Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Love in the Time of Cholera -- Love and unfaithfulness
Taken from the novel of the same name by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera is a visually beautiful but sex-sodden exploration of love that spans half a century. Looking at young love, unrequited love, and elderly love, it raises three questions: 1) is there love at first sight, 2) can love remain over time if unrequited, and 3) can true love and unfaithfulness co-exist in the same heart?
Set in Columbia in the late 19th century, Javier Bardem (great in The Sea Inside, and an Oscar-winner for the cold-blooded killer in No Country for Old Men), plays Florentino Ariza, a telegraph boy with a romantic heart and warm-blooded lover's eyes. When he delivers a telegraph one day to a mule trader, he spots the beautiful daughter, Fermina (Giovanna Mezzogiorno). Florentino is smitten. He is in love with his first glance. He begins to pour out his heart to her in poetic letters, and is rewarded with her love letters in return. In a scene like that from "Romeo and Juliet" he proposes marriage and she agrees. But her father sees nothing in Florentina and relocates to put an end to this relationship.
Director Mike Newel (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Four Weddings and a Funeral) clearly portrays the reality of love at first sight in Florentino's experience. Further, he compares love-sickness with cholera, an epidemic prevalent at the time. As the disease claims so many in the city, the young Florentino appears to be a victim himself. But it is only his love-sickness, as he waits for the young Fermina to reply to his love letters. Love has taken such a hold that it affects his health. Both love and cholera lead here to physical distress.
Later, when they meet again, Fermina is a little older and more mature, and has taken on her father's characteristics. Instead of welcoming him, she pushes Florentina away. Rejected, he is crushed.
Cholera plays a key role in the film's development. When Fermina herself appears to have the disease, her father meets Dr Urbino (Benjamin Bratt). Urbano is the urbane and educated man he has been wanting his daughter to marry and she does. Over time, they have a family and grow old together.
At first Florentino sets his heart on remaining pure and faithful, though his love is unrequited. Yet, after an incident in which he loses his virginity, he jumps into sexual affairs with a wild abandon. Logging his conquests in his diary, this would-be Don Juan is simply using sex to medicate and dampen the pain of his lost love. His love for Fermina remains strong even as he beds anything in a skirt. He is willing to wait years (decades even), like Joseph did in his engagement to Rebekah, for his true love. Love answers the second question with an affirmative, although it begs the third question.
So, can a person remain faithful in his heart to another while commiting sexual unfaithfulness in his body? Love says yes, but is this really true love? Can we really separate the emotional from the physical? In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matt. 5:28). The internal thought, the lustful thought, is equated with the actual physical action. Inner life and outer life are interconnected.
But can we say we love someone if we jump into bed with someone else? Even in a latin culture where passion and emotion abound, it seems clear that this is antithetical to love. To love someone is to seek after their best interest, to care for them. How is satisfying our own sexual desires helping the person we love? As much as Florentino is a romantic South American, writing love poetry and wooing women, he is not a model for those striving to follow Jesus in authentic living and true loving.
Love in the Time of Cholera offers some thoughts on aging and love, a partnership that is often downplayed in our youth-focused culture. "I discovered to my joy, that it is love and not death that has no limits," says Florentino. Even at the end of his life, his love for Giovanna burns fiercely. In a monologue that unwittingly overflows with religious significance, he says, "Age has no reality except in the physical world. The essence of a human being is resistant to the passage of time. Our inner lives are eternal, which is to say that our spirits remain as youthful and vigorous as when we were in full bloom. Think of love as a state of grace, not the means to anything, but the alpha and omega. An end in itself." Age does not prevent him from loving the love of his youth. Love, indeed, has no limits. Love, in fact, transposes time. Whatever our physical age, we can experience eternal love, a love from the Father (John 3:16), and we can express love as we have known it from our youth.
Copyright ©2008, Martin Baggs
at 7:00 AM