A Musical Dream is the Heart of Call Me By Your Name

And I would say I love you
But saying it out loud is hard
So I won’t say it at all
And I won’t stay very long


By now, you’ve probably seen that Call Me By Your Name has received numerous nominations, widespread praise, and general adoration from moviegoers and critics alike. It’s an artfully shot indie film that made it to the big-name awards shows through its impeccable storytelling. And while the acting, cinematography, and production are undoubtedly incredible, what makes the film so utterly moving, so compelling to its core, is the music.

The film opens with an exuberant, jagged John Adams work for solo piano, aptly titled
“Hallelujah Junction.” This theme comes up over and over throughout the film, as a leitmotif for newfound love. The bright repetition of minimalism fits like a dream, illustrating first-love with a tantalizing palpability. In fact, the piano becomes a tool for love, not only sonically, but physically, as Elio and Oliver flirt through Elio’s various interpretations of Bach, and Elio spends his days toying with the instrument like he toys with Oliver. There is something dreamy about it, as it seeps through every crevice of the film, a sonic impressionistic fantasy. As the film opens, pictures and words are juxtaposed with brilliant strikes in Adams’ piano, and the atmosphere is exhilarating. Somehow, you are starting to feel love, even though nothing has even happened yet.

And that feeling simply grows as the film progresses.


Oh, oh whoa whoa is me
The first time that you touched me
Oh, will wonders ever cease?
Blessed be the mystery of love


Modernity finds its home in the seams of this film. Ryuichi Sakamoto’s lush orchestrations and mysterious piano haunts you as you watch two people fall in love, a romance so pure at its heart but so bittersweet at its end. The jagged edges of contemporary art music are not to be ignored. They illustrate the fear, the worry, the thrill of love. There is a fantasy and a dream, a fantastical feeling and a dreamlike high of love, but there is a reality too. Maybe it cannot be forever, but the feeling is eternal, it is deep, it is pure. Ethereal sound feels like a mystery, it makes you think, it makes you understand just how Elio is thinking and feeling and hoping and dreaming. It elevates our understanding through the nuances of its orchestrations and sound qualities.

Not only does modern art music play a role in creating the dreamlike sonic atmosphere of this film, so does the master of quiet, thought-provoking, dreamlike indie pop: Sufjan Stevens. Let’s also note that he works in the world of art music, too (Planetarium, anyone?), but this film uses beautifully soft, quietly introspective indie Sufjan to further impact your soul as you watch.

The three songs of his that are spotlighted fit the arc of the storyline perfectly. The first is when you start to realize you are falling for someone: afraid to say so, but so desperately wanting to. Afraid of your feelings, but loving the new emotions nonetheless. The electrifying feeling of being touched by that person for the first time, the passion of the first kiss. Stevens writes of the beauty and the pain here, further illustrating the depth of love. His music isn’t outwardly emotional — there isn’t this exuberance that we hear every time the Adams leitmotif arrives. There’s an inward uncertainty, like the uncertainty Elio feels within himself. It’s the fear of something new that you feel so often as you grow up and come of age.

But like anything, the feeling becomes a part of you, and you don’t mind it. You sink into enjoying the mystery rather than fearing it, because it is something you want. And here is where Stevens’ second song comes into play, aptly titled “Mystery of Love.” It describes the ethereal feeling of love itself, again with a dreamlike instrumental backing Stevens’ soft and tender voice. There is something so incredibly magical about this song. It manages to balance those ever-creeping fears of love, because love is such an intangible yet very real thing, all the while illustrating how pure and true that feeling is. The complexity with which the music explores the meaning of love is what illuminates the depth of the film.

And then there is the inevitable end. All moments end, but memories are forever. With Stevens’ third song, “Visions of Gideon,” the feeling is more of a reflection and a realization than a sadness. Which is really the only thing we can feel when a moment hits its inevitable end. How can you be sad when you had something so real, something so unbelievably true? The piano comes back, haunting you like the memory always will. Introspection is the song’s strong suit, and why it fits the last moments so well, as Elio contemplates his memories. It is interesting to note as well that Gideon is a man of faith and of freedom in religious belief. Is there faith in memory, in the future, is there freedom in love? One can only hope so.

Music sets the tone for the unfiltered, raw passion that has given Call Me By Your Name its rightful acclaim. The mystery is in the keys of the piano, as is the complexity. The film is beautiful because it illustrates love as a reality, as a complex emotion. And the haunting accompaniment fits perfectly.

I have loved you for the last time
Is it a video? Is it a video?
I have touched you for the last time
Is it a video? Is it a video?

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