Artful veneer of “Call Me By Your Name” masks shallow, distorted view of sexuality

The Best Picture–nominated film seeks to evoke a world of pre-Christian sexual mores, one often cited for its relatively permissive attitudes toward pederasty.

Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer star in a scene from the movie "Call Me by Your Name." (CNS photo/Sony Picture Classics)

If you didn’t know that the Best Picture–nominated Call Me By Your Name is an uncritically rapturous celebration of a same-sex relationship between an inexperienced youth played by Timothée Chalamet and an experienced man played by Armie Hammer, you might almost guess it from the opening titles, an arty overture for the film that follows.

The music, a lilting piece for two pianos, promises a joyous, ecstatic experience — but if, like Chalamet’s character Elio, you had a sufficient musical education, you might pick up more from the selection than that.

The piece, from the first movement of the composer John Adams’ 1996 Hallelujah Junction, is written in what Adams calls “the interlocking style of two-piano writing” (the “junction” of the title), the pianists trading off similar but non-aligned rhythms in a tightly choreographed musical duel, effortlessly weaving in and out from one another.

You would certainly notice that the screen is filled with closeups of photographs of classical statuary: mostly male nudes. The photographs, artfully strewn as if waiting to be scrapbooked, promise nostalgic reverie; the muscular torsos suggest a tasteful celebration of male beauty, though female beauty is not excluded.

The sculptures’ provenance establishes a sunny Mediterranean milieu as well as evoking a world of pre-Christian sexual mores, one often cited for its relatively permissive attitudes toward pederasty. It might be pointed out in reply that it was also a great civilization noted for succumbing to decadence and indulgence before exhausting itself and collapsing (and while the popular idea here is partly a cartoon, so are the popular ideas about classical sexuality).

You might not be surprised, then, to emerge from the credits and find yourself in a bucolic northern Italian countryside, with slender Elio looking down from the second-story window of a splendidly dilapidated 17th-century villa at the arrival of an Adonis-like figure he will come to know as Oliver, played by Hammer.

Directed by Luca Gudadagnino from James Ivory’s screenplay of the novel by André Aciman, Call Me By Your Name doesn’t want to be, like Brokeback Mountain, a complicated drama about troubled characters struggling with guilt and social disapproval. Such difficult themes aren’t absent, but they’re largely backgrounded — more abstract ideas than anything we see onscreen. The foregrounded conflict is largely within Elio, from whose point of view the story is told.

Call Me By Your Name is both about seduction and a sensuous film that wants to seduce the willing viewer. From the lush Lombardy landscape and the leisurely al fresco meals to the ethereal Sufjan Stevens soundtrack, everything is pitched to make it easy — too easy — for the viewer to surrender. (Notably, the sexual encounters between the male leads are more implicitly and discreetly depicted than the heterosexual ones, minimizing discomfort to heterosexual viewers; even the famous/infamous peach scene is crucially tamed down from the novel. The year, 1988 in the novel, has been pushed back five years to 1983, eliding the specter of AIDS.)

Elio’s parents — his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a Jewish American archaeology professor, his mother (Amira Casar) an Italian homemaker and translator — are sexually permissive liberals who offer their son nothing but genial encouragement and acceptance.

Even Marzia (Esther Garrel), a local girl who begins a sexual relationship with Elio with trepidation, expressing her worry that he will hurt her — which he does — ultimately offers him understanding forgiveness. (This absolution is not in the book, I’m told. The film’s treatment of its female characters is one of its less rapturous qualities.)

In the end comes an emotional monologue to Elio from his father, summing up the tolerant, seize-the-moment milieu in such an on-the-nose way that a gay critic for The Daily Beast admits that it plays as “wish-fulfillment for many gay people.”

This is not the father’s only on-the-nose speech. The implications of the classical statuary in the opening credits are later too explicitly unpacked by Elio’s father, who rhapsodizes about the firm muscles and curved, nonchalant stances of the statues he studies, “as if they’re daring you to desire them.” Call Me is not propaganda, but it’s never closer to being so than in these speeches from the father.

The spirit of self-indulgence and wish fulfillment in these speeches extends in some measure to the film as a whole; Call Me depicts the world, not as it is, but as its makers and intended audience on some level wish it were. Another cinephile friend characterized the film to me (disparagingly) as a romance novel or, more precisely, a “Harlequin Romance bodice-ripper” (though of course no bodices are worn by either of the characters in the central relationship).

As in many romance novels, the central relationship, viewed in real-world terms, is shallower and more troubling than the story appears to realize, or than many of the movie’s fans would care to acknowledge. The two main actors are attractive and charismatic, and it’s easy to like their characters even though they both do unlikable things.

Oliver, a brash, breezy Jewish American graduate student spending the summer with Elio’s family, indifferently ignores most of Elio’s awkward attempts to get his attention. (Their shared Jewish heritage has metaphorical resonances the film doesn’t seem interested in exploring.) Eventually Oliver grants Elio a kiss, but almost seems to be humoring him. His words and actions suggest that he feels going further would be wrong — possibly because of the gap between them in age and experience.

