Sufjan Stevens composed both "Mystery of Love" and "Visions of Gideon" for the 2017 film Call Me by Your Name, a coming-of-age story of a teenage boy who enjoys a fleeting summer romance with an older man.
The film's director, Luca Guadagnino, approached Stevens to contribute to Call Me by Your Name as a narrator, but the singer declined and agreed to record an original song instead. Eventually, Stevens offered Guadagnino two tunes.
Stevens was granted full creative control during the songwriting process and received inspiration from James Ivory's script and André Aciman's novel of the same name. The lyrics to this airy ballad are about romance and are not specific to the relationship between the two main characters in the movie.
Stevens had no idea how Guadagnino would use the songs in the film. "I wanted them to feel aesthetically and emotionally like independent works that could live on their own if they had to," he told The Wrap
. "I didn't want to correlate to the narrative too much - I wanted to keep it vague and universal, and I felt that I needed to convey a sense of transcendence and beauty in conjunction with a sense of loss."
Much of Stevens' material is based on personal experience. He said that he barely changed his normal songwriting process to write lyrics that would work in a fictional movie setting. "It's always very personal for me," Stevens said. "I tend to develop an approach that allows me to make myself complicit in the story of the song. I need to feel like I've done due diligence, so to speak, which is a matter of being really open and nonjudgmental and curious."
This was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Stevens performed the tune at the 2018 ceremony, joined by his regular collaborators Casey Foubert and James McAlister, along with Chris Thile, Annie Clark aka St. Vincent (formerly a member of Stevens' touring band), and singer-songwriter Moses Sumney.
The song features in Episode 1 of the second series of Big Little Lies. It plays during a scene when we see Jane Chapman dancing on the beach.