The Motorcycle Diaries – Remarkable

(For Zarboan)

Five decades from now when SI is long under the ground and all you schmucks have turned into senile dotards donning adult diapers and living in seniors’ centers, the Spanish film The Motorcycle Diaries will continue to delight moviegoers.

For dos reasons, sweeties.

Che Mystique – Burns Bright

First, the flame of the revolutionary Latin American hero Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara will burn as bright 50 years hence as it does today.

You can be sure Che’s iconic face will continue to adorn the front of five billion T-shirts from Malawi to Macau and Mysore to Minsk.

Some 45 years after his execution in Bolivia at the behest of the CIA, Che’s charisma continues to nurture a new generation of revolutionaries across the globe, both the arm-chair and the gun-toting variety.

Much of Che’s mystique and legend is due to his early death and the unfortunate circumstances of his murder.

By the way, the certain way to ensure that history books and the people never forget you is to accomplish something of note and die in your 30s or 40s.

The enduring fame of the butcher Alexander, the masochist Jesus, the lecher JFK, the revolutionary Che and the freedom fighter Bhagat Singh owes as much to their early deaths as to their enterprise and daring.

Second, The Motorcycle Diaries is a very well made movie with first class acting wrapped in a neat script and fine photography.

Directed by Water Salles, the film is based on Che Guevara’s travelog The Motorcycle Diaries and features Mexican actor Gael García Bernal as Ernesto ‘Fuser’ Guevara. The name Che came later.

Argentine actor Rodrigo de la Serna plays Ernesto’s friend Alberto Granado.

Between the two, the Argentine Rodrigo de la Serna is easily the better actor.

Rodrigo’s is a seemingly effortless, natural performance. A joy to watch.

The friends’ journey through the flatlands, the snowy mountains, the small towns, the Atacama desert, on the Amazon river and toward the end volunteering at the lepers colony is extraordinary for the time and well depicted on celluloid.

Theirs is an adventure that’s now impossible. Today, people can leave NYC in the morning and reach the southern tip of South America by night.

The two characters – the lecherous, hyper-libidinous and graceful dancer Alberto and the serious Che, who can’t even dance – are striking in their contrast.

The journey is more than an adventure, laced as it is with comic moments, pathos, parting and great hardship.

The photography is very good, particularly some of the river scenes in the last 20-30 minutes.

If I have a complaint with the movie, it’s that the injustices that Ernesto supposedly witnessed on the journey and turned him into a revolutionary just a few years later could have been highlighted in starker detail.

From Ernesto to Che

Given my ginormous interest in politics and movies, I was eager to watch their intersection in The Motorcycle Diaries.

In my not so humble opinion, the movie will strike a stronger and richer chord with those familiar with the story of Che and his extraordinary life.

Since most of my readers are clueless baboons blissfully ignorant of revolutionary ideologues like Che, Koba or Fidel, they will see this movie merely as a movie.

And that’d be a mighty shame.

For it was the motorcycle trip the 23-year-old Ernesto ‘Fuser’ Guevara took in 1952 with his pal Alberto that sowed the seeds of revolutionary fire in his mind, turning him eventually into Che.

When they embarked on the journey, the future revolutionary was still Ernesto and unknown to the world.

The 10,000+ miles journey in South America, first on a motorbike and then, after the bike becomes junk, by walk and hitchhiking opened Ernesto’s eyes to the enormous injustices and sufferings of the deprived people and to what he considered the unnatural partition of South America into so many nations.

Although The Motorcycle Diaries is just a sliver of Che’s life, it had an enormous impact on his subsequent short life.

Unknown in 1952, Che’s was one of the most recognized faces in the world by 1960.

Che was murdered on October 9, 1967.

The Motorcycle Diaries is a fine movie that all movie buffs ought to consider watching.

6 Responses to "The Motorcycle Diaries – Remarkable"

  1. callrecall911   August 10, 2012 at 7:25 am

    Don’t tell me you have watched this classic just now!
    BTW, have you watched “Into the wild”, “Grizzly Man” or “Easy rider”?
    Not in the same spirit/backstory, but they are a treat to watch.

  2. boopalanj   August 16, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Che will continue to remain an influencing personality for eons.

    He made himself a part of all possible struggles that he could, against enslavement. A man who could stand against gun and could yet yell at the hesitant solider – ‘Shoot me coward, you’re only going to kill a man.’ A man who had not closed eyes even after death smiled at him. (

    He was one of the most controversial figures (/terrorists) for United States of America, its multinational corporations, and people.

    He suffered from acute Asthma, it never stopped him from becoming a hero. I have once read somewhere that – he had participated in all the wildest guerrilla warfare exercises (climbing mountains within a definite time) even though his body allow him much to. He overcame his asthma during one of the real attacks by Batista’s soldiers and had to climb faster to escape from the firing. He is quoted as saying – ‘there is no better treatment for asthma than an enemy’s gunfire’.

    Che visited India once, and he met with Nehru the then prime minister, and wrote – “Nehru received us with the amiable familiarity of a grandfather but with a noble interest in the pains and struggles of the Cuban people, giving us extraordinarily valuable suggestions and assurances of unconditional sympathy towards our cause.” (Ref: Front line article )

    But there is another view of how he wrote so. You can find the piece here. This is an extract from a book. Forgot the name of the author and book. 🙁 I think it was by an ambassador and about his experiences.