Yet Oliver has already made his own overtures toward Elio, among other things briefly massaging Elio’s shoulder in a way that Oliver later acknowledges was meant to express his attraction. Whether this is an expression of inner struggle, a moment of weakness he later regrets, a reflection of a pattern of hot-and-cold behavior, or what, Oliver encourages and seeks out the response from Elio that he later rebuffs, until he doesn’t.

Depending on one’s perspective and interpretation of Oliver’s rather enigmatic demeanor, this might be deemed flirting, conflicted behavior, or predatory grooming.

On paper, Elio is 17 and Oliver 24, though Hammer looks his three decades, making the difference greater onscreen. (Chalamet is 21, but so pencil-slight that he easily passes for 17.)

More important than the years, though, is the difference in life experience. Elio is of the legal age of consent, but he’s also a minor. These are mutable social conventions; what is not is that Oliver is worldly-wise and exudes self-confidence, overawing Elio, a teenaged music nerd who can barely make a pass at a girl, let alone a man. Whatever else their relationship may be, it is not remotely a relationship of equals.

Unequal relationships have perhaps been more the rule than the exception historically, and certainly there have been plenty of movies about older men and younger women.

Yet over time this motif has at least come under scrutiny and become controversial particularly in feminist circles, rightly so — and that’s before factoring in the particulars of this relationship: an inexperienced youth sexually initiated in a short-term relationship with an experienced adult. Is this kind of age-discrepant relationship seen differently in relation to gay men than in other contexts? If so, why?

Perhaps Elio’s father would profess to see no difference. If, instead of Marzia, Elio had first become entangled with an experienced 24-year-old Italian woman, I suspect he would have received the same cheerful encouragement at home.

After Oliver leaves, the moral is summed up by Elio’s father in that celebrated final monologue. “You had a beautiful friendship — maybe more than a friendship — and I envy you,” he says after acknowledging “barriers” in his own life which prevented him from experiencing anything like that. He goes on:

In my place, most parents would hope the whole thing goes away, or pray that their sons land on their feet soon enough. But I am not such a parent. In your place, if there is pain, nurse it … We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of 30 and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything — what a waste! Forgive me if I have spoken out of turn. I will have been a terrible father if, one day, you’d want to speak to me and felt the door was shut, or not sufficiently open.

It’s not hard to see why this speech is so powerful to many who have had more difficult family discussions — and, indeed, the paternal love and emotional openness of this monologue is moving. Here, above all, is the film’s expression of the world as the filmmakers believe it ought to be.

The monologue proposes a vision of life involving a series or chain of relationships, each of which wounds us when it ends, yet, if we can embrace the pain, adds to us. Oliver has hurt Elio, but he has also given him something precious — something enviable. The preciousness of that gift, and the pain of loss, is powerfully communicated in the film’s final shot, a sustained closeup of Elio’s face registering complex, shifting emotions as the end credits roll — the most subtle and effective acting in the film.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong, in a sense, with Elio’s father’s monologue, even insofar as it applies to his son’s relationship with Oliver — except insofar as that relationship involved sexual acts. Powerful friendships and precious personal bonds can lead to pain when we lose the person we care about, and burying such pain isn’t the way to deal with it.

But friendships, however intense, are one thing; the complete communication of the self and knowledge of the other through sexual union is something else.

The Catholic Church teaches that this self-gift is tragically disfigured if it is anything less than a total gift embracing the whole of life, excluding all others, within the complementary union of marriage.

“Call me by your name,” Oliver says to Elio, “and I’ll call you by mine.” Oliver wants to be united with “Oliver,” Elio with “Elio.”

From a Catholic perspective — but also in the best philosophical and literary traditions of the classical world — human sexuality is ordered toward union with the other: sexual union with the sexually other. The goods of both friendship and eros present in same-sex relationships are stunted and distorted by sexual acts where no true union of two in one flesh is possible.

Elio’s father’s speech (which, again, speaks for the filmmakers and the film, making it impossible to ignore) expresses a far more indiscriminate, open-ended perspective, one that does incalculable harm to human persons and to society.

Some individuals, men and women, with defining youthful experiences not unlike Elio’s carry the pain of abuse all their lives. Others regard their experiences with poignant nostalgia, even in cases where they were clearly victims. Just because someone may not feel like a victim doesn’t mean they haven’t been harmed or abused, and embracing pain doesn’t always make it an enriching experience.

Caveat Spectator: Strong sexual content including a brief graphic heterosexual coupling and some female nudity; a homosexual relationship with onscreen sensuality and implied sex acts; implied masturbation; sexually explicit dialogue; limited cursing and profanity.

About Steven D. Greydanus 12 Articles
Steven D. Greydanus is the film critic for the National Catholic Register and the creator of DecentFilms.com. He is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle Society and a permanent diaconate in the Catholic Archdiocese of Newark. He has degrees in media arts and religious studies. He and his wife Suzanne have seven children.

60 Comments

  1. This is a very fair, balanced, and insightful review. I don’t know of many orthodox Catholic writers whom I would trust to write so empathetically about this film.

    What you say about the monologue by Elio’s father is quite true: that speech, no less than the relationship of Elio and Oliver, is a powerful, even if partially misguided, expression of love and self-giving. In fact, more than anything else in the film, it shows the rawness of the basic human need for love. (This despite being too on-the-nose for dramatic purposes.)

