There were countless scenes from 2017 in film that I absolutely cherished, that truly changed my perspectives of what cinema could still do. As early as February, Jordan Peele shook me back awake with Get Out and the most audacious, bold and socially critical scene of film last year when we finally see the Sunken Place.
Dunkirk had masterfully edited and shot moment after moment (thank you Nolan, Smith and Hoytema), but the one that stuck with me is the death of George (Barry Keoghan) by the simple, frenzied mistake of Cillian Murphy’s unnamed character accidentally pushing him down the stairs — thus making apparent the tragedies and anxiety war brings to soldiers and civilians.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi featured countless memorable moments within the canon, but watching Luke walk out in front of the entire First Order, to selflessly and heroically give himself up (sort of) to allow Leia, Poe and Finn to escape, was an earth-shatteringly epic moment in a film full of them.
But to me, it was two goodbye scenes in two of the year’s most acclaimed films that emotionally devastated me unlike any other film did: the airport goodbye in Lady Bird and the train goodbye in Call Me by Your Name. The greatness of both lies in that the scenes take place later in their films, when both central characters — Christine “Lady Bird” (Saoirse Ronan) and Elio (Timothée Chalamet) — have almost gone through the entirety of their coming-of-age arcs. Yet, both films place an emphasis on the most important supporting characters in the films — Lady Bird’s mom Marion (Laurie Metcalf) and Elio’s lover Oliver (Armie Hammer).
In Lady Bird, Christine is about to go off to college in New York, and her mother and father take her to the airport. Her mother, though, is upset Christine did not make her aware of the financial burden that the NY school would put on her family, and she coldly drives away, leaving her husband (Tracy Letts) to say goodbye to Christine alone. However, as Marion begins to pull out, she realizes she’s leaving her only daughter at the most important part of her life. Marion, as performed by Metcalf, begins to cry and have a panic attack about her choice — and the camera just stays closely locked to her heartbreakingly lived-in reaction to what she just did. By the time she makes it back to the terminal, Christine is gone and she falls into her husband’s arms. It’s a tragic scene of a mother coming to terms with how important her daughter, for as much as they argue and disagree, means to her very being.
For Call Me by Your Name, the scene in question has a just-as-devastating meaning, but one devoid of any anger. Instead, Oliver is about to make his way back to America, after spending a long, romantic weekend with Elio alone after a summer at Elio and his parents’ home in Italy. The two must finally say goodbye to each other after being so intimate emotionally and physically over the past few weeks. Yet, it’s the 1980s and both characters have been private about their love for each other in public, possibly in fear of others not understanding the passion they share. So, when Oliver finally embraces Elio, not with a kiss, but a simple, friendly hug, as both fight tears coming to terms with this being the likely end of their love, Call Me by Your Name makes perfectly clear the intimate bonds people make with each other, as well the burgeoning heartbreak one feels when they have to say goodbye.
Both films, in their almost wordless simplicity of how people do or don’t say goodbye, captured the essence of love, familial and romantic. What could be more timely and important to life than knowing when it’s time to say goodbye?
Featured image via Sony Pictures Classics/A24.