Saturday, October 23, 2004

Night before last i went to see "The Motorcycle Diaries", a movie about the cross-continent trip undertaken by a pre-revolutionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, with his friend Alberto, across South America. Bosed on both men's diaries of the trip and letters written by Guevara, the trip is supposedly the 'light bulb' that switches on for Guevara. His travels drag him out of the illusion of his own comfort, across a land seething with pain and injustice for most of its indigenous people; and plants the seed for Guevara that makes him want to abandon plans for a future in medicine, in order to make palpable change for the people who need it.

There is the obvious point of interest for me; the continued investigation and attention to the inequities of the world, that i like to think my writing is about sometimes, and that story highlights some of the naivete that i think i foolishly live in sometimes; the idea that if we could only drag people out of their comfort and show them how other people have to live, then even the most apathetic of us would "get it".

Yet, there is something more about Guevara's personality that makes this movie - and pardon the cliche - inspirational. Guevara is depicted as being honest, almost to a fault; and of being stubborn, almost to a fault. This sens of fair play coupled with his stubbornness and dogged determination (the climactic river scene features him swimming the river that separates the medical staff of a leper colony from its patients, so he can spend the night of his birthday with the lepers) is what i must conclude are responsible for the path he eventually takes. After all, he must have had some sense of that when he decided to specialize in leprosy, as opposed to some of the other glamorous specializations in the field of medicine. The question is though; where does one develop so fierce a sense of fair play in a world that suggests in every moment, that one's own gain is all one is required to look after?

The other poignancy that stays with me is in one of the scenes depicting injustice, in which a mining company comes to a meeting point to pick up men to work (all dark-skinned Indio men) at the mines. Most all the men have been forced off the land by developers at some point in time and are forced to seek day labor like this to eke out a living for themslves and their families. The irony is of course that, that scene (and a couple others in the movie) plays itself out every day right here in the U.S.; amongst migrant workers in California, day laborers in Jackson Heights, Queens and hundreds other locations in the country.

Guevara fought for the opportunity of disenfranchised folk in South America, in Cuba, in the Congo, to share equitably in the spoils of their nations. Still, a more complex tale (whether movie or scholarly discourse) will explore Guevara's reconciliation of his beliefs with the violence it took to wage his revolutions, and what some say was some of the bloodiest repression tactics ever employed. Of course, the revolution with which he is most commonly associated is the Cuban revolution that deposed Batista in 1959. That is an examination for another work of... art...

Still, "The Motorcycle Diaries" is excellent as movies go. Gabriel Bernal's (don't know if i got his name right) portrayal of Che is masterful. It would have been easy to over act this; to play Che the budding hero rather than Che the man (albeit often outrageous man) and throughout the progression of the character we see the building of the manifesto within the man. Even his portrayal of Che's asthmatic bouts are incredibly well acted. Filmed on location in the routes taken by Ernesto and Alberto themselves, the mvie is also full of breathtakingly beautiful scenes of the Argentine pampas, the Chilean mountains and the Amazon River and forest.


Blogger Casandra said...

What about the fact that Guevara refused to use the money his girlfriend had given him in order to ease the many discomforts of their journey, but had no qualms about giving it to the migrant family they met! The selflessness emobdied in that act is admirable.

By the way, in 1998 I took a trip to and across Argentina, and the countryside outside large metropolitan areas is exactly the same as it was portrayed to have been in the past.

4:27 PM  

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