  2. A thorough review. I think I’ll skip watching this one, but I appreciate your work in laying out your thoughts. Yours is the first opinion my family seeks out when looking for reviews. Many thanks.

  3. Very nicely written. And the observations about Michael Stuhlbarg’s speech are precisely on point. On the one hand, there are some beautiful and true sentiments in that speech, but on the other hand it has a highly relativistic thrust, and makes it clear the film sees nothing wrong with anything Elio does.

  4. Right. Well I’m glad he wrote this review because I have rendered myself persona non grata on several blogs trying to defend him for his one minute video review for Reel Faith which for many viewers came off as a plug for pederasty. He would be doing himself and the Church a big favor if he were to re-do that video and bring much more of the Catholic ethos into it. His comments there were emphatically lush and leave the impression that he is head-over-heels in love with the movie, and possibly the “lifestyle” as well. Long and short, he infuriated a lot of people, and that particular volcano will keep burping lava into the blogsphere for quite a while, you may well believe until it is retracted, redone, and relaunched.

    • Well said, Lee.
      The video left me appalled. From its content, the video could have easily been a review from the Village Voice or Rolling Stone, etc. but never from a deacon of the Catholic Church. The full review clarifies the deacon’s position, somewhat, and for that, I guess, I should be grateful.
      But my gut feeling is that this reviewer is just a little too clever by half, so to speak.

  5. Beautiful film that transcended sexual orientation.But that we all could have fathers as caring and thoughtful as Elio’s – regardless of our sexual orientation. He wants what is best for his son – and he knows that requires his son figuring it out on his own. He’s there to support, not to judge, shame or convince his son to do, say or be what would spare him (the father) embarrassment or a sense of disappointment.I think Jesus would have loved this film.

    • LOL. You obviously do not know the real Jesus if you think He would have loved this film. He probably would have called it the propaganda of the father of lies.

  6. Heaven help us! This film appears to mask nothing while exposing the perfect storm that has left so many victims in its wake. A simple avoid this film that serves to promote pederasty and lust would suffice.
    Love, which is rightly ordered, is devoid of lust.

  7. If I were a movie reviewer (and I am not) I would condense this review into two sentences: “This film promotes homosexuality. Don’t waste your time seeing it.” See, a lot less ink spilled.

    • Edward Peitler:

      Your two-sentence review would be helpful only to people who a) are fully on board with the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and b) didn’t know what the movie was about.

      For people who aren’t necessarily fully on board with the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, or who find the film’s liberal sexual permissiveness attractive in any way, this two-sentence review would not give them any reason to take you seriously.

      Nor, crucially, would it help people who are on board with the Church’s teaching talk about the movie with people who aren’t.

      • Edward’s review seems spot on to me. Why shouldn’t “people who a) are fully on board with the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and b) didn’t know what the movie was about” be given a quick warning instead of having to hear anything specific about the garbage?

      • You vastly over-rate this or any film’s contribution to the culture. That’s the difference between us: I place little or no value on film. I do not find them edifying in the least. Nor does my life hinge on being able to converse with others about the various merits of film. Regards, Deacon Ed

  8. This review is strange and I’m surprised CWR printed it. That a film which aims to normalize/glorify ephebophilia should receive a positive review is very disturbing. And some of the descriptions given are bizarre: sensuous, a celebration of male beauty?! And almost as an afterthought there is a line thrown in about Church teaching in an attempt to balance it out, although even then there is a sense the attractions are presented in a neutral way, and it is only the behavior that is disordered. Even in the not too distant past, the deacon probably would have been disciplined by his bishop for writing such a piece. Sigh. Perhaps this is what happens when one automatically assumes anything connected with a “conservative” source like the Register must be gold, no matter what.

    • I don’t see this as a positive review.

      I think what Deacon Greydanus is trying to convey is that this movie is a deliberate *seduction.* It is a very carefully crafted fantasy, big-time wish fulfillment. This is a very important point, because this gets right to the heart of what the whole “gay rights” cultural juggernaut is all about. Simply reiterating that homosexual acts are gravely immoral is not enough. The truth has been taking a brutal beating in our society for decades, and a lot of good people are shell-shocked: “how did this happen?” It happened for several reasons, and from the sound of it, this movie helps shed light on it. Marriage was re-defined, and same-sex erotic attraction normalized and celebrated, as a result of seduction and also wish-fulfillment. If the movie doesn’t seduce you, you’re not the target. But the creators know their audience, and I bet it works.

      • You seemed to have missed the whole point- that fact that such a film even exists should be absolutely scandalous. It is a sign of how far the bar has been lowered that folks like Greydanus get sucked into the very idea that a film promoting sick behavior should be given any publicity or a “review.” In other words, that ephebophilia/pedophilia is now being entertained with “artistic expression” via a film. Any Catholic review should simply condemn the film and its premise outright. Instead, he gives legitimacy to its message by the very fact of entertaining it as legitimate entertainment that Catholics might want to see.

