The Motorcycle Diaries covers the trip that Ernesto Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado took to visit multiple countries in South America begining in 1951. This Trip would impact Guevara for the rest of his life and seemingly took him from the path of a medical student with only one semester left to graduate and would begin to change him over time into one of the most influental revolutionaries in South American history. This is not to say that he immediately came back from the trip and started plotting revolution but the trip clearly had an effect on him and started his life on the path of change.
What did Guevara see on his trip that began to change his life? One thing was the way that Guevara approached his trip. In Eduardo Elena’s Article Points of Departure Guevara’s father said that Eduardo did not approach his trip as a traveler but rather as an explorer and a “social investigator.” This is seen in the film by Guevara often diagnosing people in towns, taking an interest in the lower classes illnesses and visiting a leper colony. It is unlikely that most traveling medical students took their trips in order to learn more about the lower classes of other cultures and take time out of vacation to treat illness.
One thing that is in The Motorcycle Diaries that appeared to have a profound effect on Ernesto Guevara were the people who were travling also. Some of these people were traveling because they had to find work and not for recreation. There are several people who either had their land taken by speculators or were simply evicted from their land by the owners so they could be sold for a profit. This is not a large part of the film but it should be because as Elena comments in the Points of Departure the 1950s saw massive internal migration in South America which resulted in rural people moving into cities to try and find work. Guevara probably saw more people along the roads than the movie shows, especially in places like Peru where there were more people who had to migrate due to having either their land taken or just needing jobs. This fits in with the film because Eduardo did try to see the different sides of each country and did often talk to the migrants he saw on the road. In Ann Zulawski’s article National Revolution and Bolivia she comments that Guevara was outrages by the way the Bolivian elite treated the “indians.” Outrage by Guevara is seen several times in the film and is often directed at people of a higher class taking advantage of the lower classes. This is seen in Peru, Bolivia and in the leper colony.
Eduardo Guevara may have just been a medical student when he went on his trip potrayed in The Motorcycle Diaries but he already had concerns about South America and wanted to help the less fortunate people of the continent. It is not hard to imagine that someone outraged by social injustice and exploitation of large groups of people would eventually turn into a reformist, or in Guevara’s case, a revolutionary.