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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Telegraph Boy

Love in the Time of Cholera (2007) on IMDb

Plot Overview

“Love in the Time …” is a saga of 50 some years, from about 1880 to 1930, centered on the turn of the [20th] century in Cartagena, a marine port in Colombia. “The dawn of a new century will see the end of man's suffering.” Right! It will bring: “harmony, peace, life”—or at least no more cholera. In the film as in real life, they jumped the gun on the celebration, a new century not beginning until the year ‘01’, i.e. 1901.

In typical fashion of Spanish books, allegories fold back on them­selves, and the actual opening scene in this movie is the passing away, by misadventure, of a great man (“He was a saint”), Dr. Juvenal Urbino (Benjamin Bratt). A second old man Floren­tino Ariza (Javier Bardem) hurries to the side of the grieving widow Fermina Urbino (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) and also jumps the gun a bit, telling her, “Fermina, I have waited for this opportunity for 51 years, … . That is … how long I have loved you.”

The movie is graced at one point with a civics teacher's explanation of “divided love”: “Love is every­thing we do naked, spiritual love from the waist up, physical love from the waist down.” The doctor was the “one goal” of Fermina's wealthy mule trader father Lorenzo Daza (John Leguizamo): “to turn my daughter into a great lady,” having her marry well. The old doctor died doing labor from the waist down, of climbing a ladder from which he fell. The mule is the beast of burden down below, the burden of marriage being to rear children. Young Floren­tino Ariza (Unax Ugalde) was a tele­graph clerk whose labor was more ephemeral, i.e. from the waist up, and whose keen ear after 50+ years picked up the bell tolling for the passing of a great man.

The tension of the film involves an early attempt at youthful courtship thwarted by a horse trader of the girl's father, “You're much too beautiful to marry a tele­graph operator. We have bigger fish to fry.” But a telegraph is a long distance medium, in a land where distance is measured in travel time, and Florentino had the patience to wait a long time for his love's avail­ability, but to what end? Those long tele­graph lines are supported by regular plantings of poles in holes, and the movie shows us how Florentino passed his many years in waiting.


Dr. Urbino was lauded as the benefactor of the community, along the lines of what Saint John of Kronstadt wrote in his diary: (52)

“He is near to his heart” is said of two persons of unequal rank, one of whom protects the other.  And the one who has been honoured by the protection of the higher person, and by being near to his heart, knows this, and is reciproc­ally near him in his own heart.  It is thus between God and those who serve Him with a pure heart: God is always near to their heart, and they are near God's heart.

The apostle Paul deserves similar consideration near and dear to the hearts of Christians for all his manifold care, (2Cor. 6:11-13) “O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged. Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels. Now for a recompence in the same, (I speak as unto my children,) be ye also enlarged.” Dr. Urbino saved Cartagena from cholera, and the apostle Paul saved the Corinthians from spiritual death. Every­body is appreciative or should be.

The movie doesn't show any particulars of how cholera was defeated except for quarantining the sick. That does, how­ever, parallel the next verse in Paul's epistle enjoining Christian separation, (2Cor. 6:14) “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: ...” And the unmixed ceremonies and functions of the Catholic Church are displayed here: mass, baptism & parochial school. Paul's reasoning for separation includes, (2Cor. 6:15) “And what … part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” Webster defines “infidel: one who is not a Christian or who opposes Christianity.” A union of a believer and an unbeliever was a stated concern of the Corinthians, which Paul addressed in his previous epistle, 1Cor. 7:12-16, so there were doubtless examples they could observe of infidels who were not wor­ship­ping with their Christian spouses, and from these draw the conclusion that mixing their religious practices is a nonstarter.

In our movie Floren­tino Ariza (Javier Bardem) claims to be a nonbeliever, although if he wants some­thing bad enough, he'll pray for it (“Keep her safe; protect her from harm”), so he isn't out­right opposed to Christianity. Dr. Urbino is a practicing Catholic, although he is “not made of wood” when it comes to temptations from all those beautiful women he treats. He must forsake an unhealthy entanglement, go to confession, receive absolution. Floren­tino for his part agrees to be god­father of the child of a couple he played match­maker to. (I'm just reporting inconsistencies, not explaining them.)

Fermina was ultimately given the “keys to your life” by her father once he saw she was mature enough to decide for her­self whom to marry. This reminds us of St. Paul's letter to Philemon concerning the man's run­away slave Onesimus who has since converted to the faith. Paul stopped short of commanding him what to do, trusting rather, (Philemon 1:6) “That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.” He'd figure it out himself.  The pronoun ‘you’ that Paul used there in Philemon displaces the customary ‘thee’ in the 1611 King James Version (KJV). As I mentioned in another paper English was going through a transitional stage at that time in which one's betters were addressed simply by ‘you’—except for the Quakers who didn't believe in classes so still spoke to any­one as ‘thee’ or ‘thou’. The man Philemon is filled with “every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus,” so Paul entrusts him worthy of respect to manage his own house­hold affairs.  Paul was willing to trust the Lord to, (Heb. 13:21) “Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well­pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ.”