        • “…. the very fact of entertaining it as legitimate entertainment that Catholics might want to see.” How so? Fr. Fox has, I think, accurately described what this review does: it shows how the movie seeks to seduce the viewer into accepting as normal something that is abnormal. At the very least (and it no small thing), the review explains how popular entertainment and the dominant culture numbs so many people to the truth about marriage, sexuality, and human nature. In my experience, constant moral condemnation without any sort of deeper explanation and articulation of truth has very limited results. Which is not, of course, to deny the need for moral condemnation. But attempting to analyze and explain should not be understood as an endorsement.

          • I first note I am not alone in my impression as several other comments here express the same reaction- which tells us something. I do admit the article seems cleaned up compared to his video. I don’t see any clear condemnation of the movie/subject and he states that the film is “not propaganda,” contradicting the idea that he criticizes the movie for promoting the subject/seducing the viewer. He describes the theme of “man-boy” relationship as an “uneven relationship,” one which is now- perhaps legitimately he infers- under scrutiny. Interesting euphemism. The only thing that comes close to some sort of condemnation is a short paragraph about catholic teaching and even that is weak- seeming to present the attractions as neutral and only citing the behavior; in fact he directly states there is nothing necessarily wrong in the homosexual relationship of the two men except as it involves the behavior. He also offers glowing comments about various aspects of the film: “a joyous, ecstatic experience” about the music, “celebration of male beauty”, “attractive and charismatic characters”, praise of the moral of the final monologue of the man glad for the experience of the homosexual relationship.

          • The video reveals the reviewers instinctive first and genuine thoughts. “One picture worth a thousand words”, etc, etc.
            The video captured his clear enthusiasm for the film and more. Yikes.

        • David:

          I said that the worldview behind the film, articulated by the father in a speech that is “impossible to ignore,” is one that “does incalculable harm to human persons and to society.” 

          Did you miss that? How is “does incalculable harm to human persons and to society” as a summary of the film’s worldview not a clear condemnation?

          “A joyous, ecstatic experience” and “a celebration of male beauty” are my critical descriptions of what the film promises and offers its target audience. I’m telling you “This is what the film is selling itself as, what wants people to take away,” because that’s part of my job as a critic.

          I’m not saying that you would actually feel joyous or ecstatic watching it — or that I did.

          However, you are right that I found the father’s love moving, in spite of the grave deficiencies in the ideas he expresses so lovingly. I think someone would have to lack all empathy to be completely unmoved.

          • Then at the least your piece seems to offer contradictory views. And one has to also connect it with your video review, which has really no negative comments or warnings, nothing about Church teaching, nothing against the essence of the film promoting a man-boy relationship, but a description of the plot as a “sexual awakening” with an older man. Ephebophilia couched as a “sexual awakening”? Very odd & disturbing. (Perhaps the written review was meant to temper the video?) In fact, it’s fair to say you seem excited and enthusiastic in the video, including when giving such descriptions as “a decadent ode to desire & celebration of male beauty,” exquisite, delectable, the actors attractive and winsome. And taking pains to describe the actors as attractive, saying this is in the manner of countless homosexual romance novels, as though one is familiar with such material? Very odd. And some of your comments here trying to downplay the age difference- he’s of the legal age of consent, see!? Why even go there? I don’t see how anyone could take away a word of caution certainly from the video, which is what most people will probably take the time to see.

          • David,

            A critic reviewing a movie usually wants to address at least two audiences: a) those who agree with or are sympathetic to his take and b) those who do not agree or are not sympathetic. (A good critic, I mean, as opposed to a hack who only wants to preach to the choir.)

            In debate, a persuasive polemicist or apologist must be able to state the other side’s case as fairly and strongly as they would state it themselves, before refuting it. In the same way, a critic who wants to critique a movie’s worldview has the burden of offering a persuasive account of what it is that the movie wants to do, and for whom, and how, and how effectively it does it.

            If he can’t do this — if he has nothing to say about the film except what he didn’t like about it — then the film’s fans can say, not unreasonably, “He just doesn’t get it.” Not only that, the critic does a disservice even to the readers who agree with him, since he offers them no insights that will enable them to talk more persuasively about the film with people they know who are sympathetic to the movie.

            This is why, from the day I started reviewing movies 18 years ago, my approach has to reviewing acclaimed but problematic or objectionable movies has always been to be scrupulously fair in giving the movie every benefit of the doubt, saying all that can be said on its behalf and appreciating everything about it that can be appreciated, before rendering whatever judgment against it I have to render.

            This approach, with some variations, is how I wrote about The Last Temptation of Christ, Kinsey, Brokeback Mountain and The Golden Compass. And it’s what I do here. So, yes, the attractiveness of the actors and so forth is relevant; it is part of the film’s seduction.

            There is something of a balancing act here, and I agree with you that in my video review I got the balance wrong, and it’s entirely understandable that many readers got the wrong idea. That was my fault, and I take full responsibility for it. See my Call Me By Your Name Q&A for more.

            On age difference, see my latest response to Ranger01. And you misheard or misremembered: I said “countless heterosexual romance novels,” not “homosexual.” In other words, I was making the same point I made here (with more space) about “Harlequin Romance bodice-rippers.” Important difference!

  9. Let’s just be honest. This film is another step toward normalizing “inter-generational” relationships i.e. pederasty. If it was about a priest and a boy what do you think the reviews would say? Give it about 30 years and what is now forbidden will be perfectly legal, thanks to films like this one.

