(HUGE SPOILERS ABOUND. SO IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IT YET, GO DO THEN COME BACK HERE TOO DISCUSS.)
Wow, Audz. You do have some rather strong thoughts (and similar feelings) already on CMBYN, though I disagree with you at least on some, maybe most, of your points.
First, I don’t agree at all that either the book or the movie are failures. When I read the book, I must admit, I wept the last part/the last hour of reading it. There may be reasons other than the book itself that contributed to that. But the book has stuck with me; I’ve read it several times since my first reading.
The movie has stuck with me too since I first saw it. And I’ve seen it several times since.
I dare say any book or movie that sustains that much attention from me, from critics (with 97% favorable on RT for instance) is not a failure. It’s often alluded to in Dramatica circles that a strong story form is probably what justifies movies having tip-top RT ratings. So I tend to think there is a storyform present here. It may not be immediately apparent, front and center, the way we typically look for it in American movies. This is a European director with European sensibilities, as you’ve noted. But it doesn’t mean a movie with more deliberative decision drivers rather than action drivers and with a slow-as-a-summer day pacing doesn’t have a story form. Consider taking another look at it.
If I recall correctly, another movie that CMBYN is compared too is “Moonlight,” which when it was first analyzed last year was deemed either a broken or incomplete story form. Since then Jim at Narrative First has reanalyzed it and outlined its correct and complete story form. Consider, you might be experiencing a similar gap in your reaction to this movie. I also think you're thinking of this, like many love stories are, as having an Obtaining story goal. It’s not. I believe it’s a Progress story goal.
Regarding the storyform itself, to start with, I disagree on the positioning of the throughlines you’ve mentioned. This is how I see it (BEWARE: SPOILERS ABOUND):
OS throughline is Universe/Situation: One could title this throughline “The Usurper” or “The summer Oliver came to stay with the Perlmans.” The setting of this Northern Italian paradise is a universe unto itself. The circumstance of Oliver coming to stay for six weeks (as an intern for Prof. Perlman) sets up situational dynamics that become concerns for all major characters. When Oliver arrives, Elio Perlman refers to Oliver as the “usurper” while Elio is packing things from his room to move out so the Usurper can move in. For the six weeks Oliver is staying, Elio has to sleep in a smaller adjoining room and, understandably, resents it. Professor and Mrs. Perlman are concerned with sponsoring Oliver’s internship and hosting him during his stay. Elio, his parents and Mafalda comment on Oliver’s behavior, how he is “arrogante” and says “Later” all the time. They refer to Oliver as the "muvi star" and, in the book, as "il cowboy." Malfada has to feed Oliver, wash his clothes, make his bed, even crack his soft-boiled egg open for him as he doesn’t know how to do it correctly (this is clearer in the book, but alluded to in the movie). Mrs. Perlman comments how Oliver is late for dinner and asks Mafalda to clear his plate away when he is not present for dinner. Marzia senses Elio's attention diverted from her to Oliver. Marzia’s sister, Chiara, is obsessed with Oliver. All these dynamics are in motion because of the situation of Oliver being there. So I think the OS is clearly in Universe/Situation. It boils down to Marzia loves Elio; Elio falls in love with Oliver. But Oliver leaves. The next Christmas, Elio is still dealing with the love he feels for Oliver when he finds out Oliver is getting married.
I want to note there is a beautiful symmetry in the relationships between Marzia and Elio, the knight and the princess in the “Speak or Die” fable, and Elio and Oliver. All three mirror each other. Marzia is afraid Elio will hurt her and is afraid to tell Elio she loves him but eventually does. The knight is afraid to tell the princess he loves her and asks her "Is it better to speak or to die?"; The princess says it's better to speak, but senses a trap. Elio is afraid he wouldn’t have the courage to ask a question like that, but summons up the courage (decides) to tell Oliver his true feelings. and thus moves their relationship into another realm. At least for a time; until Oliver leaves and decides to marry.
