The Motorcycle Diaries

The Motorcycle Diaries, directed by Walter Salles and based off the writings of Alberto Granado and Ernesto Guevara themselves, portrays the travels of Guevara and Granado throughout South America.  As the movie is based at least in part on the writings of Guevara and his friend, any historical inaccuracies are misrepresentations of either these writings or the setting in which their travels took place. 

Guevara’s journey initially seems to be an innocent maturation and exploration of South America by an Argentianian youth, but as the duo enters Peru, it becomes clear to the audience that Che is experiencing a unique transformation not experienced by the ordinary medical student.  History does not indicate that Peru was a safe haven for Latin Americans by any stretch of the imagination, but it at least merits concern that the starting place for Che’s transformation began in a country whose leader, at the time of Guevara’s visit, was a proponent of “social reform aimed at the working and middle classes” (Drinot 92).  During this leader’s reign, “the government embarked on an extensive program of reform and expansion in housing, public health, and education” (Drinot 93).  While it is certainly possible that the future revolutionary derived some of his reformist ideas from his visit to Peru, it is equally unlikely that Peruvians were unsatisfied with the contemporary trend towards an economy that at least in rhetoric was based in an increase in equality of opportunity.

The Motorcycle Diaries highlights the transformation of Che as he experiences a quality of life quite different from that of an Argentinian medical student.  Beginning their trip with the help of an unreliable motorcycle and a tent, Guevara and Granado have to resort to travelling by foot and asking people for shelter, no longer casually journeying as members of the middle class but as vagrants.  His motorcycle trip with Granado did not represent his first travels out of Argentina.  Che “traveled extensively in his teenage years and early twenties, covering thousands of kilmoeters across Argentina” (Elena 24).  Director Walter Salles portrays Guevara’s trip as a way of exposing himself to the outside world, but this exposure had already taken place.  Che’s journeys and his reactions to them represent, rather, the maturation of his ability to understand and sympathize with the subpar socioeconomic conditions of others.

To an audience which is familiar with this tumultuous time period of Argentinian history and the future of Che Guevara would probably be surprised with the absence of any mention of Peronism in The Motorcycle Diaries.  However, according to Eduardo Elena, the lack of mention of Peronism and the simultaneous subtle references to it mirror the attitudes of Guevara himself.    Che was remembered as mentioning “the subject of Peronism only occasionally in conversation,” but according to Elena, his “silence derived, at least in part, from being caught up in the contradictionis of Peronism,” at once encapsulating authoritarian rule and the rights of the working class (34).  The Motorcycle Diaries does not explicitly mention Peronism, but it shows Guevara’s advocacy of an expansion of working-class rights and his desire to unite South America, two ideas that did not go hand-in-hand with traditional Peronism.