Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967) is the poster boy of various leftist (or “libtard” if you’re that sort of right winger) revolutionary movements. But prior to his political fame, he set out across Argentina in January of 1952 on a bit of an adventure.
Trundling along with his friend Alberto Granado (1922-2011), the pair were expecting a hedonistic jaunt across South America. But after the initial fun and games, the poverty and inequality Guevara saw set him on the road to cement his Marxist ideologies. His thoughts and feelings are all documented in…
The Motorcycle Diaries
Guevara was only 23 when he set out on his travels. A young medical student, he and Granado (a 29 year old biochemist) hit the beaten track in an On The Road type of beat generation romp.
Before we go on with any of that, it’s important to state Guevara (with regard to what he went on to achieve) is a polarising figure.
Some champion his commitment to helping others – of battling to eradicate extreme poverty and inequality. Meanwhile, others make him out as a terrorist thug who murdered thousands of innocents.
Your viewpoint of him will largely be influenced by whether you have left or ring wing ideologies.
But The Motorcycle Diaries (only published in 1995 for the first time) is a trip back to before his fame. It’s an exploration of what drove him towards becoming a political revolutionary.
It’s a classic road movie premise. Young dudes hit the road and indulge in drinks, jazz, and sex.
Early diary entries consist of such escapades, with Guevara at one point eating some dodgy food and having to defecate out of a window onto some poor woman’s stack of pears.
And such moments are recounted with good humour and wit.
But this soon gives way to the more serious side of the work. What makes The Motorcycle Diaries stand out is Guevara’s comprehension of the widespread, and endemic, oppression he found in Latin America.
This included mass poverty and the removal of a right to vote for less psychotic political regimes. In time, he came to believe the only way to usurp such a state of affairs was through armed revolution.
But the work pre-dates all of that. In simple guise, it’s a story of two young guns having a bit of a laugh.
Yet after you scratch at the surface, comrade, you’ll find the reasons for why Guevara went off and did his thing. Whether you agree with his later actions or not, it’s that initial meeting with inequality that spurred him on in disgust.
With the ongoing interest in Guevara as a counterculture and political figurehead, in 2004 a film adaptation went ahead for The Motorcycle Diaries. Directed by Walter Salles, its leads are Gael Garcia Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna.
Upon its first showing at the Sundance Film Festival, it received a standing ovation!
There’s certainly a sense of youthful altruism about the production. It’s faithful to the diaries in that it portrays Guevara’s shock and disgust in how shabbily a government can treat its people.
But Hollywood hasn’t shied away from the more controversial side of his personality, either, with Steven Soderbergh’s ambitious two-part Che series a decade ago.
Starring Benicio del Toro – pretty much the perfect bloke for the role of Guevara – it’s at times a rather plodding and methodical account of a revolution.
Both films are well worth a watch if you have any intrigue in the subject matter. And as Che Guevara’s popularity continues, expect further productions in the years to come.