Che: Part1 picks up a few years after the Motorcycle Diaries finishes. It details Che’s fight in Cuba as well as his eventual speech in the United States. The film references in passing the causes of the revolution (lack of access to land for rural workers, control of resources by foreign powers, etc), but does little to show them in detail, like Soy Cuba did. Because this is bio pic of Che, not a defense of the Cuban Revolution, this omission is understandable. However, there are other important omissions that are less justifiable.
In Che’s speeches, one on guerilla warfare and the other on worldwide revolution, he repeatedly stresses the blame that the United States holds in the current state of the world. According to Che in his speech to the Tricontinental Congress, “U.S. imperialism is guilty of aggression — its crimes are enormous and cover the whole world.” In the same speech, he calls the U.S. the head of imperialism and insists that the nations of the world must raise “a battle hymn for the people’s unity against the great enemy of mankind: the United States of America.” This hated runs both ways. The U.S. President Lyndon Johnson was consistently kept up to date on Che’s movements in Bolivia. When Che was finally killed by a joint effort of Bolivian troops and U.S. Green Berets, presidential advisor Walt Rostow stated that Che’s death would mean yet another romantic revolutionary killed, would discourage future guerilla fighters, and showed the effectiveness of U.S. intervention in countries anticipating revolution (White House Memo October 11, 1967). With such animosity between the two, it’s amazing that Che’s dislike of the U.S. was not mentioned more in the movie. Although part of the film takes place in NYC, Che says little about the U.S. other than the fact that he is against the U.S. government, not the U.S. people, a distinction he never makes in either of his real life speeches. He also speaks briefly to Senator McCarthy, but even when encountering a U.S. authority figure, he is only amicable, joking about the Bay of Pigs invasion with no malice. This behavior seems inconsistent with speeches from Che and may be an attempt by filmmakers to make the movie more palatable to a U.S. audience (a country where the film would undoubtedly be marketed). However, it is possible that Che’s involvement with the U.S. was limited during the Cuban Revolution, making the U.S. appearance in the film unlikely.
But the film has a second important inconsistency. Throughout both of his speeches, Che is a steady defender of violence as the key to success in revolutions. He believes that “a relentless hatred of the enemy” will “[transform a soldier] into an effective, violent, selective and cold killing machine.” He calls violence “the midwife of new societies” and insists that revolutionaries “ought to use [violence] when the moment arrives.” Despite the real Che’s praise of violence as a tactic, the movie Che rarely soils his hands. The film Che is involved in combat, and he is seen shooting his rifle, but there are no images of his shots killing men. When he shoots a rocket launcher at a building, the building explodes, and although deaths are implied, none are shown. Che’s only real interactions with enemy soldiers are when he is showing them mercy, and his only true scenes of violence are against his own men, punishing them for committing crimes in the name of the revolutionary army. This non-violent version of Che, whose only real concerns seem to be social justice, doesn’t seem compatible with the words of the real Che, who would not have been ashamed to kill enemy soldiers. The squeamishness on the part of the film may have been the director and writer’s attempt to water-down more violent aspects of Che, choosing to focus on his social justice work rather than his doctrine of necessary violence.
Like the Motorcycle Diaries (and to be fair, any bio-pic of any historical person ever), Che: Part 1 omits certain beliefs and conflicts in order to match the version of Che the movie hopes to portray.