Motorcycle Diaries

The 2004 movie The Motorcycle Diaries, directed by Walter Salles, follows Ernesto “El Che” Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado on their cross-continental journey on a motorcycle. In the movie, Guevara is depicted as an honest and sympathetic man. Every time Guevara meets a person who is less fortunate he is, he sympathizes with them. The Incan boy, the communist miner couple, and the inhabitants of the leper colony all represent people who Guevara is influenced by in the movie.
Eduardo Elena gives adequate background information of Ernesto Guevara’s travels and the Peronist government of Argentina in his work, Travel and Nationalism in Ernesto Guevara’s Argentina. Throughout his piece, Elena emphasizes that the focus of the Argentinean government was travel and tourism, brought about by Juan Perón. According to Elena, Guevara “traveled extensively in his teenage years and early twenties,” and did not take a single trip as the movie leads the audience to believe. (Elena 24). Guevara did not always stay in a country long enough to get the full picture of what was going on. According to Ann Zulawski, Guevara was offered a long-term job in Bolivia, but he turned it down for the overnight experience instead. (Zulawski 195).
Elena also notes the Guevara was a “devoted reader” and was said to have “familiarized himself with Karl Marx and other leftist authors.” (Elena 25). After reading this, it is not surprising that in the movie Guevara wants to build a hospital at the base of the mountain for anyone to come to for help, or that he is sympathetic towards the miner couple who are kicked off their land for being communists. His reading is very important in the movie, because in one of the books he reads that revolution should be original. This further emphasizes the impact reading had upon Guevara.
Elena also states that Guevara liked to find rural areas of the country so he could be with the “ordinary” people. (Elena 27). This is seen in the movie when Guevara talks with the miners, socializes with the lepers, and helps the dying woman. This is emphasized in Guevara’s own journal. Elena notes that Guevara “devoted little time in his journals to describing metropolitan areas or their inhabitants.” (Elena 28). The most important description Elena has to offer about Guevara is that “[Guevara] saw himself as something more [than a paradigm of tourism], he saw himself as someone dedicated to the serious business of investigating the inner workings of society.” (Elena 29).  Unfortunately, Ann Zulawski does not have as many praises for Guevara in her piece entitled What did Che See? Throughout her piece, Zulawski criticizes Guevara’s point of view of the social issues at hand in Bolivia. Zulawski believes that Guevara’s perception of the working class people of Bolivia during the revolution is an incorrect one, tainted by Guevara’s own stereotyping. Guevara assumed that the Indians were passive in their struggle for reforms. However, as Zulawski points out, (through Lilo Linke) the Indians that Guevara encountered “were nowhere close to passive.” (Zulawski 194). Zulawski also states that he saw “Indians as long suffering and impervious to contemporary political realities.” (Zulawski 192). It is interesting that sixty percent of Bolivians were Indian. (Zulawski 195). This helps to understand why the government would not want to grant them suffrage.Zulawski makes great note of the state of the mining industry in Bolivia, where eighty percent of its tin exports go to the United States. (Zulawski 185). Bolivia depended heavily on the trade with the United States. This heavily influenced the Bolivian government’s actions. (I.e. the labor movement’s role in wanting to nationalize the mines and have the working class run them). (Zulawski189). In the movie this is conveyed through Guevara’s reading, where the author states that revolution needs to be original, and we are too few to be divided.
Overall, The Motorcycle Diaries does a great job setting up the ideal qualities of Ernesto “El Che” Guevara. These ideal qualities shaped him into the revolutionary he became. Unfortunately, for the audience, the movie was not one that focused on all aspects of his history, and does not emphasize the importance of all events going on in Latin America at this time.