OS Concern = Progress. Elio’s sexual awakening is brimming that summer. He’s looking to make progress with Marzia, with a peach, and, after their friendship progresses, with Oliver. Elio tells Oliver he "knows nothing of the things that matter" and expresses his desire to make progress in that realm. Oliver and Elio consensually start a sexual relationship. Professor Pearlman wants to make progress with his archaeological dig. Marzia loves Elio and wants their relationship to progress. Chiara has the hots for Oliver and, it's assumed, wants to get in his pants. After Professor Perlman, when he realizes Elio and Oliver had deeply loving, probably sexual, relationship which has now ended after Oliver’s return to America, he urges Elio to not snuff out his feelings, and with it the joy he felt. Let the feelings come (progress), and then there's that absolutely brilliant final 3 minutes close-up shot of Elio. (More on that later.)
This would put the RS throughline in Fixed Attitude/Mind, which in my opinion fits the Elio + Oliver Love Story pretty well. In the beginning, Elio is fixated on Oliver calling him the “Usurper” and is resentful and annoyed by his arrogant behavior. But he’s also immediately attracted to Oliver too because of Oliver’s confidence, how Oliver wears his Star of David necklace openly and so boldly. Love stories often portray Love and Hate (or Dislike) as flip sides of the same coin/of the same mindset or fixation. We find out later in the story that Oliver was attracted to Elio from the beginning too, but felt (decided) he should restrain himself following the shoulder massage incident.
Another unique aspect of this RS throughline to consider is, while the movie is received by reviewers, critics and the audience mostly as a gay love story, one needs to consider that both Oliver and Elio are bisexual, and perhaps not strictly gay. In that respect, their sexual fluidity, as portrayed in the book and movie, are fixed aspects of each of them and thereby an aspect of their relationship. Given this, when a bisexual person chooses monogamy, as in the case of Oliver telling Elio he is getting married, they'd have to choose one of the sexes to marry. Someone inevitably, in this case Elio, will be disappointed. Just as Marzia maintains an unrequited love for Elio, Elio maintains an unrequited love for Oliver. Why is Oliver not returning love to Elio? That is a good question. Perhaps Oliver really loves his wife to be? Perhaps not? Perhaps he’s harboring internalized homophobia, and he’s afraid? If Oliver is the change character, what is his change? That he loves Elio, but ultimately gave up on Elio? The look on Oliver’s face before the train whistle pierced the scene was indicating something internal going on. So maybe the change was the confident American/Greek God turned out to be a wimp and turned his back on true love. Now that’s a tragedy.
Is there an argument for Elio being the change character? I don't think so. I can't see that.
The RS Concern is, I believe, in Preconscious. Elio’s innate reactions are troublesome in their relationship. Elio reacts to his “Laters” as evidence of arrogance. Elio’s reaction to Oliver massaging his shoulders is to recoil. After which, Oliver’s innate reaction was to avoid Elio and restrain his feelings toward him. Elio’s reaction after they kissed and he had the nosebleed and after Oliver got home late is to think Oliver is carousing with Chiara and to call him a “traitor.” (Elio’s imaginings of Oliver’s presumed sexual encounters with women are clearer in the book, but we do find out later in the book that Elio is mistaken about them.)
I believe the MC throughline to be in Psychology/Manipulation. Elio spends a lot of time thinking, obsessing over, and writing in his journal about Oliver. He fantasizes about Oliver. It is clearer in the book, but portrayed well in the red bathing suit scene. One can clearly imagine what Elio was fantasizing about with Oliver's red bathing suit slid over his head and his body raised on all fours rocking back and forth. Elio obsesses over the right wording on the note he eventually slips under the door: Can’t stand the silence. Need to speak to you.
The IC throughline I believe to be in Physics/Activites. See below.
I’m still working out further down the model, but it is not clear yet. I think IC Concern is in Doing, as Oliver’s is there to finish his dissertation, play poker, lay in the Italian sun. He’s running into translation troubles with his dissertation and realizes some of what he’s been writing isn’t making any sense.
