The big, emotional speech in Call Me by Your Name wasn't that hard to write
In the lead-up to this year’s Academy Awards on March 4, EW is taking a closer look at some of the screenplays honored in the original and adapted categories. Each weekday between now and Oscar night, a nominated writer will break down a single scene that was essential to the stories they were telling and explain how the pages came together.
After the flirtatious and then passionate love affair between Elio (Oscar nominee Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer) comes to a close near the end of Call Me by Your Name, it’s the former’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) who comes to the rescue with some wise words and some hints of similar feelings from the past.
The scene is a complete knockout. Professor Perlman is kind and clear, but forceful. He understands that his son’s emotional health and attitude about love is on the line, and he’s not going to waste a chance to set things right.
When it came to adapting the scene from André Aciman’s novel, James Ivory didn’t have to do all that much. “It was one of the easier scenes to do,” he said. “Basically, it was all there. I had to take little bits and pieces out of it that slowed it down, but it’s all there.” And though Ivory may undersell his contribution, the screen version stands as a careful balancing act worth exploring.
JAMES IVORY: “This scene was in the novel and came at the same point in the story. The sheer length on the printed page was going to be the biggest challenge. It would have to come at the end of the film, and usually you shy away from long speeches the end of a movie. The audience usually isn’t in the mood to listen, and they’re already thinking that it’s almost over and the story’s already been told. I knew that I would have to tighten it up a bit, so it’s somewhat shorter than what’s in the novel.”
“There’s a kind of hesitation about it and yet a determination to go on and say what he was to say. He’s obviously thought about it a lot, and it all came through in a convincing way, I think.”
“The point he makes — when you’re unhappy, don’t kill the feeling by blocking out what had made you happy, that it hardens you — that was probably something new for many people in the audience, that idea. I hadn’t ever heard that expressed before in a film, or anywhere, really. It’s one of the things that people appreciate.”
“I basically didn’t change it at all. I used as much as I could, and I worried a bit about it. I thought that it breaks the rules of long speeches at the end of the movie, but it had to be there. It was a really necessary thing. I didn’t think how very important as a very moral summing-up the father’s attitude was, so I’m very pleased people like it so much and remember it. This morning, somebody on the street came up to me and said how very much involved she had been with that scene, that it made her cry, all those kinds of things. I’m happy that’s been the outcome.”
“Perlman’s story wasn’t an indication of bisexuality or a conflict or anything of the sort. Straight men do become very loving at times. I didn’t think in this case that that loving carried over into anything physical or erotic, that the basic love and affection was there, but it wasn’t carried as far as Elio and Oliver carried their friendship.”
“In the screenplay, as I originally wrote it, the mother and the father on two occasions in bed talk about how they’re very aware. The mother less so, but the father is aware and is not at all worried. The second time they talk about it, she definitely knows. I showed the screenplay to André Aciman when I was all finished, and after that we had dinner. He said that he would prefer that it not be said that the mother knew. He had his reasons, and I didn’t fight that. If the author tells you that, I think you should pay attention, so that was removed. You know when the father says that that the mother probably does know. After all, it’s the mother who suggests that the two of them go off on a little trip together.”
Call Me by Your Name