The Motorcycle Diaries is a film that appears to have fallen victim to the complexity of the life and world it wished to depict. On the surface it is a beautiful film that was well acted and for the most part well written. However, many of the decisions made by director Walter Salles and the production team beg the question of what they were trying to accomplish. It is apparent that liberty was taken with the historical accuracy of Ernesto’s character. Much of the complexity which was responsible for making Guevara into the man history knows was conspicuously absent in the film. This depiction of Guevara as a simple everyman was accompanied by an oversimplification of what would transform Ernesto into Che. As a result the film feels poorly defined; stuck hopelessly between a story of friendship and discovery, and a story of finding political conviction.
The first issue to address with the film is how dumb downed Ernesto is compared to his real life counterpart. The film depicts the young Guevara as a poor, honest, and inexperienced young man who discovers himself and his beliefs on an epic journey. While it makes for great entertainment it unfortunately makes for negligent history. In the essay Point of Departure, Eduardo Elena provides a much more accurate portrait of the man seen in the film. The first sentence of the essay reveals a shocking revelation for those who have only the film and a few paragraphs in a history book as their source of knowledge for the infamous Che. This journey “did not constitute Guevara’s first travel experience, nor even his first trip abroad” (Elena 24). He was an avid traveler, and a man who valued to discovery from a very early age. This choice by Salles was obviously made in order to craft a much more friendly and entertaining story. However, a much more questionable omission relates to Guevara’s development of a political conciseness.
If you find a person who greatly influenced history is simple, all you have found is a myth. The Ernesto of the film was a very simplistic character. He cared for the common man and the Indian, and did so with compassion and honesty. While Guevara obviously cared for the less fortunate and the plight of the Indians, his views were far from the bottom line presented in the film. Elena’s essay debunks the simplicity of Guevara’s political views by noting that his silence in his journals was not out of indifference but an inability to reconcile the “contradictions of Peronism” (Elena 34). It appears that Guevara had strong political opinions, but he could not fit them within the simplistic systems available to him. These complexities are completely absent from the film, and really do history a disservice.
Paulo Drinot reveals an more complex issues into the early years of Guevara in his essay Awaiting the Blood of a Truly Emancipating Revolution. Drinot’s essay shatters the depiction of Guevara as a simple everyman who saw no difference between himself and the less fortunate. According to Drinot, during his time in Peru Guevara “clearly [felt] empathy” for the “indigenous people” (102). However Ernesto was constantly guilty of reproducing “highly racist views” (Drinot 102). This is not to take away from the undeniable fact that Guevara was aware of the oppression suffered by natives; but it does represent a much fuller picture of Che Guevara.