That would put MC Concern in Being/Playing a Role, which might be playing the role of the good host, showing Oliver around town, etc. There is even a direct conflict alluded to about this in the scene they get into the car to go to the lake; Oliver makes a sarcastic remark about him “playing the good host.” Elio pretends to be reading a book when Oliver catches him masturbating. He pretends to be asleep when Oliver comes in late. He doesn’t like pretending to like that Miami shirt the night “Sonny and Cher” come to visit. He pretends to be tired to excuse himself for his midnight encounter with Oliver. In general, at the beginning Elio pretends he doesn’t like Oliver when he does.
The rest is a little sketchier, but I think some of it is:
MC Resolve: Steadfast. Elio doesn’t give up his drive to progress. And even as the story closes, he stills loves Oliver, even though he’s getting married to someone else. This steadfastness of love mirrors Marzia's steadfast love for Elio she expresses near the end.
MC Growth: Start
MC Approach: I think is Be-er.
Limit: Timelock. Elio and Oliver run out of time. Before that, they talk about how they wasted so much time. The six weeks are over, and Oliver goes back to America. Oliver tells Elio he is getting married in the spring.
As far as outcomes, you won’t believe this, but I think the story outcome could be Success. This is not an Obtaining story in which one needs to get the guy to succeed. I believe the story goal is in the realm of Progress. It’s a coming of age story. And Elio’s relationship with Oliver, even if it was timelock limited, allowed Elio to progress, to awaken, to experience “first love”. I think there’s a natural tendency for audiences to want obtaining outcomes as the resolution of love stories (the guy gets the girl, the guy gets the guy, or whatever). Or, if it’s an obtaining tragedy, the guy doesn’t get the guy or girl, or one of them dies, and it’s sad because they lose them. I think the tendency for audiences to want obtaining outcomes resonates in tension with the actual story goal of CMBYN which is in Progress. Also, what’s wrong with reaching a goal of progress and acknowledging it for what it is? Why does one have to keep reaching backward for it, trying to get back there to it, again and again, chasing the high, when it’s not the same anymore?
The Story Driver is debatable. But I think it is Decision rather than Action. In the book, we find out at the end that Elio decided Oliver was the intern he wanted his parents to pick and then made sure they did. So Elio’s decision, at least in the book, is the whole reason for the story to exist. I think within the movie, Elio’s decision “to speak than to die” drives their whole coming together. Elio’s parent’s decision to have Elio accompany Oliver to the city before he takes off to America allows them their own special time together. Oliver’s decision to get married and tell Elio ushers in the brilliant 3+ minute final close-up reaction shot of Elio’s face as he processes the news and their relationship right before our eyes. I think this scene is sheer cinematic brilliance; it allows the audience to process the story subjectively with Elio, in and through his eyes while he gazes at the embers of a crackling fire, and while the movie is literally running out of time (the credits are running while all this is going on) further emphasizing the movie’s timelock limit.
In Elio’s reaction, while there is sadness there is also joy. And that’s the whole point of his father’s monologue at the end. Don't kill off the pain, and thus kill off the joy too. /you have to have pain with the joy. Elio gets it. In the end, literally as the credits are rolling and Visions of Gideon is playing we see on his face that he gets it. That’s your climax. It’s freaking brilliant.
This sense of the last scene keeps sticking with me. Is the fact that this movie is staying with me so much a result of it being a broken or incomplete story form? Could it be that the story judgment and perhaps the story outcome too are undetermined and up for grabs by the audience–for them to determine themselves and process along with Elio in the last few minutes of the film? So, there might be at least four story forms it could be (success-good, success-bad, failure-good, failure-bad) that the audience processes through themselves in their minds? Like a choose-your-own-adventure? Or an abstract painting on which you overlay the meaning? Is that even possible?
Even if it is broken like that, it’s kinda brilliant. I don’t think its failure, Audz… with all due respect.