The Motorcycle Diaries – Film Review

Ever wondered what it would be like to follow around a young Che Guevara around on his motorcycle travels around the whole of South America in the 50s, accompanied by his older mate, trying to hook up with da ladies and blag their way through the day, but by the end of it, watch as the epiphany opens like a flower and blossoms into his life his ultimate calling, the meaning of his existence and what he later dedicates his life to?

Yeah – me neither. (Note to self: stop being facetious!) BUT still, I watched it, and I thought it was pretty darn good. To be more accurate: this film had me from the get go – I loved this film! Because behind the unsophisticated behaviours of these two rather intellectual young men (they were medical students), there was something rather sweet about the way they went about their journeys. For example, they piled their motorbike full of their travelling gear, and drove it off road many a time: into ditches, into pools of water. You name it – they fell into it. I’m amazed it didn’t break down more than it did in the film (maybe it did in the book), because if I’m being frank, it looked like a croak of shit, even for back then. Regardless of the travesty they rode on, they were free to explore the great world around them. Freedom.

After visiting the girl Che wants to wait for him after his travelling exhibition, he goes from country to country with his long time friend, dancing, drinking, and trying it on with the guys. In particular, they wanted to come across sisters, and fantasized about the prospect of getting with them (and when the chance did come around, all they did was con them into giving then lots of food, drink, and shelter for the night). They were two conmen for the most part of the film – just take, take, taking from every gulible fool they encountered. They tricked people into thinking they were real professional doctors, and tried plenty of times to get free stuff from pulling that card out. At one point, they tricked a mechanic into fixing their car by showing them a fake news article of how respected they are in their profession.

But Che is the kind of guy who cannot tell a lie, and so left it to his friend to do the large portion of it. But when he did attempt the blagging, it was as if he physically couldn’t do it, and so told truths to people such as, “Your book is really badly written: full of cliché after clichés. Stick to the doctoring.” and, “It looks like a tumour.” The latter, they were trying to get a free night’s kip; the former was where the guy who let them stay at his place had asked him what he thought of his only novel, and so told him the truth. The man respected Che incredibly for this, having never had honest feedback before. And this pattern of honesty was soon to cross over into another avenue of his persona.

When Che and his friend had been through a lot of personal highs throughout their travelling, Che reached a point where he was searching for the real meaning of his trip (this seed was planted by a couple of strangers they sat by a camp fire one night). He saw the pain and poverty of the miners in Chile, and how they were being exploited to work really hard to the point they were starving (Che in fact shouted at the driver of the worker’s truck “Can’t you see these people are thirsty!?”). And the final nail in the coffin came when he came across an island where all the people being “treated” with leprosy were held, as a sort of quarantine from the world. As he was on the water, crossing over to the island by boat, he and his friend were told to put on gloves. Che questioned the validity of such a demand, and then found out that the people with leprosy weren’t contagious by touch, and it was only because the nuns on the island wanted so. Che hated this symbol of separation, of a hierarchy of clean and dirty, and so went onto the island wearing no gloves and immediately shook the hands of the lepers who were in close proximity to him. To tell you the truth, this was one of the few times in the film that I started welling up on (I don’t know why… maybe because I’m a big o’ wetty!). And on the last night there, whilst the “clean” people were on one island and the “dirty” lepers were on the other, Che decided to swim across the dangerous waters and join the lepers on his final night. They all cheered him on, and even though he was struggling due to having really bad lungs (that has caused him to need adrenaline shots before then), he bridged the gap, nonetheless. Thinking back now, the “clean” people were discouraging to do the swim, telling him he won’t make it, how he will drown and that no-one had been known to make the swim across; whereas the “dirty” people were backing him all the way, booming their support over to him as he battled his way over to them. If ever there was the perfect example of the coin of phrase ‘actions speak louder than words,’ this is it!

Oh, and come to think of it – those nuns must have hated this scallywag because he’d broken the illusion of the lepers being untouchable. Just by reaching out to them, he treated them with compassion, with real soul and humanity.

Ultimately, this film is about the self discovery of one individual’s goal in life, and how the world he saw around him – the pain, the injustice – shaped him to become the man he later became.

I laughed, I [nearly] cried, I thoroughly enjoyed this odyssey of a film and would recommend it to anyone who wants to see a good “coming of age” movie.

I give The Motorcycle Diaries:


The following I’ve just added for my own reference (copied and pasted off of Wikipedia):

Intellectual and literary interests

22-year-old Guevara in 1951

Guevara learned chess from his father and began participating in local tournaments by age 12. During adolescence and throughout his life he was passionate about poetry, especially that of Pablo Neruda, John Keats, Antonio Machado, Federico García Lorca, Gabriela Mistral, César Vallejo, and Walt Whitman.[30] He could also recite Rudyard Kipling‘s “If—” and José Hernández‘s Martín Fierro from memory.[30] The Guevara home contained more than 3,000 books, which allowed Guevara to be an enthusiastic and eclectic reader, with interests including Karl Marx, William Faulkner, André Gide, Emilio Salgari and Jules Verne.[31] Additionally, he enjoyed the works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, Vladimir Lenin, and Jean-Paul Sartre; as well as Anatole France, Friedrich Engels, H. G. Wells, and Robert Frost.[32]

As he grew older, he developed an interest in the Latin American writers Horacio Quiroga, Ciro Alegría, Jorge Icaza, Rubén Darío, and Miguel Asturias.[32] Many of these authors’ ideas he cataloged in his own handwritten notebooks of concepts, definitions, and philosophies of influential intellectuals. These included composing analytical sketches of Buddha and Aristotle, along with examining Bertrand Russell on love and patriotism, Jack London on society, and Nietzsche on the idea of death.Sigmund Freud‘s ideas fascinated him as he quoted him on a variety of topics from dreams and libido to narcissism and theOedipus complex.[32] His favorite subjects in school included philosophy, mathematics, engineering, political science, sociology, history and archaeology.[33][34]

Years later, a February 13, 1958, declassified CIA ‘biographical and personality report’ would make note of Guevara’s wide range of academic interests and intellect, describing him as “quite well read” while adding that “Che is fairly intellectual for a Latino.”