The Motorcycle Diaries is a film based on the travels of Ernesto “Che” Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado throughout Latin America during the early 1950s. The film portrays a wide eyed young man who progresses from medical student to revolutionary during the trip, though the transformation was not complete at the end of this section of his life. The film focuses primarily on his personal experiences with people throughout the trip which leads him to understand the social injustices in Latin America at the time.
The disparity between the social classes becomes evident to Guevara throughout the film. It seems apparent that he had never been exposed to the extremely impoverished conditions of many of the people he encounters on the trip. His standing in society was one of comfort, though not extremely well off, and Elena points to his travel for pleasure alone as an example of this. An encounter between Guevara and a “linyera”, who was traveling to find work, shows that he held a privileged status compared to most who were traveling at the time (Elena 28-29). Three specific scenes in the film also point to his “awakening” in the film: the encounter with the couple traveling to the mines to work, the smaller boat filled with the impoverished people being towed up river, and the leper colony in Peru where the patients were kept isolated even though they were not contagious. These three scenes depict social injustices viewed by Guevara on his travels.
While he did set out to right the wrongs he witnessed on his travels, Guevara did not see the victims of social injustice as equals. Both Elena and Drinot explain how he held a racist view of the native people he encountered. His experience with the natives in Peru questioning them about their homeland, and being ” … demi-gods to these simple people …”, shows his belief that he was in fact above them on some levels (Drinot 102-103, Elena 38). Another example of this inequality between Guevara and the natives is the exchange between him and a local man forced off his land. His comments after the conversation shows his belief that the native people were incapable of defending themselves or rising up against social injustices without aid (Drinot 107).
The film was an insight into the beginnings of Guevara becoming Che, but seems to have idealized him somewhat. The film shows an honest, kind doctor with a genuine care for those in need. While this is true of Guevara at this time, not much is said of his of his actual thoughts on the people and situations he encountered. Drinot and Elena both give insight to the man which the film did not depict.