    You can read an interview by Camilo Guevara (son of Che) here: to understand more about Che and Cuban political situation. Responds:

    1. Che will inspire but is no longer an “influencing personality.”

    Influence requires and denotes power. And in the 21st century, abetted by the twin evils of weapons and big money, power is concentrated and in short supply.

    We’re unlikely to see major revolutions this century unlike the last.

    Au contraire, this century will set back the freedoms hard fought and won over the past several centuries.

    I’ll be long dead by that time but in the evening of your life you’ll most likely turn out a bitter person over the then prevailing state of (in)humanity.

    2. I find the account of the Nehru-Che conversation hard to believe ( i’m referring to your second-last link).

    Nehru was sympathetic to left-wing causes and would be unlikely to respond the way depicted by José Pardo Llada (the author of the “how pleased I am that you have liked the apples.”

    In my view, that seems to be a figment of José Pardo Llada’s lively imagination.

    José Pardo Llada was a right-wing commentator and radio talk show host from Cuba.


    3. Nehru was the first and last savant of Indian politics.

    I’ve read one of his books – Either Discovery of India or his Glimpses of World History. Most likely, it’s Discovery of India because I vaguely remember Nehru referring to Vivekananda as a Cyclonic Hindu.

    As I enter my autumn years, I am beginning to develop greater respect for Nehru’s ideals.

    • rk23   November 30, 2013 at 2:59 pm

      Dear SI,

      I agree with you about Nehru, his vision for India and his ideals. He was a Fabian socialist with leftist sympathies, but was also pragmatic about the dangers of a Maoists revolution in India. Poor Che had broken with the Marxist Leninism after Khrushchev’s rapprochement with the West in the Kennedy years. He felt that enough was not being done and had become a hot potato for the USSR, especially after the Sino-soviet split and was attracted to Mao’s extreme ideas about “people’s war”. They got Fidel to send him around the world to blow off steam (to the Congo in secret and his final ill-fated mission to Bolivian Altiplano..

      Nehru was merely fobbing his younger guests’ politically charged (and naive) questions about what he thought about Mao’s model of communism. Nehru and Sardar brutally suppressed the communist movement soon after Independence. Responds:

      At this stage of my life, I’ve reached the inescapable conclusion that all isms and ideologies invariably get corrupted by humans unless you have enlightened leadership, which unfortunately is a rarity.

      That’s why I have great respect for Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew. I suspect without his enlightened leadership Singapore would have turned out no better than Chennai.

  3. boopalanj   August 16, 2012 at 11:37 am

    I made a comment to this post, but usually any comment is shown as ‘pending moderation’. It now does not show it, so I re-submitted the comment. But it called it a – ‘duplicate comment’.

    Any problems on your side? Responds:

    Because of multiple links, it went into the spam folder.

    I’ve unspammed it (please see above) and approved it with my response.

    • boopalanj   August 16, 2012 at 11:38 am

      Ok, Did it go to Spam because it contained links? Responds:


      Processed now.

  4. boopalanj   May 13, 2013 at 5:47 am

    I got little surprised to see that I already commented on this post. Memory!

    Watched this movie yesterday. Overall, I liked this movie, and reflect for the most part the same opinions as in the post.

    At times, I felt this movie was very slow-paced (may be because of its length and I was watching it past-midnight). And none of the Fuser’s experiences depicted were startling enough to transform him into a revolutionary. [But perhaps, that is only what he wrote? Have you read the book?]

    But, the conversations between Fuser and Alberto were enjoyable – full of quick wits. There were some inwardly touching / thought-provoking moments – Choosing to shake bare hands with the people at leper colony, Saying “A revolution without guns? It won’t work out”, Giving the 15 USD to Mine couple which he preserved for long time, Swimming across the river to celebrate the birthday with people at the colony despite Asthma, etc. Responds:

    1. No, I have not read the diaries.

    I suspect that it is a lesser work compared to his other writings.

    2. You write: And none of the Fuser’s experiences depicted were startling enough to transform him into a revolutionary.

    That depends on the individual threshold for others’ sufferings.

    Che with a low threshold for others’ pain/suffering was easily moved by the poverty he witnessed during the motorcycle trip. For the majority of the human race, the threshold of others’ suffering is very high. It’s because of this silent majority, there is so much deprivation and injustice in he world.

    3. Che was right that without violence or the threat of violence, there is little chance in improvement of lives of people. In the last 60 years, I cannot think of a single poor country that improved the lives of majority of its people within a democratic setting. Cuba has far better healthcare than the U.S. as Michael Moore showed us in the film Sicko.

    South Korea and Singapore are notable Asian countries that rose from poverty to a better life for the majority of its citizens but both did so under mostly non-democratic forms of government. Even China is doing better for its people than countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and much of Africa.

    Of course, that does not mean all non-Democracies will usher in utopia….we have seen the excesses of so many dictatorships in so many countries including India (during Emergency), Pakistan, most of Africa, Argentina, Chile etc.

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