1 Corinthians 7Paul's character of deferring to the believer filled with “every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus” shows up also in his advice to the Corinthians on matrimony. Paul the celibate eunuch wrote, (1Cor. 7:7) “For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.” He trusted each to find his proper gift “which is in you,” as they them­selves are “in Christ Jesus.” He explicitly defers to the widow abiding in the Lord, who (1Cor. 7:39) “if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.”

The denouement of the movie happens rather quickly at the end when Floren­tino has by now succeeded his uncle Leo (Hector Elizondo) to become President of the River Company of the Carib­bean. He offers Fermina an excursion on one of his boats to get away from it all, and she keeps him at a distance. For the return journey, how­ever, she seems to be warming to him, so he asks the captain “hypo­thetic­ally” if it would be possible to run the ship back with no passengers or cargo—he needs privacy for what he has in mind. The captain replies that it is possible, but only hypo­thetic­ally, because he has contract obligations to carry passengers and cargo. The only way to avoid those obligations would be if the boat were under quarantine, flying the “yellow flag” as it were. He is the master of the ship, but Floren­tino is his master. So he will do it, if so ordered … in writing.

By allegory that's been developed, the quarantine is paralleling the separation of Christian worship forms from other religions, and now we want to know if it can be applied to a developing union between a Christian woman and a non-Christian man. (1Cor. 7:13-14) “And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife.” Paul's answer here is framed in terms of an existing marriage of a Christian to an unbeliever, but he allows for such to apply to developing unions as well, (1Cor. 3:21-22) “For all things are yours; Whether … the world, or … things present, or things to come; all are your's.” In the horse trading of the world, which includes settling on marriages, Christians are part of it and may have acquired or may acquire obligations along the way. That makes separation from non-Christians in this sphere but hypothetical (i.e., it works only as a proof text, not as practical doctrine.)

In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul says he's, (2Cor. 4:2) “... not handling the word of God deceit­fully.” An example of deceit can be found when, (Gen. 34:13) “the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father deceit­fully, and said, because he had defiled Dinah their sister.” They told them they were allowed to inter­marry but were using a ruse to gain an advantage, because actually they weren't allowed. Paul wasn't being deceitful, so after he tells them in first Corinthians a mixed marriage is permissible, he's not going to tell them in second Corinthians it's not.

If you have a bishop, say, who is leading your church, he'd need a specific instruction in writing (i.e., in scripture) in order to take such separation prohibiting mixed marriages from the hypothetical to the practical realm. Some think to have found it in, (1Cor. 9:5) “Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?” The argument goes that permission for a Christian man to marry is restricted to marrying a sister in the Lord. How­ever, that is not how the Jews in Paul's day familiar with scripture would have under­stood his meaning, but by, (Gen. 24:60-61) “And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them. And Rebekah arose, and her damsels, and they rode upon the camels, and followed the man: and the servant took Rebekah, and went his way.” The servant was leading off some­body's sister Rebekah to be Jacob's wife. In this movie Fermina had a father, and later a daughter, who would be affected by a man leading her away as a spouse.

As a practical matter, breaking up the horse trading for marriage by the hypothetical doctrine of separation reduces marriage opportunity and thus opens a door for fornication, as the steam­boat ride did in the movie. In the deleted scenes, that smart parrot spouts, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, and “Do as you're told”, having been instructed from the Gospel of Matthew: (Matt. 5:27) “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery.” & (Matt. 7:21) “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

Production Values

The film, “Love in the Time of Cholera” (2007) was directed by Mike Newell. The screen­play was written by Ronald Harwood, adapted from the Gabriel García Márquez novel, “Love in the Time of Cholera.” It stars Javier Bardem, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, and Benjamin Bratt. The actors are great, except for John Leguizamo who was a bit quirky in his avuncular role here. The Brazilian actress Fernanda Montenegro was out­standing playing the facially demanding role of Florentino's mother—so many expressions! Mexican actress Ana Claudia Talancón had a very sexy on-screen presence as a married lover.

MPAA rated it R for sexual content w/nudity and brief language. It was filmed at Iglesia de San Pedro Claver, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia. The actors spoke English with an ESL accent. The movie did a good job of evoking the period, although there were some historical sticking points: the wedding was a Modern Catholic Mass instead of a Traditional Latin Mass celebrated in that period, the cattle on the drive were an Indian breed rather than long­horn that would have been there as in the movie “Red River”, and in the back­ground of the tele­graph office, would have been heard the continental Morse code used on land­lines rather than the later developed international Morse code developed for radio. The cinema­tog­raphy of Alfonso Beato is about the best feature of the film, framing human drama as well as capturing local color. The original song contributions by Shakira were a treat.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

This movie has a lot going for it, but it was unable to scale epic heights. See it if you like historical dramas.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scene in the deleted scenes. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day. Special effects: Average special effects. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: three stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture quoted from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Sergieff, Archpriest John Iliytch. My Life in Christ. or Moments of Spiritual Serenity and Contemplation, of Reverent Feeling, of Earnest Self-Amendment, and Peace in God: Extracts from the diary of St. John of Kronstadt (Arch­priest John Iliytch Sergieff). Trans­lated with the author's sanction, from the Fourth and Supplemental Edition by E.E. Goulaeff. St. Peters­burg. Jordans­ville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 2000. Print.

Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, Mass.: MERRIAM-WEBSTER. 1984. Print.