By Erin Holly McDermott, Editorial Staff ‘23 

One of the most influential films of the last decade has been Call Me By Your Name, directed by Luca Guadagnio. The film focuses on a young Italian boy, Elio Perlman; he is a strange, humored, musically oriented seventeen-year-old. The story begins when an Elio’s father’s American intern Oliver is introduced and arrives in Italy to live with the Perlman family in their home for the summer. The film develops into a love story between the two characters, beginning with the development of the first feelings and ending with Oliver’s departure back to the United States. The credit to the plotline and internal development of the characters belongs to the author of the same-titled book, André Aciman. 

The film is not only amazing and awe-inspiring, but it also poses several important social and societal questions to the growing audience. Quite possibly, the most thought-invoking line of the book and movie is the following: Is it better to speak or to die? 

The line comes from a scene where Elio’s mother, a multilingual woman, reads Elio a story from the German translation of Marguerite de Navarre’s short story collection titled Heptaméron. In this story, there lies a prince and princess who have become great friends over years of being acquainted. Eventually, the prince falls madly in love with the girl, and then the question, ‘Is it better to speak or to die?’ is asked by the prince to the girl. The princess tells him it is better to speak, but he never does. Both of the team die in a world where they could have loved but did not speak out of fear of retribution.

This question is in the midst of the entire rationale of the film and book, but more completely in the hearts and minds of all the characters and audience. The answer to this all-consuming question is subjective. There are situations and circumstances in which speech will put you in a worse state than you were before you ever made the decision. Conversely, there are worlds like the one present in Navarre’s stories, where individuals die without even knowing the extent of the love there is in this world. Is there a worse fate than not knowing of the love others feel for you? I simply do not understand the converse of this essential question posed in the film. Why would someone electively choose fear over love? 

There are few feasible answers or situations to exemplify the other position. I understand that fear is all-encompassing and one of the most unbeatable emotions humans can feel. There is fear in so many of us every day. Possibly, one is explained in the film throughout the relationship between Elio and Oliver. Oliver felt love for Elio long before Elio ever expected his position as a bisexual man during the 1980s, a time of more limited acceptance. Oliver answered the essential question relatively early: it is better to die. He was willing to die without ever telling Elio the extent of his feelings towards him, releasing the opportunity to find happiness. However, the plot of the film takes a major turn when Elio makes his decision regarding the same question: it is better to speak. Without Elio’s decision and courage, the two would have simply just been a small intersection in the lines of life present between them. The secret that the posed question does not explore? There are two people in every relationship, both of which have to decide their position on the question. Let’s take it to refer back to the prince and princess, had the princess decided it was better to speak for herself; they could have been happy. They would have been happy, but she did not. Fear overcame the possibility of love. Thankfully, this was not the same fate shared by Elio and Oliver. Elio took the step, he spoke, he put his dignity, pride, and fear aside to let the healing light of love into his small Italian room. The audience and Oliver alike could not be more proud and exuberated by Elio’s decision regarding the fatal question. The pair of characters did not regret their decision to leap into the unknown territory of love and pain. The book reads: 

“I look back on those days and regret none of it, not the risks, not the shame, not the total lack of foresight.” 

This lack of regret and the ridding of fear is made possible by Oliver and Elio’s experiences during the summer of 1983 in that small Italian town. The book continues later on to read,

“We had the stars, you and I. And this is given once only.”

The most interesting part of the film (spoiler alert!) is that they originally didn’t end up together. Oliver is engaged to an American woman upon returning home. Elio becomes a successful pianist in Paris, as presented in the sequel by André Aciman. The sequel ends with the pair together, but the story of how this occurred is not shared or explored by Aciman. Elio experiences all the pain that the Prince was fearful of, yet he continues to live. The heartbreak does not kill him. Ultimately, this presents why it will always be better to speak in any scenario. 

I must conclude with a confession. This topic was not assigned to me by the team of other writers in the Newspaper Room. This is a concept I truly believe deeply in; this is my passion project. Truly, I believe that a life without love is worse than any consequences and pain felt by rejection. At least in some respect, I have understood the opinions of those who believe it is better to die. Thinking in the eyes of the prince in Elio’s mother’s story, I realize there was a significant possibility that the pair would lose their romance and friendship altogether. For Oliver, the risk of losing his love and his internship proved to be too much. However, this is a risk that is well-rewarded. Every person will experience this question in one fashion or another: Is it better to speak or die? I implore you to speak. Speak your mind, speak with your heart, speak because you simply do not know another solution, speak because your love for them is greater or more important than the pain you may feel. Speak because it feels right. Speak because this is the true answer.