The Motorcycle Diaries is the cinematic attempt to recount the story of two friends’ travels across Latin America in a period of social unrest and change. Of these two friends, Ernesto Che Guevara, an asthmatic medical student from Argentina, acquired the influences from the people he met in his travels to become the celebrated revolutionary that spanned influence across a multitude of nations and time. Yet he is a figure that is clouded with controversy- a self-proclaimed man of the people who brandished guns and used guerrilla warfare to fight for his cause. He has been denounced by Western powers like the United States as a delused enemy- a breaker of the peace. Yet in The Motorcycle Diaries, the audience sees a young man who finds potential in the common man- the mestizo and indigenous masses struggling against the hegemonic upper classmen. The audience see the Ernesto behind the Che, or the young man with a genial and tranquil personality dominated by his commitments and passions. In this, The Motorcycle Diaries provides a strange and overlooked portion of the Che story.
Yet it would be inane to assume The Motorcycle Diaries is without bias or fiction. In fact, Guevara had spent a seemingly immense amount of time traveling while growing up. Whether it was visiting family throughout Argentina or hitchhiking his way on tight budgets, Guevara developed a style of traveling that brought him closer to his nation and, perhaps of more importance, to humanity as a whole. As his infamous trip with close friend and biochemist Alberto Granado in 1952 approached, Argentina and Latin America as a whole were changing. Rural citizens were more commonly converting to urban and industrial lifestyles. Many were forced from their farms by either famine or political mistreatment while others remained to continue to face a growing force. In this Latin America, a contemplative Guevara confirmed much of the abuse and misuse of power by political authorities. But more than this, he seems to have confirmed that warfare was the only means of which revolution can succeed. This would be a path that would ultimately kill him, creating a martyr for revolution that is used to this day.
It is easy for history to deem Guevara as an impetuous and determined individual whose narrow mindset led to a series of unsuccessful revolutions that did little but shed blood. But it is important to realize the intellect of Guevara and his scholastic tendencies from his early years. Due to his asthma, Eduardo Elena describes a boy who was forced to remain indoors for extended periods of time. In this, Guevara attained a companionship to his self-education. Surely a contemplative and concerned individual, out of the few items he had in his last days in Bolivia were writings and books that he was still poring over throughout the jungles of South America and the peril of guerrilla warfare. In this, The Motorcycle Diaries creates a complex Guevara whose dedication to the people of Argentina and Latin America would cost him his life. Yet as his writings and actions continue to influence, it seems Guevara would be satisfied with a commitment he made to the people of Latin America that refused to shy away in the face of death.