The Motorcycle Diaries

The Motorcycle Diaries

The Motorcycle Diaries is about a sensitive, intelligent, and doomed youth named Er­n­e­sto Guevara, and the movie itself is sensitive, intelligent, and doomed. Scriptwriter José Rivera and director Walter Salles create interesting characters and maintain a beautiful naturalness of pace and rhythm: the movie zips along while never becoming frenetic. But it’s hard to ride a motorcycle while wearing a straightjacket, and the one Rivera and Salles share is made of left-wing piety. And around the bend lies a pothole called “Che.”

For Che Guevara is what the medical student Ernesto became: a revolutionary ready to kill for the Marxist revolution-the successful one in Cuba, and the unsuccessful one in Bolivia-that led to his execution by the Bolivian police (probably abetted by the CIA). Che was canonized by left-wingers in the late 1960s. One saw posters of him on dormitory walls and his writings were everywhere in campus bookstores; his guerrilla regalia inspired the sartorial style of the Black Panthers and the Symbianese Liberation Army, and his theories and pronunciamientos were on the lips of members of the S.D.S. It was logical enough that revolutionaries espousing violence would have a Marxist jungle fighter as a hero, yet there was one peculiar thing about the postmortem aura bestowed on Guevara by his admirers. While the posters displayed an armed warrior, and the books and aphorisms proclaimed and...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.