On the Road Less Traveled

Che reaches greater icon heights in Motorcycle Diaries

By Ramona Gonzalez
Published on LatinoLA: October 19, 2004

On the Road Less Traveled

I'll start off by admitting that I have not read the Motorcycle Diaries. I have no other frame of reference for the film besides the film itself. I do try to read novels before I see the adaptations. However, as I am not a purist in this sense, I had the privilege of seeing the film with an open mind. That said, this film inspired me to read the diaries and find out what really happened, what went on in the mind of such a myth.

The idea of Che's intellectual and spiritual revolution makes a great story. It's the quintessential Hero's Journey myth on screen: a young man takes a journey to find himself and discovers so much more, making him a man. On that level it delivers. Two young men set off to familiarize themselves with their home continent, to take a trip in their youth that they would remember in old age and end up changed in ways they never expected.

The film started a little slow. I imagine Salles, in trying to stay true to the Diaries, allowed the time for setup and adequate exhibition of the (glorious) South American scenery. My focus started to drift as I sat there wedged between my friend and the person next to me. Then I realized that this film, this story is about the journey, not the end result. About the path and the influences that took this young med student from med school to freedom fighting in ?third world? countries. We already pretty much know what happens: he dies in Bolivia and ends up on many Rage Against the Machine shirts, bumper stickers, patches and the like. And of course there was that whole freedom fighting he did.

But I was curious to see the moment when the switch flips that incites one to throw off the life of privilege and dedicate the rest of one's life to changing the world, even at the cost of your own life. Not very many people do this, which, I suppose is why only a select few can attain icon status, immortalized in apparel and quoted on bumper stickers. The spark for his transformation occurs when he meets a communist couple in the desert. From that point on, his whole view on the stare of the world changes he almost seems shocked into reality.

The performances were seamless. Garcia Bernal's performance was so strong, it didn't really matter that he looks nothing like Ernesto Guevara. Rodrigo de la Serna was fun to watch. He has a magnetic screen presence. The strength of the story lies in how these men transition from blindly blissful and cocky young men, to men who realize they have a responsibility to the world they live in. both of them make a choice, in their own way, to take up that responsibility when the opportunity presents itself.

The cinematography of each country is amazing and breathtaking. Seeing the mountains of Machu Picchu was astounding.

Salles has an obvious respect, if not love for Guevara. So much so that it got to the point where I asked myself, ?Dang. Was this guy perfect or what?? I was half expecting a choir of angels to break out into song and the heavens open up. One particular river crossing led me to remark to myself, ?Man, if this wasn't true it would be so cheesy.? Hence my need to read the book and find out what Che thought of his whole experience

I urge everyone to give the book a chance and see the film on its own, as a film. While I don't believe anyone should be deified, what I think is worth the price of matinee OR evening admission is this: Anyone, no matter what your station in life is capable of great things. There would never have been an icon if Ernesto Guevara had played it safe and stayed in medical school. He traveled just to travel and that journey forever changed him and, consequently, the rest of the world. He took the least safe path and gained a spiritual and intellectual awakening. In this time and in this country of great privilege how amazing is it that this message can be sent out (I quote the tagline at the end of the theatrical trailer) - ?When you let the world change you, you can change the world.? (Isn't that an amazing tagline?)

Motorcycle Diaries (in Spanish with English subtitles)
Director: Walter Salles
With: Gael Garcia Bernal (Ernesto ?Che? Guevara), Rodrigo de la Serna (Alberto Granado), Mia Maestro (Chichina Ferreya).
Writer: Jose Rivera, based on the writings of Ernesto ?Che? Guevara and Alberto Granado.
Review by: R.P. Gonzales
For more info on the film: www.themotorcyclediaries.net

About Ramona Gonzalez:
For question, comments, pleitos: rapgonzales@yahoo.com

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