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Movie Review: The Motorcycle Diaries

The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Rodrigo de la Serna. Directed by Walter Salles

Soon after they leave Alta Garcia, Argentina, on a motorcycle for their trip across South America in 1951, Ernesto Rafael Guevara de la Serna, a medical student and Alberto Granado, a biochemist hit a dog and fall off the bike. Ernesto chides his friend and takes proper care of the dog. Later, completely broke, they reach a town and con two women in a restaurant to order them food and wine and get their father to repair their broken bike. They visit a newspaper office and get an article printed that both of them are expert doctors curing leprosy and then use that newspaper article to get people to do favors for them. They hitch rides, seduce women, hunt animals and convince strangers to provide them lodging.

But what started as a fun filled trip changed both men at the end. Ernesto Rafael Guevara de la Serna, the asthmatic, introverted idealist tranasformed into “Che” Guevara, the revolutionary who influenced revolutions in many countries and was later killed in Bolivia. The silent romantic young man was transformed into a killing machine and a psycho

In January 1957, as his diary from the Sierra Maestra indicates, Guevara shot Eutimio Guerra because he suspected him of passing on information: “I ended the problem with a .32 caliber pistol, in the right side of his brain…. His belongings were now mine.” Later he shot Aristidio, a peasant who expressed the desire to leave whenever the rebels moved on. While he wondered whether this particular victim “was really guilty enough to deserve death,” he had no qualms about ordering the death of Echevarría, a brother of one of his comrades, because of unspecified crimes: “He had to pay the price.” At other times he would simulate executions without carrying them out, as a method of psychological torture.[The Killing Machine: Che Guevara, from Communist Firebrand to Capitalist Brand]

The movie, The Motorcycle Diaries is about the trip that Ernesto and Alberto made across Argentina, Chile, and Peru and is based on the notes of Ernesto himself. On the way, they meet various poor people who are being exploited and slowly the transformation of Ernesto happens. He realizes that national boundaries are artificial and the problems of people across South America are the same. The movie ends at the end of their road trip and hence you do not get to see the violent Che. The last shot in the movie is of Ernesto boarding a plane while Granado is standing on the tarmac waving him Goodbye. As the camera zooms to Ernesto and pulls back, the actor portraying Alberto is replaced by the real Alberto, who is now in his eighties.

The actors who portary Ernesto (Gael García Bernal) and Alberto (Rodrigo De la Serna) have done an excellent job. Though there is not much in terms of action or drama, the script is tight enough to hold your attention till the end. As the trip starts, Gradado is the older wiser person, but towards the end it is Ernesto who does the talking. The two differing personalities are bought out through dialogue and situations. Though you may disagree with the path that Che followed, this is a movie worth seeing for understanding the influences in his life.

Mohandas Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda both traveled all around India to get to know the problems first hand. This travel influenced the path they chose to address the issues and it did not involve murdering people. The time Ernesto became Che was after India became independent and I wonder if he even gave some thought to the ideas of Gandhi.

Postscript: Chasing Che is an excellent travelogue by Patrick Symmes, who decided to follow the route taken by Ernesto and Alberto

4 Responses to Movie Review: The Motorcycle Diaries

  1. Sridhar September 28, 2005 at 2:06 pm #

    Do you have an invite for publicgyan?

  2. Kuttan September 29, 2005 at 6:33 am #

    It surely is a marverlous movie. Have you watched The Sea Inside ? If you are using netflix I’d love to add you to my friends list. Also can I get an invite to publicgyan ?
    I tried to link The sea inside to the imdb but for some reason ur comments dont accept html tags.
    Here is the link anyway http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0369702/

  3. JK September 29, 2005 at 7:39 am #

    Sridhar, Kuttan, I have sent you both the invites.

    Kuttan, I will be using Netflix till Nov. Currently my family is in India and hence I have free time for movies :) But you can still add me as tiptronicus AT yahoo DOT com

  4. Jo October 2, 2005 at 9:34 am #

    It was a superb movie. I liked it a lot. Helped me to know more about Che Guera as a person and how he got changed.

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