The Motorcycle Diaries is a biopic film about the early life of Ernesto “Che” Guevara before he became one of the most famously loved and reviled revolutionaries in history. The story of the film is about the travels that Che and his good friend Alberto Granado take in their youth before graduating from medical school. During his travels through Latin America, Che sees and experiences the true life of the South American natives and it is through these experiences that he would start the transformation into the revolutionary leader the world would come to know. It is in the country of Peru that Che finally realizes his anti-authority ideals during the climax of the film, when Che swims across a wide river to spend his birthday with disease stricken and displaced indigenous people.
The film starts off depicting Che and Alberto as wealthy playboys of sorts who “appear concerned as much with unlocking the mysteries of the continent as adding to their conquests with foreign women” (Elena 26). To the two men, traveling thousands of miles served a much different purpose than it did to a majority of South American people. The 50s were a time of mass migration in search of work and a better life, and one example in Che’s travels show this best when they encounter a vagabond who, upon hearing about their journey, says “Mama mia, you are spending all that effort uselessly?!” It is this episode that shows the distinction between the upperclass nature of Che and the poverty stricken natives of Latin America (Elena 30).
Che defends his traveling as less of a tourist trip and one of investigation into the inner workings of society in Latin America. This Che would go on to become the revolutionary that went down in history as a man of the people that fought throughout an entire continent for liberty and equality for all, and the film paints this ideal formation of young Guevara well. But a glimpse into the actual Motorcycle Diaries that Che kept during his travels shows a different side. Coming from wealth, Che was prone to conflicting ideas about the indigenous people he encountered on the road and in the countryside. While he was of the belief of a strong Incan heritage in the Indian people, he also could hold quite racist notions of them in his head, like when he wrote:
“The somewhat animal-like concept the indigenous people have of modesty and hygiene means that irrespective of gender or age they do their business by the roadside, the women cleaning themselves with their skirts, the men not bothering at all, and then carry on as before. The underskirts of Indian women who have kids are literally warehouses of excrement, a consequence of the way they wipe the rascals every time one of them passes wind.” (Drinot 102)
It is this disdainful view that Che had of the uncivilized natives of Latin American countrysides that the film failed to show throughout most of the film. Instead, Che is shown as a man of the people, caring for the sick people in Peru that had been displaced to their leper colony, becoming angry at the treatment workers in a Chilean mine, or the worst instance is the scene of Che looking down in sadness at the poor people crammed onto a small boat hitched behind his river boat. The Che of reality was a man devoted to anti-imperialist and capitalist ideals who wanted a return to glory of the proud Indian people of South America.