Warning: spoilers for Call Me by Your Name are in the pit of this peachy post.
If you've seen Call Me by Your Name (or read the book it was based on), chances are one scene sticks out as particularly memorable, slightly graphic, and just a bit perplexing. One lazy, late-Summer afternoon, Elio (Timothée Chalamet) goes off on his own with nothing but a peach or two to keep him company. In a moment of sudden arousal and curiosity, he plucks the stone out of a peach and . . . well, he masturbates with it. And climaxes into it. On the surface, it may seem gratuitous and unnecessary. What, exactly, do we get from a boy f*cking a peach? As it turns out, quite a bit. The scene comes at a pivotal and crucial point in the story, and marks a grave turn towards the story's tragic conclusion.
In order to understand the complexity of the moment, we first have to turn toward the novel. And before we can even analyze the scene's contents, we need to talk about how it ends. Oliver finds Elio, who has fallen asleep after his tryst with the peach. Oliver discovers what Elio has done and then he . . . um, he eats it. Yes. The whole thing. Elio feels a sudden impulse to cry, and he lets himself. Here's a particularly telling passage from the book:
Something that was mine was in his mouth, more his than mine now. I don't know what happened to me at that moment as I kept staring at him, but suddenly I had a fierce urge to cry. And rather than fight it, as with orgasm, I simply let myself go, if only to show him something equally private about me as well. I reached for him and muffled my sobs against his shoulder. I was crying because no stranger had ever been so kind or gone so far for me, even Anchise, who had cut open my foot once and sucked and spat out the scorpion's venom. I was crying because I'd never known so much gratitude and there was no other way to show it. And I was crying for the evil thoughts I'd nursed against him this morning. And for last night as well, because, for better or worse, I'd never be able to undo it, and now was as good a time as any to show him that he was right, that this wasn't easy, that fun and games had a way of skidding off course that if we rushed into things it was too late to step back from them now — crying because something was happening, and I had no idea what it was.
"Whatever happens between us, Elio, I just want you to know. Don't ever say you didn't know." He was still chewing. In the heat of passion it would have been one thing. But this was quite another. He was taking me away with him.
His words made no sense. But I knew exactly what they meant.
The peach scene marks the moment when both Elio and Oliver surrender to their feelings. Just the night before, they had sex for the first time. Now, they are fully opening themselves to this love and letting it seep into their skin and their bones. This marks the point where they're in too deep, too far to wade back out of the water. It's sink or swim.
The moment pivots Oliver and Elio toward the end of the novel. Here, they begin their reckless, ephemeral romance in earnest. No more holding back.
Translating this moment to a cinematic experience was always going to be difficult. How could the film communicate the magnitude of a scene with just a boy and a peach? Ahead of the film's release, we attended a promotional press conference for the film. During the 30-minute Q&A, director Luca Guadagnino talked about the different aspects of the scene that came together to make it work.
"The evident heroes of the scene are Timothée [Chalamet] and Armie [Hammer], because they can make a roller coaster of that scene. You go from the curiosity and sensuality of Elio, to the tiredness of Elio, to the shame of Elio," he said. "And the curiosity of Oliver, and the aggressiveness of Oliver. And then finally the outcome of all is the sense of the time is passing and they're not going to be together for much anymore. So it's very up and down in a way."
It's true that the performances in this particular scene help add a lot of gravity to the moment. The cinematic version plays a bit differently, but the message remains more or less intact. Oliver doesn't consume the whole peach, but he certainly has a taste. Elio breaks down before he can go further.
Still, the break in Elio comes from the realisation of how much love he has for Oliver and vice versa. To carry the scene further, Guadagnino explained, it was all about how it was shot. "The real unsung hero is the wonderful Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, our cinematographer. Because when you shoot a scene like that, and you don't want to end up in a space in which people giggle," Guadagnino said. "You need focus and a concentration and a sort of devotion to the beauty in all things that this man has in his eyes. And I remember we were shooting the end of the scene when finally Elio cries on Oliver's shoulder, and Oliver, from being a sort of an aggressor, becomes immediately a welcomer."
Guadagnino further explained that the moment was especially emotional for Mukdeeprom, whose deep understanding of the scene likely came through onscreen. "We say, 'Cut.' And there was Sayombhu, in the far corner of the room, crying and weeping. Because he witnessed something beautiful happening there, but the kindness of his gaze was there."
With the performances and the cinematographer working together, the last piece of the puzzle was the director himself. "For me, it was about the peach. Literally. It was about the sensuality of what he wanted to process in his mind with the fruit. So, I focused on the taking of the peach as the real erotic moment."
So, there you have it. Yes, on the surface, the scene is about a boy f*cking a peach. But on a thematic, literary, and cinematic level, it means so much more.