Once in a while, a great movie comes along that features no explosions, no special effects, no capes, and few recognisable faces if any at all. What they do have, however, is space to tell a wonderful story with greater depth and complexity than any franchise movie can hope to achieve. And in contrast to franchise films, ‘indie’ filmmakers rarely give out any explicit details as to what might happen outside of the running time. The cast and crew might know, or else construct their own versions of a character’s back story in order to establish a context, but everything else is left up to the audience.
The audience is offered a neatly packaged product with every ounce of care and attention poured into that singular unit of time, and that’s a gift. We then take that gift and place it on the shelves among the memories that construct our own consciousness, our perceptions, our understanding of the world. To be given the freedom to interpret a film is one of the things I love most about watching movies. If I come out of the cinema feeling my mind has shifted, still processing the situations on screen, or even vowing to learn some ballet (yup, thank you Billy Elliot. It never actually happened. The idea is hilarious now), that film will be remembered.
But when filmmakers decide a sequel is necessary, that they want to better explain the before and/or after, or tie up loose ends, my heart sinks. That filmmaker has presumably already proven successfully that they can create something magical and original without the necessity for context or prior knowledge, so just make another awesome original movie! Sadly though, that viewpoint doesn’t fit with the industry which is, at the end of the day, the film ‘business’.
Film writer Chloe Kent wrote a great piece for Dirty Movies entitled ‘Call it by another name’ lamenting the negative impact a sequel might have on the cultural phenomenon that is Call Me By Your Name. The LGBT masterpiece is a beautiful, peaceful snapshot of a journey that two people go on over the course of a summer. It is but a heartbeat in a much bigger life, a solitary experience hidden in the Italian countryside, an island to which the characters escape from their realities. And it’s the same for the audience as Kent so eloquently puts it: “A world where you’re welcome to come and look, but unfortunately where you can’t stay.”
Now, there’s talk of a sequel which will add to the virtuous discourse, but I can’t imagine what route they could take that will not do damage to the innocence of the original. People like to speculate about what might happen next to the characters they love in any film, but that’s the magic of it: speculation and wonderment. Yes, it seems that a lot is left unsaid and unresolved at the end of Call Me By Your Name but I have two responses to this:
- That’s life. So little of our everyday lives, human interactions, relationships are tied up with a pretty bow and displayed in a trophy cabinet of perfect experiences. That’s exactly what makes Call Me By Your Name such a great story: it’s honest. And it’s not just young LGBTQ+ people that this story speaks to. Adolescence and early adulthood are messy. We’re all exploring ourselves, our purpose, our bodies; fumbling through what we perceive as ‘right’ and trying to piece together all the confused fragments of our lives.
- That final scene in which the camera holds Elio’s face as he perches in something close to the foetal position, staring into the fireplace with muffling snow tumbling peacefully outside the window, provides all the awe-inspiring resolution the film needs. If you watch Timothée Chalamet’s face as closely as Guadagnino asks you to, you can see the whole story of the past two hours pass before his eyes. Every agonising emotion, internal struggle, euphoric fantasy is shown in the expression of the character; from sorrow to a sense of wistful nostalgia, back to an aching sadness and then finally to gratitude for a perfectly bewildering summer.
It is my firm belief that a sequel, which would apparently take place several years after Call Me By Your Name, may undermine the ‘be who you are’ narrative. In the solitary bubble of the Perlmans’ rosy Italian villa, every visitor can be their own true selves, masks and guards left far behind. The all too familiar themes of homophobia and family rejection are only implied once or twice – blink and you’d miss it – which makes it a uniquely rose-tinted gay narrative; one which deserves to be treasured. But with Oliver married to the sweetheart he left behind, that perfect space will be subjected to the wider world, delivering “a cold harsh dose of reality” (Chloe Kent) and diluting everything that was so special about it in the first place.
That said, there are fairly respectable foundations from which to pitch a possible sequel seeing as the source material by Andre Aciman has already given readers a postscript of sorts. Director Guadagnino explained, “The novel has 40 pages at the end that goes through the next 20 years of the lives of Elio and Oliver, so there is some sort of indication through the intention of author Andre Aciman that the story can continue”. He adds, “In my opinion, Call Me can be the first chapter of the chronicles of the life of these people that we met in this movie, and if the first one is a story of coming of age and becoming a young man, maybe the next chapter will be, what is the position of the young man in the world, what does he want — and what is left a few years later of such an emotional punch that made him who he is?”
I’m pretty confident that Guadagnino is capable of sculpting a good and certainly visually pleasing film as a follow-up for Call Me By Your Name, if he must, and I’m equally confident that I will make time to see it in the cinema, but some things are better left to be appreciated in their own unspoiled standalone origins. Even if, as in this case, their origins actually came long before the images made it onto the screen. Call Me By Your Name, in my opinion, deserves independent appreciation and the audience deserves to be allowed to adopt its characters, its context and its message in their pure and peaceful infancy.
In an industry increasingly obsessed by ‘world building’ and the creation of cinematic universes, it is hardly surprising that this mindset is spilling over into indie filmmaking as producers seek to capitalise on past successes. It’s not just Call Me By Your Name that is reportedly getting the sequel treatment. Jordan Peele’s low-budget satirical horror Get Out and Greta Gerwig’s personal coming-of-age triumph Lady Bird have also sparked interest. Peele says he is seriously considering revisiting the world that earned three academy award nominations, although he added “I would never want to do a sequel that just feels like for the sake of doing a sequel. I would have to have a story that I feel like would take it up a notch.” Meanwhile, Gerwig is planning a “series of spiritual sequels” to Lady Bird, all based in her hometown of Sacramento. It sounds like thematic and aesthetic cues might be all that is carried over from Lady Bird, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Just to show how deeply the sequel infection has penetrated, Den of Geek has a list of 153 sequels that are currently in the works (as of December). Here is a list of just a few of them with some context and thoughts of my own. Some are inevitable, some less so, and some are well-flogged already:
- An(other) Alien sequel/prequel – in Ridley Scott’s own words: “The whole point of it is to explain the Alien franchise and to explain the how and why of the creation of the alien itself”
- American Pie 5. FIVE.
- Infinite Avatar
- Baby Driver 2 – it would be the first direct sequel Edgar Wright has ever made. ‘The Cornetto Trilogy’ are all linked thematically, and only picked up the trilogy label retrospectively.
- Beetlejuice 2 – Tim Burton has apparently been persuaded to put together a follow-up to the ‘80s cult classic. Meh.
- Speaking of cult classics, the original Donnie Darko director, Richard Kelly, is planning on making a new sequel when he finds a gap in his schedule. It has already been revisited in 2009 with Darko, but it flopped so convincingly that it seems pop culture has tried to scrub it from the collective memory. A new sequel ought to help with that…hopefully.
- Top Gun 2 – are drones making pilots obsolete? You can be damn sure Tom Cruise and Jerry Bruckheimer are going to persuade the audience otherwise.
- Gladiator 2 – has Ridley Scott really got no new ideas? Also, Maximus is kinda dead… “I know how to bring him back”, Scott said of Maximus. “I was having this talk with the studio, ‘but he’s dead.’ But there is a way of bringing him back. Whether it will happen I don’t know. Gladiator was 2000, so Russell’s changed a little bit.” This lovable dog has been sleeping happily for 18 years. Let it lie.