motorcycle diaries

The Motorcycle Diaries, directed by Walter Salles, is based around one year’s travels of the future revolutionary Che Guevara. In this inspiring, and at times humorous, film, the audience is given a brief glimpse into what transformed Ernesto Guevara into the icon Che. While overall the film is accurate regarding many of the experiences he encountered on his journey during the year 1951-1952, the context of the film is slightly misleading.

At the beginning of the movie, there is a lot of time spent discussing the actual departure of Ernesto and his friend Alberto Granado. Shown are people asking each other whether of not Ernesto is really going on the motorcycle journey with Alberto or not. His mother seems to be particularly upset, like any mother would be.  If it were the first time her baby was leaving home.  What is not shown, or even alluded to, is the fact that he had traveled numerous times already. “Contrary to conventional wisdom, the 1951-1952 journey recounted in The Motorcycle Diaries did not constitute Guevara’s first travel experience, nor even his first trip abroad. Guevara traveled extensively in his teenage years and early twenties, covering thousands of kilometers across Argentina by hitchhiking, bicycling, and other means” (Elena 24).  Right before the two depart, the whole family gathers together to see him off, as if they will never see him again.  It seems like he is a young man, eyes bright to see the strange outside world. Really, he was in his mid-twenties, an inch away from a medical degree, and had already seen plenty of his country.

In Ann Zulawski’s writings about what Che actually did see, there are numerous references to the mines, the indians, the doctor friends that helped them along the way, and even the lepers.  Most of the experiences shown involve these issues,  however, missing from the background, discussed in Eduardo Elena’s writings, were the hoards of other migrating around at the same time. There are a lot of people they encounter along the way,  but not in mass transit, like was happening during that time in Latin America. The difference was Guevara was traveling off the beaten path. He wanted to help people, and find the real heart of his America. He was fortunate enough to be able to do this, unlike the others encountered along the way. Those such as the couple who had to leave their family to find work in the mines, or the man who blew past them hiking up the “this is physically impossible” mountain road, had to travel out of necessity.

Though Guevara seems a bit naive,  “It is this side of Guevara’s personality that The Motorcycle Diaries best captures. By omitting references to previous travel experiences, the text presents an image of the young Guevara as wide-eyed and inexperienced, which only accentuates the drama of his discoveries on the road” (Elena 32). He begins his journey on a quest to travel as far as he can, making as many discoveries about the people as he can, helping as many along the way as he can.  He is a bright young man with a bright future. After the trials and tribulations he and Granado experience, mixed with the pain and suffering he witnesses, the stage for the transformation into the revolutionary icon is well set, even without the background noise that may have been left out.