The 2004 film The Motorcycle Diaries depicts the early travles of future revolutionary Che Guevara. In this film, one sees the beginnings of his transformation from ordinary medical student to radical leader. The film can really be broken down into two sections. The first is a lighthearted look at the exploits of an odd duo as they travel across the South American continent. The second is a more serious look at the people of the land, and the effect they have on the travelers. After viewing both of these, one sees a different Guevara than when the film began.
In the first section, one can see no apparent political concerns in Guevara and his companion, Granado. The two seem more concerned with women than anything else. They attempt to use their status as doctors to get lodging and food, attend partys, and wreck their motorcycle many times. It is in these exploits, however, that we begin to see certain traits in Guevara’s character. When trying to recieve lodging from a man, Guevaro finds that the man has a tumor and tells him to go to a hospital immediately. Granado tries to lie and say that it is something less serious, but Guevara will not be moved. Later a man comes to Che to tell him about a sick woman. Granado is anxious to have a good time with the women they have just met, but Che will not decline to treat the dying woman. It is these instances that transition to the more serious nature of the film.
The travelers begin to encounter different people on their journey. These people are mistreated in some way. One couple is forced to separate from their child in order to look for work. They look for work at a mine where the husband is accepted, but not the wife. One also sees people who have been kicked off of their land by the landowners. All of this culminates when Che and Granado volunteer at a hospital that served a group of people with leprosy. A river actually separated the hospital from the village where the people lived. This is where we see the transformation really start to happen. The nuns have a rule that, even though treated leprosy is not contageous, people entering the village must wear gloves. Che refuses to do so. The hospital decides to celebrate Che’s birthday, but he swims across the river to be with the villagers he has grown to love.
What caused these changes in an individual who seemed content to enjoy travel ? A great deal of it is due to the way they traveled. According to Eduardo Elena’s essay, “Point of Departure” Che did not travel like most of the tourists of the day. There were resorts and parks backed by the government. Instead, Che traveled through the countryside. Even before the trip taken in this film, Guevara had journeyed through the countryside of Argentina. Traveling this way allows for one to see the way people really lived. Seeing the way people lived sparked something in Guevara, something that transformed him into a revolutionary.