Spoilers below for Call Me by Your Name.
There’s a scene from Luca Guadagnino’s adaptation of Call Me by Your Name, involving Armie Hammer and a piece of stone fruit, that has already become one of the seminal moments of the film. Here’s a brief contour: Hammer, who plays grad student Oliver, is in the throes of passion with his younger lover Elio (Timothée Chalamet). One lazy summer day, Elio takes a couple of peaches from the family orchard up to his room, where he eats one and throws away the pit. Then he looks at the other, and has the (pre-emoji) realization that it looks like an ass. He fingers the peach, removes the pit, and masturbates with it, finishing inside of it. He leaves the peach, contents and all, on his desk and falls asleep. The pivotal moment comes next, when Oliver happens upon Elio and discovers what he’s done with the bruised fruit. Tender reader, it splits me apart to tell you this: Unlike in André Aciman’s original novel, Armie Hammer does not eat the peach.
I’m going to make the argument beloved by Reddit nerds everywhere and say, This isn’t canon. In the novel, Oliver unequivocally, devilishly eats the peach, and it’s a significant act, both narratively and thematically. Here’s the relevant passage from the book:
I watched him put the peach in his mouth and slowly begin to eat it, staring at me so intensely that I thought even lovemaking didn’t go so far…I could tell he was tasting it at that very instant. 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….I was crying because I’d never known so much gratitude and there was no other way to show it.
After he finishes the peach and Elio has a good cry, Oliver tells him, “Whatever happens between us, Elio, I just want you to know. Don’t ever say you didn’t know.”
The peach scene concerned Guadagnino because he knew it was significant moment for readers, and initially, he thought it was something you could only do in your imagination, rather than on film. At one point, he even considered cutting it entirely. “I didn’t want something that could be exploitative, sensationalist, or even involuntarily ridiculous. So it was a process, a long process,” he told Vulture. (That process included testing the limits of peach-fucking himself — Chalamet, in true dedication to the craft, did the same — and realizing that it is, in fact, totally doable.) What was eventually filmed is faithful to the book, until a point: Oliver finds Elio and the peach, gives him head, and asks, “What did you do?” Oliver then takes the peach, dips a finger into the hole, and has a taste. But here is where the film diverges from the original text: Elio bursts into tears just as Oliver is about to eat the peach. (In the book, as is outlined above, he does it afterwards.)
Why does this seemingly small divergence from the text matter? Because the peach is a metaphor, but it’s also a literal bridge between Oliver and Elio — a way for the two to be joined together. The book’s title, Call Me by Your Name, is something Oliver implores Elio to do after the two have had sex, and comes from a desire to blur boundaries between the self and other. There’s something particularly gay male about this constant mirroring: Elio wants to be Oliver, and in many ways sees him as a better version of himself. (The hellish modern Instagram iteration of this is “boyfriend twins.”) There’s certainly an entire thesis to be written about modern gay male narcissism, but I’m going to table that for now and simply say that there’s a way in which a younger man can look up to an older one and see an aspirational self. His desire is rooted both in the fact that he wants to be him as much as he wants to be with him.
I’ve noted this elsewhere, but this conception of gay male desire is drawn heavily from Aristophanes’s speech from Plato’s Symposium, the Socratic philosopher’s treatise on love. In that story, Aristophanes puts forth that the origin of love began when human beings — once round beings with two heads and sets of arms and legs — were split into two. Love is the search to find one’s other half, to become whole. According to Aristophanes, there were once three sets of beings — male-male, male-female, and female-female — but men who loved other men were the bravest and more courageous of them all, because they desired that which was like themselves and didn’t care about things like progeny. In terms of passing genetic material through sex, while heterosexuals have baby-making, gay men have cum-eating.
Softening the peach scene is indicative of a general squeamishness the film has towards the wilder, grosser parts of the book. Elio is a horny teen who finds in Oliver a man who’s willing to go to the edge of the cliff with him. In the book, Elio licks Oliver’s eyelids; Oliver puts his fingers in Elio’s mouth to help him throw up. Towards the end of their romance, there’s one scene where they share a hotel room in Rome, and Elio says he wants to see Oliver’s poop. “Our bodies won’t have secrets now,” Elio tells him. Then Elio wants Oliver to see his own poop, but Oliver does him one better: He kisses him, massages his stomach, and watches the entire thing happen. “I wanted no secrets, no screens, nothing between us,” he says.
It’s a bizarre, beautiful scene, precisely because Elio wants to get to a place where even the most private, mundane bodily functions become acts of intimacy. That’s what the peach signifies too. When Elio remembers the moment many years later, he says:
I had never been able to admit to myself how happy Oliver had made me the day he’d swallowed my peach. Of course, it had moved me, but it had flattered me as well, as though his gesture had said, I believe with every cell in my body that every cell in yours must not, must never, die, and if it does have to die, let it die inside my body.
Perhaps it was enough for Guadagnino to have Armie Hammer venture a lick, but as an avid purveyor of stone fruits, I can tell you: Get yourself a man who will eat the whole peach.