That The Motorcycle Diaries is about Che Guevara is almost irrelevant. This film works with or without that knowledge. This is a road movie about two friends searching for
Like many road movies this one is episodic, and much of the first half features various exploits Guevara and Granado have along the way. We are supposed to think of their journey as a last boyhood fling before they resign themselves to more conventional and adult activities. The film's tone is gently comic. At first Guevara is uptight and plays the straight man to Granado, who is adept at telling tall tales to convince mechanics to fix their motorcycle, women to love them, and old men to give them a place to sleep. Their motorcycle often breaks down, and during a storm their tent blows away. Gradually Guevara loosens up and is able to begin enjoying their experiences.
The tone changes when the pair make their way into
At the leper colony on the
This is an important film for North Americans to see. It is first of all interesting to see the themes of a road movie, coming-of-age movie, applied to South American characters and settings. It is also interesting to see these themes applied in a way that makes comedy and sex seem of secondary importance--something of historical moment is in the offing here, the birth of an important political figure, or at least of a cultural icon--something important is happening. We don't often think of
Late in the film, as Guevara and Granado are departing the leper colony, Guevara gives an impromptu speech (a bit too deliberately) in which he says, "Even though we are too insignificant to be spokesmen for such a noble cause, we believe, and this journey has only confirmed this belief, that the division of America into unstable and illusory nations is a complete fiction. We are one single mestizo race from
For North Americans, Guevara was at best a kind of counter-culture hero who since his death in 1967 has grown increasingly irrelevant--a failed revolutionary leader. For South Americans, he has remained more important, and this film helps to explain why as it builds and amplifies the myth. At the same time it humanizes Guevara—revealing his struggle with asthma, making light of his inability to dance and his moral rectitude—he refuses to lie under any circumstance.
This film reminded me of what it was like to be young in a country still beautiful and unsullied. It is based on Guevara’s own account of his journey across