The Motorcycle Diaries was released in 2004 and directed by Walter Salles. It tells the story of Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Alberto Granado’s trip through South America in 1952. The story is meant to tell Ernesto’s transformation from a college student into the beginnings of his revolutionary ideals and his time as Che. While the story does do this very well, it fails to place his travels into much context with the rest of his life.
As stated by Eduardo Elena, The Motorcycle Diaries does not place Ernesto’s journey in the wider context of what else is happening in South America at the time and instead it is viewed in isolation from the rest of the continent. (Elena, 21) While this is a historical omission it is not that surprising because The Motorcycle Diaries are a story about Ernesto and his transformation, not the transformation of South America. But the omission that matters most is how the movie left out Ernesto’s travels prior to The Motorcycle Diaries. As Elena stated, “The Motorcycle Diaries did not constitute Guevara’s first travel experience, nor even his first trip abroad.” (Elena, 24) As such the viewer only sees a snapshot of Ernesto’s travels. Because of this it is hard to place a beginning and end point on the “historical” Che, or I should say pinpoint where Ernesto began to become Che. The movie would have the viewer believe that it was solely the 1952 trip with Granado that began the transformation, when in reality the ideas that would turn Ernesto in the nationally recognized Che could have begun much earlier.
What The Motorcycle Diaries lacked in background for Ernesto’s journeys, it made up for with historical accuracy concerning what he saw. During his travels with Granado Ernesto commented on the poverty and injustice found throughout his travels. Specifically Peru was a place of much injustice and poverty. Here Ernesto saw “an unforgiving environment…hunger, and asthma attacks” (Drinot, 90-91) from himself as well as a “racist and violent social order” (Drinot, 98) against the native Indians of Peru. This is what Ernesto wrote and it is also what was happening in the country of Peru at the time. This would change however by the time Ernesto would travel through Bolivia in 1953. According to Ann Zulawski “it is striking how little time he actually spent in the country during his road trip, and how little the country’s social reality and political history influence him.” (Zulawski, 181) While this trip to Bolivia is not covered in The Motorcycle Diaries it is interesting to make note of this change. We see an Ernesto that on the surface appears to learn much from his observations in the countries he visits, but that changes. It is possible that what Ernesto saw and what was happening could have been different. Indeed his travels in Bolivia seemed like he stayed around the capital and did not visit the countryside which contrasts heavily with The Motorcycle Diaries in which Ernesto shunned the cities and instead went out into the countryside to see the people living there. (Elena, Zulawski) In fact it seems that by the time Ernesto reaches Bolivia in 1953 he has forsaken his idea of travelling differently from a tourist and has become one by the time he arrives in Bolivia. (Elena, Zulawski)
Overall The Motorcycle Diaries presents a narrow, yet historically accurate view of unrest and injustice in South America based upon the diaries of a man that would go on to be known as “Che.”