume the sadness, embracing and surrendering to the emotion.
Flickering firelight on Elio’s face bring out different expressions. With bags under his eyes enchanced by the orange light from below and his face framed by a shorter haircut and dark turtleneck, he looks older and more worn out than at the start of the film. Echoing this, his style seems more mature: along with the jumper and neater hair, he wears a white shirt patterened with faces that reflect the Greco-Roman motif brought in in the title sequence, reminding us of worship of the male form. Overall, it seems that he has grown; finally coming into himself and his desires, he is able to process the love affair.
The light from the never-in-focus window behind shines brightly onto one side of Elio’s face. Though the fire reflects warm tones reminiscent of summer, the cold winter sun reminds us of a persistent, looming reality: the summer is over, and so is the love story. The white of the shining snow may reflect, as well as purity and youth, a kind of search for peace and acceptance. As snow falls freely from the sky, so do tears from Elio’s eyes.
The house itself looks different too; it is decorated sparingly for Hannouka, and the room is barely recogninsable. Sat on the table are pomegranates, which, in the Jewish faith, can be either one of the sacred Seven Species and thus a special and treasured fruit, or, according to some Jewish scholars, the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden. Elio is perhaps playing with a similar duality in his mind: the shame over his homosexual desires, combined with the lucious pleasure he felt in persuing them. Of course, the pomegranate may also remind us of the apricots and peaches of summer, both of which (though the former only in the book) are key in moments of sexual desire.
The fly buzzing around Elio’s shoulders can be seen as another subtle returning motif. Previously appearing at the creek where the lovers first kiss, Elio’s masturbation scenes and as a faint buzzing, perhaps of cicadas, in the scene leading up to the first time they have sex, the fly seems to represent carnal lust. Indeed, flies tend to be found around dirt or sweat, and are motivated by their desire to feast. In this final sequence, the reappearance of the fly reminds us of that pure sexual desire, bringing that intense passion to the forefront of Elio’s moment of intense reflection.
There is little distraction from Elio’s face: the film’s title and then credits enter around 45 seconds after he sits down, but we baerly notice them. Similarly, his parents enter the background to set up the table for dinner; they are never in focus, and even when his mother stirs him at the very end, our gaze is not drawn away. If we were to use the golden ration to create a spiral over the shot, as is used sometimes in photography to see where the eye is naturally drawn, Timothée Chalamet’s face would hit the very center.
Crackling fire sounds persist throughout, and the original Sufjan Stevens song Visions of Gideon enters non-diegetically (that is, outside Elio’s perception) when he sits down. Sufjan Stevens is memeably homo-ambiguous in his lyrics, as personified in this Spotify playlist, maybe reflecting Elio’s previous doubt over whether Oliver reciprocated his feelings. The choral introduction to this song was played earlier in the film, in the scene just before Elio and Oliver have sex for the first time, but that time no lyrics were heard. In this final sequence, however, we find out the song’s first line: “I have loved you for the last time.” This tragedy and heartbreak, it seems, were inevitable from the start; then ignored, now realised.
At the very end of the sequence, and thus the very end of the film, Elio’s mother calls his name to bring him back to reality. Of course, this brings the film, yet again, back to the titular motif; in fact, Elio has just been saying this name to Oliver down the phone, and vice versa, triggering the entire arc of reflection. Elio responds the second time his name is called, turning his head to his right and bathing his face in the aforementioned white light of a new season of peace and acceptance (though we do not see his full face from our perspective). Before he turns, he glances, ever so briefly, to the camera. We stare into his eyes for what seems like an overly-intimate amount of time, but is in fact only a second.
We see the firelight at the center of his pupils, the story of him and Oliver reflected into his soul, before he turns away. Right at the start of this scene, Oliver says to Elio on the phone: “I remember everything.” In this moment, we do too.
Watch the full scene below: