the motorcycle diaries

the motorcycle diaries
i think i’ve said it before, but it bears repeating that my knowledge of history is a bit spotty. weak. you might even say terrible. for some reason, i just checked out in history classes, which when combined with a bad memory for such things, leads to the sad state of affairs i find myself in. as a result, when a movie like the motorcycle diaries comes along, i find myself lacking the historical pillow on which to rest my head.
let’s ignore history for the moment and talk about a movie.

the motorcycle diaries is a really, really good movie. it’s a buddy flick, a story of intellectual awakening, a travel saga, a touching look at inequity and injustice. on top of all this, the cinematography is stunning, the scenery spectacular, the images arresting. it is well acted, with two compelling male leads in career-defining performances. it is a magnificent, funny, enagaging spectacle as they journey through argentina, peru and chile using "the mighty one" (an old Norton motorcycle that pees oil) as their trusty steed.

taken on its own merits, as a film, it is amazing. and then there is the little problem of history.

the film is about the early life of ernesto guevara de la serna (aka Che Guevara), the Latin American revolutionary leader and icon. the film paints a very sympathetic portrait of a man some consider a terrorist and unrepentant murderer. others see him as a symbol of the fight against injustice, of the struggle in the third world against not only injustice, but also American hegemony and meddling.
so is the film unjustified hagiography, or a look at an interesting and important man through one possible lens?
if you read Paul Berman’s review of the film, you’ll lean more towards the former perspective. read the comments attached to his review, and you might start to think otherwise. after reading these, along with the extensive wikipedia entry, i came to the conclusion that Che Guevara was a complex man, one whose status and importance as an icon probably don’t match his actual deeds and accomplishments (although my historical ignorance prevents me from making a better assessment). his seems an impossible picture to paint, a revolutionary mona lisa that looks different from every angle.

ultimately, i would say that we as viewers need to decide whether the film is a movie, or a lesson in history, or both. many will be able to enjoy the movie, regardless of the politics or the historical accuracy of the potrayal; others won’t be able to get past a wide-eyed, sensitive, thoughtful Che.

i would say, see it and judge for yourself…it’s a great movie worth 2 hours of your life, independent of its politics or potentially misplaced sympathies.

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