    • Anon,

      7 years is not “intergenerational.” There is nothing “forbidden” about this age difference in itself.

      The Church’s canon law allows a girl/woman to marry at 14 and a boy/man at 16. Elio is 17.

      He is of the legal age of consent in Italy, both today and in the 1980s when the story is set.

      That doesn’t mean he’s emotionally mature enough to make the decisions he does, or that Oliver’s relationship with him isn’t manipulative or abusive. And certainly it is profoundly harmful and gravely wrong.

      • Deacon, Really?
        Like you, I have seven children. And if my seventeen year old was ever the target of a man or woman of the age of the man in this film, my baseball bat would come out of the closet in a heartbeat, in no uncertain terms.
        As any father with an ounce of spine would also do.
        Seven years difference from age seventeen is a hell of a difference than seven years from age twenty one. And you know it.
        You compare sacramental Canon Law to this abomination? Please, enough BS.

        • I’m not comparing anything to anything, Ranger01.

          There is no question that Oliver and Elio’s relationship is immoral and harmful on several levels. And the age difference between them is, indeed, a major concern — one that has reasonably led many people (including gay critics) to consider the relationship abusive and manipulative, on top of the other problems we would cite.

          My point is a very modest one: We can’t say, simply on the grounds of age difference, in the absence of any other considerations, that any relationship between a 24-year-old and a 17-year-old is automatically, necessarily abusive and manipulative, on top of whatever other problems may be present. (And we certainly can’t call it “intergenerational.”)

          If any relationship between a 24-year-old and a 17-year-old were automatically, necessarily abusive and manipulative, then a 24-year-old marrying a 17-year-old would be an abomination that should never be permitted.

          Yet in fact perfectly proper weddings between 24-year-olds and 17-year-olds have been celebrated in Catholic churches and in other contexts, and that neither canon law nor Catholic moral theology or anthropology regards this as an abomination.

          And in many cases, if you tried to take your baseball bat into that situation, or to indict the father’s spine for the absence of his baseball bat, you would be in the wrong. This is not in any way to challenge your paternal sentiments about your 17-year-old and your baseball bat, but you are not all fathers and (here’s the key) your 17-year-old is not all 17-year-olds.

          Around the world and in human history there have been many people who at age 17 or even younger were emotionally, socially and developmentally ready for marriage. And many of them have honorably and properly married spouses significantly older than themselves.

          None of this, of course, makes Oliver and Elio’s relationship “honorable and proper” (which it couldn’t possibly be). Nor does it make it non-abusive. But whether it is honorable and proper is one question, and whether it is abusive is another — and neither question can be decided simply on the basis of the age difference alone.

          Hope that makes sense.

          • It doesn’t. Why are you comparing heterosexual relationships with a seven year age gap to a homosexual one with the same. That’s like comparing a croissant to a cantaloupe. We get that an age gap may or may not make a difference between a man and a woman but in the case of a homosexual couple, the relationship shouldn’t be happening in the first place so who cares about the niceties? Reading between the lines it seems that you are trying very hard to not justify something you really don’t condemn. Your initial video review – its tone, vocabulary and purpose – that’s what you really think. And it’s not surprising. The Church is “evolving”. Truth is becoming relative to circumstance. It’s being subject to “discernment”. Adultery isn’t really adultery if the people doing it have “special” circumstances, like being super nice or looking good in wedding attire. Homosexual relationships aren’t necessarily bad if they are a “ learning experience”. Contraception isn’t morally wrong if the intention is good. And so on. This nonsense is not what Our Savior suffered and died for. It’s not what His Church has taught for more than two millennia. It’s not what thousands of Catholics sacrifice themselves for either by choosing the road less traveled in their daily lives or through martyrdom. It smacks of convenience and Protestantism. We have enough of that in this world. You can’t have Christ without His cross.

      • SDG,

        There are plenty of movies that pushed the envelope farther. But this is how it starts. Just skirt the edge. Make it just within some vague sense of reason. Take a 17 year old who looks younger, that way when you do one with a 14 year old it won’t shock as much. I remember a British series that had a teacher and a 15 year old, in the US they redid it and used a 17 year old. Drip drip drip…

        In the US the bishops set the minimum age for marriage at 18. The code was left with those ages at the request of bishops from poor countries where people don’t live very long and marry younger. Do you really think a 14 year old should marry? I know some people who would agree with you that 14 is a good start. They will say children have the RIGHT to engage in sex, after all they can now change their gender. If this were a movie about a priest and a 17 year old the reviews would have been scathing. Instead the media loves it. This is just another baby step toward lowering the age of consent. When that happens do remember my words. I estimate about 30 years max.

    • Anon, you are spot on. Step by step it will happen.
      The reviewer cannot or will not acknowledge that his responsibilities as a deacon in the Catholic Church take priority to his reviewing job. The pewsitters reader understands this better than he does.
      He has touched a raw nerve on this website and on the NCR website. He appears somewhat suprised and confused by the reactions. His responses are a form of linguistic and theological gymnastics.
      He will not simply say that anyone inolved in this type of poison risks eternal Hell, if not confessed.
      Along with, the message is so vile, it should not be given one nano-second of consideration as entertainment for any Catholic.
      For many centuries, up until fifty years ago, this is what any deacon worth his salt would have said. Bet on it.

