Call Me by Your Name, a film directed by Luca Guadagnino and the play The Importance of Being Earnest, written by Oscar Wilde follows two contrastingly different works without a common theme. Nevertheless, both authors utilise irony in their chosen genres about love in order to criticise the expectations and hypocrisy present within each society. To further aid these criticisms, both authors strongly differ in their use of characterisations when developing antagonists
The use of antagonists within both pieces are contrastingly dissimilar, yet both accurately demonstrate the interference of affections by the importance of societal normalities. Distinctly unique to the film’s subgenre, Guadagnino does not characterise any individual as an antagonist, allowing the protagonists to fall in love with no demonization. Instead, the societal and religious expectations themselves play a role, presented within the boys’ subconscious. Paralleling Guadagnino’s criticisms, through means of satire, Wilde’s use of characterisations allows the intrusions of societal expectations to interfere within the protagonist’s relationships. Within Call Me by Your Name, Guadagnino utilises the symbol of water to display this characterisation, which presents itself as a ‘biblical’ purification. This is particularly the case for Oliver, who suffers from more internal conflict around his attraction than Elio. Swimming is habitually his idea, in which he often dunks himself in water when he feels impure. After they first consummate their love, the two wash themselves in a lake – and the composition and cinematography of the scene make it clear that they are keeping their distance from one another.
Contrastingly, Wilde’s use of characterisations is specifically shown through the depiction of Lady Bracknell within the story, who demonstrates the restrictiveness of marriage and love within upper class societies within the Victorian era. She quickly becomes the sole origin of complications within the plot, only motivated by situations in which she receives the pleasure of power. Her prejudices and expectations are further solidified when she means to marry her daughter to a well-off suitor. Rather than love and happiness, financial and social security take precedence, and she makes this clear in Mr. Worthing’s presence when she states she feels ‘bound to tell’ him that he ‘is not on my list of eligible young men’ Additionally, The symbolism of the fly goes along more with the theme that Elio’s father expresses to him: that you should not resist negative feelings. Rather than shooing the fly away sit with it, in discomfort, because joy and bitterness are inseparable. The fly appears on a few occasions, always when a character is shown to be in a state of emotional angst. At its first appearance, Elio first tries to blow it away, but then he decides to ignore it and masturbate whilst thinking of Oliver. Though subtle, this symbol is used with great effectiveness by Guadagnino, emotions approach you like a foreign force sometimes, in which they make you feel ashamed, dirty, or sorrowful. Nevertheless, pushing those negative feelings away also crushes your joys and desires.
Soundtrack and cinematography exist to emotionally complement the film’s atmosphere as a whole. Rather than observing, it works to immerse the audience as if they were a character themselves. Within the romance, Guadagnino’s use of closeups allows the audience to view Oliver’s emotions at times when Elio cannot. Oliver is trying to make a number of decisions surrounding the central idea of whether it is better for him to speak or to die. The first is whether or not he wants to speak or to die, like the knight. (He looks conflicted.) In the second, he’s deciding to go all-in with his love affair with Elio (He looks happy) and in the third, he’s deciding to leave all of this behind when he returns to America (He looks heartbroken.) The core of his character is that he doesn’t share these conflicts and feelings with anybody, instead he puts up a façade of confidence and strength in fear of appearing vulnerable. This is the big difference between Elio and himself. Elio accepts his feelings and shares them with others, whereas Oliver is characterised by privacy and self-denial. Rather than an afterthought, the soundtrack is often intertwined within the storyline with music, playing a role in verbalising what the characters cannot say themselves. Within the film’s third act, the protagonists travel to Bergamo while “Mystery of Love” plays over the film. Stevens’ breathy voice floats over deftly plucked guitar and mandolin strings; at times his singing barely rises above a whisper. The lyrics of the song read like Elio’s internal monologue, capturing the depths of his desire. Both the scene and song are imbued with a tinge of bitter sweetness however, because both characters know their time together is ending, and that the summer can’t last forever. Contextually, the film is also interspersed with ’80s music, firmly grounding the story in that decade. In the film, Elio is seen wearing a Talking Heads t-shirt, and a scene in a discotheque distinctly features the cast dancing to “Love My Way” by The Psychedelic Furs.
What relates these two contrastingly different works together is the creators’ use of irony in order to criticise each respective societies expectations. Within the importance of being Earnest, Wilde consumes his work with irony to highlight the satirical humour in regard to those living in Victorian society. This use of irony is particularly inherent in speeches or situations of a drama and is understood by the audience, yet not grasped by the characters themselves. The two types most prevalent in are situational and dramatic irony. Call me by Your Name’s similarly utilises situational irony, present on the day that Elio decides to break his silence about his desire for sexual intimacy with Oliver. he writes a note and slips it under Oliver’s door which states he ‘can’t stand the silence. I need to speak to you.’ On one hand, it is ironic for Elio to do this by means of a written note, considering that nothing stops him from simply speaking to Oliver. On the other hand, his request to ‘speak’ is an instance of verbal irony, as it is instead a veiled request for a sexual encounter. Comparatively, Wilde’s use irony comes into play when the truth starts to unravel, and Jack finds out what really happened to him as a child and why he does not know his parents. The irony continues to explain how Jack and Algernon were biological brothers. Most of the irony comes from this character. Furthermore, the greatest instance of dramatic irony within Call me by your name occurs during Elio’s father revelation that he knew about the affair all along. Although Elio suspects that his parents might know—based on the way that they decide to leave the phone line when Oliver calls from America, so that the two can speak alone—he only presumes this might be the case and feels indifferent toward the matter. When Elio’s father finally speaks to him about it, he takes it as an opportunity to impart life wisdom and help Elio to recognize that their relationship was special from the start.