November 19, 2019
Call Me By Your Name author Andre Aciman on the impact of his novel, its movie and how he hopes its sequel ends.
Illustration by Kit Mills.
There are so many people who read this book, watched the movie, had an experience with your work—I think, because you give them serious consideration in literature in ways other authors don’t—are there other books that tell this story?
AA: There were some books that did tell the story but I think for most people—and it’s hard for me to say what it is that they reacted to precisely because they don’t know and they never tell me when I ask—what the book does is open up a space. The sentences are long, the scenes are quite extended, and I think what they learn to see in it is a degree of intimacy that they have had in life in very scattered ways. And they’re also chronologically tabulated for you so that you can reread the same passage time and time again. In other words, it’s such an extended moment of absolute introspect and intimacy with other people, and of course, a whole analysis of desire without being academic or clinical. It allows people to say, “Yes, I’ve known this all my life. Why was it that I never was able to formulate it before?”
And how much of a say did you have in the initial movie?
AA: Oh, I could’ve had a lot of say had I wanted to. I just didn’t think it wasn't going to help anything if the author keeps intruding on what is in the hands of people who know everything about production. I had a screenwriter who was based in the business and a director who was also the inheritor of the tradition of Luchino Visconti. What was I going to tell them, how to film? So I decided to shut up and just let them do what they wanted.
But I assume that you’re happy with the end result?
AA: Yes, very, very, very happy. I love the movie. I’ve seen it too many times, and now whenever I walk in to do a post-screening talk, I usually arrive at the moment when the father’s having the conversation with the son, and then that long extended moment when Timothée [Chalamet] is staring into the camera, and I think it’s just fabulous. It’s fabulous.
Had you envisioned a sequel before the director, Luca Guadagnino, said, “I’d like to do a sequel”?
AA: Well, I mean, I can understand why he wants to do a sequel because the book itself has their meeting fifteen, twenty years later, so the story doesn’t end where the film ends, so it keeps going, and evolving, and so on. Had I imagined a sequel? No, I didn’t, but I think it’s a sexy idea and it’s interesting. I like the idea. I don’t think it will take shape for another few years because he is busy doing other things and I’m busy doing something else but it’s a nice way to avoid closure and I hate closure to begin with.
I don’t know how much Luca has shared with you about what he wants to deal with in the sequel, but are there particular things, story-wise, you could share with us?
AA: Not really. I would stay to the script that I had given but he wants to meander slightly to the left and to the right. I mean, obviously we’re interested in the fact that there’s an AIDS crisis going on as these two kids are maturing, and of course, one gets sort of shoved to the side, as I did in the book, so he wants to discuss that. But then again, he is like me. We’re truly abstract and so he wants to touch on it but he doesn’t want to make it an AIDS film otherwise because that will take the whole thing away from where it was and where it was headed. I mean, I created it and I think he followed through with a story that is simply in a kind of erotic utopia and that has to work.
So does that mean that there’s no happy ending at the end of that?
AA: Oh, there might be a happy ending. I like a happy ending. I mean, there is a happy ending at the end of the book itself except nobody sees it; everybody thinks that they’re preparing to say goodbye forever for themselves. It’s absolutely not that. Oliver comes back and he may have arranged to stay forever. We don’t know.
But I imagine, in your head, there is a world that they’re together and maybe there’s a world that they’re not together, no?
AA: Both are totally plausible, yes.
The truth for you though, lies where?
AA: Oh, the truth for me lies not in their being together or not together, but in considering the possibilities of both things because that’s where my mind goes. I always end my books in the conditional mood so it’s always sort of like a psychological ambivalence on my part. I don’t want to resolve it. Let the reader decide where they are going. Let circumstances dictate. I don’t want to be the one to tell you what is going to happen to them for the rest of their lives. It’s an outward journey, as far as I’m concerned. My books end with sort of a valediction to the reader. You take it where you want.
I can’t tell you how many people begged me to ask you for a happy ending with the sequel…
AA: You know what? It would make me very happy to make them happy. If this is where Luca wants to go, I think it makes sense. I do think, I mean, when you consider the love of Elio and Oliver, I think it’s fair to say it’s never going to go away, and I think the indication that it’s there to stay is in a scene at the very, very end of the book when they meet again at the college and Oliver says, “Why don’t you come and have dinner at my house? You’ll meet my wife, you’ll meet my kids,” and Elio says, “No, I can’t,” and in his inability to say yes, what he’s really saying is, “I’m still connected. I’m still hooked up to the thing that we had and this is going to interfere with that. This is going to ruin the picture.” And maybe Oliver was looking for a friendship but at the very end, Oliver is the one who comes and visits him, and it’s not out of friendship.
Photography by: Illustration by Kit Mills