      • 1. Nothing anyone has said has been even a little surprising to me. I’ve been doing this for 18 years. I’ve heard it all.
        2. Fornication and homosexual acts are grave matter. Grave matter + sufficient reflection + full consent = mortal sin. Unrepented mortal sin will send you to hell. I teach this all the time and I have no trouble saying it.
        3. However, a movie review is not catechesis. A person in Catholic media recently told me, “A lot of readers don’t want a movie critic right now, they want a catechist.” Sorry. I do catechesis and I do movie reviews, but I keep the roles pretty distinct. (For instance, I have never mentioned a movie in a homily. Not once.)
        4. My pastor and my bishop will tell me my duties, but thanks for your concern!

      • I agree. He is precisely supposed to be reviewing matters from a Catholic perspective, as a Deacon. If we wanted some secular, “balanced” perspective we would go somewhere else. The video review reflects his real thoughts on the movie, which are clearly positive, not expressing any serious qualms about it. The written review seems an effort to downplay the video. I would go so far as to say that anyone not knowing him might think he is homosexual. (I know he’s married but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.) Among other things, notice his demeanor and excitement in the video, including when he talks about sexual awakening, the attractive actors, celebration of male beauty, etc.; his use of terms like “hetero-normativity;” and I see he read the book. I’m sure he will tell us it was necessary to do the movie review…

        • As an addendum my purpose was not to claim Greydanus is homosexual, but that his statements and such relative to the film one might tend to associate with someone who has no objections to such, i.e, from his statements and demeanor in the video one would not know he is a Catholic and a Deacon and holds certain teaching relative to the issue.

          • Chris,

            1. I have not read the book.
            2. If you read my Brokeback Mountain review, you would know I condemned it precisely as an attack on heteronormativity.

          • Leslie,

            As G.K. Chesterton noted, there while there is only one angle at which a man stands upright, there are many angles at which he can fall. In the same way, if I had called Brokeback Mountain “an attack upon the normal,” it would not be clear what I mean, i.e., in which direction the film falls. Calling it “an attack upon heteronormativity” clarifies that. Hope that makes sense.

        • Using the word “heteronormativity” at all is playing into the hands of those pushing perversion. The word ought to be just “normal.”

          The same goes for using “homophobia.” It is allowing advocates of perversion to claim that moral objections are no more than irrational fears. (It’s even stupider because “homophobia” literally means “fear of the same;” what’s next, are people who say that pedophilia is evil going to be called “pedophobes?”)

          • Leslie,

            When you say “normal” I’m not sure in context what you mean. I suspect you might mean “heterosexual,” but “heteronormativity” is something different. “Heteronormativity” is the view that heterosexuality is normative — i.e., in some way the proper, healthy or natural state for human beings — and that other sexual orientations or preferences are in some way disordered.

            So if you are attracted to the opposite sex, you are heterosexual, and if you believe that being attracted to the opposite sex is the proper, healthy or natural state for human beings, you have a heteronormative worldview, along with

            Brokeback Mountain wasn’t an attack on heterosexuals, but it was an attack on heteronormativity, and thus to historic Christian sexual morality. That is why my review excoriated it.

          • ““Heteronormativity” is the view that heterosexuality is normative — i.e., in some way the proper, healthy or natural state for human beings — and that other sexual orientations or preferences are in some way disordered.”

            The view that heterosexuality is normative – i.e. is the proper, healthy, natural state for human beings, and that other “sexual orientations or preferences” are in some way disordered, *is* normal.

          • Leslie,

            This goes even more for Greydanus’ use of terms like “gay” and “LGBT” and all that these terms imply, including support of the notion of gender ideology, i.e. “transgender.” This is not the Church’s language and the fact that someone is seeing the matter through this lens is one thing that set off alarm bells, especially from someone who should know better (a cleric).

          • David – yes, “gender” is the word you use if you’re discussing grammar. “Sex” is the appropriate word when discussing people.

          • SDG,

            Simply by using the word “heteronormative” you are ceding a massive amount to the supporters of perversion by allowing them to make up words and impose them. Look up the origin of the word: “Michael Warner popularized the term in 1991,[2] in one of the first major works of queer theory. The concept’s roots are in Gayle Rubin’s notion of the “sex/gender system” and Adrienne Rich’s notion of compulsory heterosexuality.[3] From the outset, theories of heteronormativity included a critical look at gender;” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heteronormativity#Origin_of_the_term” I refust to cooperate with their viewpoint even to the extent of using the words they invent.

            I didn’t read your review of Brokeback Mountain. I didn’t read other reviews, either; just knowing generally what its plot was sufficed for me to know that it was filth, not to be watched, and whether it was well-filmed or well-acted was irrelevant.

            You write, “but it was an attack on heteronormativity, and thus to historic Christian sexual morality.” You could quite easily simply have said it was an attack on historic Christian sexual morality (although surely that should at the bare minimum be “Judeo-Christian”), or an attack on historical sexual morality regarding sodomy, or something else that wouldn’t have involved adopting words invented by those doing the attacking.

