Masterpieces #18: The Motorcycle Diaries

The Motorcycle Diaries
About The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)
MotorcycleBased on the journals of Cuban revolutionary Ernesto ‘Ché’ Guevara, this coming-of-age road movie by Brazilian director Walter Salles follows the adventures of the young medical student Ché (Gael García Bernal) and his friend Alberto Granada (Rodrigo de la Serna) as they cross South America on motorbikes in the early 1950s, on their way to take up their medical residency at a leper colony in Peru. Along the way, the men discover much about life and about their own views on the world – and begin to realise just how different their individual destinies have become. The film premiered at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.

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The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)

Those who haven’t heard of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara will undoubtedly have seen the iconic image of him, donning a beret while his eyes are focused directly ahead. Since his death in 1967 Che has become a legend, symbolic of the spirit of revolution and was once described by Jean Paul Sartre as “the most complete human being” he had ever met. In recent years there have been three films about Che’s life. Steven Soderbergh’s Che: Parts One & Two (2008) depict the two key moments in Guevara’s life as a revolutionary. As good as Soderbergh’s films are they don’t match up to Walter Salles’ The Motorcycle Diaries (2004), which depicts Che in his days before he took up arms as a revolutionary.

The Motorcycle Diaries is set in 1952 and begins with a young Ernesto Guevara beginning a journey on a motorcycle named “The Mighty One” with his best friend, Alberto Granado. Leaving their home in Argentina, Ernesto and Alberto head north, travelling through the Andes, Chile, Peru and onto Venezuela. Their journey is beset by problems, not least the unreliable motorcycle they have put their faith in but also Ernesto’s bouts of asthma that hindered him throughout his life. At the start of his journey, Ernesto had one semester to complete before gaining a medical degree. By the end of his time on the road with Alberto he is changed beyond recognition by the many things he has seen and the slumbering revolutionary deep inside his heart has awoken. When Ernesto and Alberto part at the end of the film they don’t see each other for many years. Eventually reunited, Alberto is stunned to find Ernesto is a commander in Fidel Castro’s army and has played a pivotal role in the Cuban Revolution.

There is nothing of Ernesto taking up arms for the first time in this film. This is purely about one journey and along the way we are treated to some breathtaking scenery as the two friends negotiate the varied landscape of South America. Ernesto and Alberto intended their journey to be filled with fun but encounters with the poverty-stricken inhabitants of Latin America affects both men deeply, particularly Ernesto who is abhorrent to the injustice visible all around him.

For those who wish to learn about Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara then The Motorcycle Diaries is the perfect place to start before moving onto Steven Soderbergh’s two films. Seeing the poverty and injustice that Ernesto did, it’s understandable why he chose a different path in life. Though some of his methods as a revolutionary may have been questionable, his ideals were always for equality and justice for all, something we sadly don’t see very often today.

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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