A Revolutionary Veal: Che and The Motorcycle Diaries

When I was in college, it seemed like all of the college students had Che Guevara stenciled, etched, or screen printed to something that they carried everything.  But after watching The Motorcycle Diaries, I don’t think they understood who they were plastering themselves with.

The Motorcycle Diaries is a 2004 movie distributed by Focus Features which is based upon the travelogue The Motorcycle Diaries written by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara (published 1996)[with some supplemental context from Traveling with Che Guevara: The Making of a Revolutionary by Alberto Granado (published 2004)].  The movie is entirely in Spanish with English subtitles.

In 1952, Ernesto Guevara is an asthmatic medical student who decides to take a semester off to travel South America with his biochemist friend, Alberto Granado.  Their original plan is go from Buenos Aires through Chile, Peru, Columbia, and Venezuela on a motorcycle ( which they dub ‘The Mighty One’) in 4 months.  Unfortunately, they have several mishaps with their motorcycle and they don’t end up making it to Venezuela until July.

Along their journey, they encounter the disparity among the classes and see how those in poverty are treated.  They meet a couple who are persecuted from their political beliefs and watch the unfair treatment of workers.  They witness the indigenous-built beauty of Machu Pichu and the urban decay of Lima.  They spend three weeks volunteering in a leper colony where Guevara refuses to wear gloves when dealing with the victims of leprosy.

It was interesting to watch a young privileged man in the 1950s awaken to the injustices of his world.  At one point in the movie, Granado talks about staging a revolution by marrying an indigenous woman and encouraging indigenous people to vote and Guevara replies, “A revolution without guns?  It will never work.”  He started as a doctor and ended his life as a militia political leader through Latin America.  Throughout the movie, you can see Guevara’s political beliefs take shape and crystallize.  Interestingly, Ernesto and Alberto get the nickname Che in Chile due to how they pronounce a word.

If you haven’t seen The Motorcycle Diaries, I would highly recommend it.  Perhaps the Occupy Wall Street movement should understand Che in order to understand their true cause.

The only side effect of watching the movie is that I can’t get this song out of my head.