            (By the way, hope I’m putting this reply in the right place. While it is completely off-topic I must say that I still loathe this new website and the new way of doing comments, because it makes it nearly impossible to keep track of articles as they disappear into one of a large number of different categories once they’re off the main page).

          • “Loathe….”? Ouch. Alas, the other comments configuration came with its own set of headaches. You’ll have to trust on me that count.

    • There is nothing wrong with legal intergenerational relationships that do not violate church teachings. In Catholic countries, the age of consent has actually risen with secularization.

      From what I know of church doctrine, gay relations between a man and a minor who is above the legal age of consent are not viewed as any worse than gay relations between two men who are legally adults. In either case, it’s unacceptable.

  10. I am very sympathetic with Greydanus and how he got in this jam. For a long time I’ve thought that for a Catholic being a movie reviewer is the most morally dangerous job in the world. For one thing, movies themselves are morally formative and intended to be morally formative according to the morals of the producer/director/writer. More than once after an extensive period of movie and video viewing I’ve have caught myself recommending a movie and shocking people by my recommendation. And this gave me pause. What had happened?

    Over a period of time my tastes and sensibilities had become secularized. Without approving the morals of a movie character, for example, I had been able to enter into his mind and his situation. In other words, given this terrible, immoral situation, the drama, the humor, the plot were fascinating. The movie was well done. So I would say, “You’ve got to see this!” But this scandalized people. And they were right to be scandalized.

    So I have given up movies altogether, even though I know there are some good ones out there. Nevermind. I am staying away. Putting it differently, for the good of my immortal soul I do not want to hand over my mind to be formed by worldly producers. But this is Greydanus’s job. Through the movies he enters into the worlds and minds of many people and it cannot help but affect him. He would do better to leave that profession, but in the meantime I am sympathetic. The basic problem is that he was speaking about the unspeakable on the premise that it is alright to do so. Been there, done that. But in this he has a controversy with God whose Scripture warns us, “About such things it is shameful even to speak (Eph 5:12).” On that basis, the Catholic blogsphere was right to go nuclear.

    That said, and granting that the video review was scandalous, and granting also that there is nothing wrong with saying so, and with some heat, too, as I did in another blog, still it is also scandalous when the offended “little ones of Christ” lapse into calumny. With a minute and forty six seconds of video for evidence, many Catholics have felt free to call Greydanus’s sexual orientation into question, and to indulge in all sorts of other innuendo. But this too is dangerous. Why incur guilt?

    Long and short, a caution for all who make raids on the unspeakable: He who touches pitch blackens his hand (Sirach 13:1).

    • With all do respect, Mr. Greydanus, do reflect with prayerful sobriety on the 1936 papal encyclical on the Motion Picture, entitled “Vigilanti Cura.” It elucidates a certain tenet of Catholic religion on the subject of modern entertainment that your original video–subsequent apology and further defensive remarks up to this point–sorely lack. Namely, a robust amount of pragmatic deference to the inevitability of Divine Justice. Particularly note the section that reads:

      “These considerations take on greater seriousness from the fact that the cinema speaks not to individuals but to multitudes, and that it does so in circumstances of time and place and surroundings which are most apt to arouse unusual enthusiasm for the good as well as for the bad and to conduce to that collective exaltation which, as experience teaches us, may assume the most morbid forms.

      The motion picture is viewed by people who are seated in a dark theatre and whose faculties, mental, physical, and often spiritual, are relaxed. One does not need to go far in search of these theatres: they are close to the home, to the church, and to the school and they thus bring the cinema into the very centre of popular life.

      Moreover, stories and actions are presented, through the cinema, by men and women whose natural gifts are increased by training and embellished by every known art, in a manner which may possibly become an additional source of corruption, especially to the young. Further, the motion picture has enlisted in its service luxurious appointments, pleasing music, the vigour of realism, every form of whim and fancy. For this very reason, it attracts and fascinates particularly the young, the adolescent, and even the child. Thus at the very age when the moral sense is being formed and when the notions and sentiments of justice and rectitude, of duty and obligation and of ideals of life are being developed, the motion picture with its direct propaganda assumes a position of commanding influence.

      It is unfortunate that, in the present state of affairs, this influence is frequently exerted for evil. So much so that when one thinks of the havoc wrought in the souls of youth and of childhood, of the loss of innocence so often suffered in the motion picture theatres, there comes to mind the terrible condemnation pronounced by Our Lord upon the corrupters of little ones: “whosoever shall scandalize one of these little ones who believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone be hanged about his neck and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea”.

  11. A very good, insightful review. I appreciate how well you always manage to write about the themes and content of a movie while also setting them in the context of Catholic social and moral teachings.

  12. So which is it? Did Oliver give Elio something “precious” and “enviable” or was he “harmful” and “abusive”? Was the father’s reaction to his son’s behavior “powerful”, “paternal”, and “moving” or filled with “incalculable harm”? This film review reads like jabberwocky. I think the deacon was trying to cover for his initial review of the film which was his true impression. That’s not good.
    This movie depicts and promotes an evil that no decent person should advocate or excuse. The deacon may wax rhapsodic over the Italian scenery and cuisine, but as a member of the Catholic clergy, he knows that all of that is irrelevant to the sin itself. This movie presents homosexual acts in a positive light. It promotes parental approval of these acts. The two young men create a hell for themselves despite the bucolic atmosphere. They risk their health and their souls to indulge their perverse lust for one another. The father in the film should have condemned his son’s behavior and helped him seek redemption from it, not practically pat him on the back and advise him that it was a learning experience. This film is immoral and repugnant. That’s all you need to know and that’s all the deacon had to say. Don’t see it.

    • Maryann Ragan:

      It should be clear to any attentive reader that “precious and enviable” is my analysis and summary of the movie’s perspective; it is not what I think.

      What I think (as should also be clear to any attentive reader) is that it is anything good in their relationship is “tragically disfigured,” “stunted and distorted” by their illicit sexual acts.

      The father’s response to his son was powerful and moving in its expression of his love and tenderness. It also articulated a point of view that inflicts incalculable harm on the world. If we can’t deal with this kind of double-edgedness in a film, our approach to the real world will probably be pretty blinkered.

      • What is so very clear to “any attentive reader” is that the video is your instinctive first and genuine response to this poisonous film. You chose what to say and how to say it. You chose the tone, the facial expressions and hand movements which all expressed complete enthusiasm for the film. This is what everyone saw and saw clearly. So clear, that it has caused an uproar beyond your imagination and understanding.
        It is an uproar which, for my part, is now over and done and ancient history. I’ve better things to do.

        • “This is what everyone saw and saw clearly.”

          Not at all. I see no contradictions between this review and SDG’s video review, and the video review was filled with criticisms, especially the damning line about the father’s relativistic speech. As to tone and facial expressions, you should really learn the difference between speaking with inflections to engage your subject matter and promoting everything about a movie.

          “It is an uproar which, for my part, is now over and done and ancient history. I’ve better things to do.”

          And yet, you’re still commenting here.

          • I don’t know which video you watched, but in the video I saw the deacon clearly embraced the film and gave scandal by doing so. He took it upon himself to become a member of the Catholic hierarchy and as such, he has a profound responsibility to promote, protect and truthfully postulate the teachings of the Catholic Church, even when he is critiquing a film. He was wearing his collar in the video. Evan is right.

          • I saw a video in which Deacon Steve described the movie thus: “Self-indulgent and wish fulfilling in the manner of countless heterosexual romance novels and cinematic equivalents, it’s also more explicit in the heterosexual encounters than the same sex ones to avoid alienating too many straight viewers. A closing speech shows that Guadagnino isn’t above explicitly summing up the tolerant seize the moment moral a move as obvious as Chalamet’s acting and the last shot is subtle.”

            Literally none of the above is complimentary, and that’s how he concludes the video review.

      • If that is your argument, then Christ’s words were “blinkered” too. He was pretty clear when He reproached the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and when He overturned the merchants’ tables in the temple. He also didn’t mince words when He spoke of eternal damnation for those who did not hear His words and keep them. That Jesus could be so annoying at times.
        A father does not love his son when he embraces the evil his son has committed. He is doing him a great disservice. It seems to me that what you think twists with the proverbial wind. Or the latest slew of negative comments. As a member of the Catholic clergy you should not have given even the semblance of deference to this film. But what do I know. According to you, I have ADHD.

    • No. It’s not complimentary. It also isn’t clear and rather pompous. Who cares if some sex scenes are more explicit than others and who that might offend. There shouldn’t be any. That should be his point. The Catholic Church teaches that sex belongs within the confines of marriage, should always be open to life, and should never be perverted, even in the marital bed. It’s a hard teaching, but it’s right and true. There is nothing Catholic about this movie. Its purpose is to persuade that the older and younger gay couple experienced something good and life changing, worthy of accolades and acceptance, especially since it took place in Italy with all that gorgeous scenery and mouth watering food. Bad movie, bad message. The deacon missed the mark.

  13. “Grave matter + sufficient reflection + full consent = mortal sin.”

    As an aside to all the unpleasant naysaying here, I will say “sufficient reflection” has always mystified me a bit. It’s like this great catch all that exonerates everyone. “I mean, I knew I shouldn’t, but then…” Just saying…

    • If we are to understand you correctly, Deacon SDG, dealing with the “Double-edgedness” of the “real world” requires us to practice a kind of skitzophrenic-pathology of the Faith, whereby we possess our ‘professional’ hat and our ‘religious’ hat. (E.g., I may neutralize my Christian obligation to protect children from the scandal of evil so long as it affords me a certain degree of societal acceptance?) The key is to tone down the virtue of Piety at crucial moments in order to benefit from Mammon while simultaneously partaking in the redemptive merits of Jesus Christ… Is this correct, Deacon?

      Another point that deserves disambiguation is how a relationship such as the fictitious one portrayed in the movie can be even potentially “good”? Is it only “illicit sexual acts” that are disordered; while the affective-interior desire to commit sodomy is something NOT disordered? (Keeping in mind Jesus Christ’s doctrine that “even looking at someone else lustfully” is always evil [Matthew 5:28]). How can the relationship celebrated in this movie have anything even potentially “good” as Deacon SDG suggests, if its very historical starting-point is an inward assent to diabolical temptation? Is there such thing as a “good” instantiation of the dignity of the human person being trampled upon for the sake of gratifying interior-lust?

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