From time to time, we’re going to begin featuring guest bloggers here at pomomusings. I’m honored to have my good friend, Reno Lauro, post a two-part review and reflection on The Motorcycle Diaries.
The Motorcycle Diaries: The Ghost of El Che and Christian Theology Pt.1
“Early in the morning of the 9th of October, the unit received the order to execute Guevara and the other captives. Previously, Col. Santana, Commander of the 8th Division, had given express orders to keep the prisoners alive. The Officers involved did not know where the order originated, but felt that it came from the highest echelons . . . Guevara stood and faced him. Sgt. Terran told Guevara to be seated but he refused to sit down and stated, “I will remain standing for this.” The Sgt. began to get angry and told him to be seated again, but Guevara would say nothing. Finally Guevara told him, “Know this now, you are [only] killing a man.” Terran then fired a burst from his M2 carbine, knocking Guevara back into the wall of the small house.” ((http://www.marxists.org/archive/guevara/biography/last-days.htm))
Ernesto “Che” Guevara was murdered on October 9, 1967 in Bolivia by the Bolivian military, U.S. Army Special Forces and the CIA. The mythos of El Che and his iconic image makes him one of the 20th centuries greatest figures -depending on which side of the river you look from. The recent film “The Motorcycle Diaries” by Brazilian director Walter Salles Jr. (City of God 2003) is an attempt to liberate Che from pop-icon status – the patented deathblow of our glorious capitalist machine that castrates people and ideas by absorbing them and turning them into commodities. Salles’ gritty docu-drama frees Che from college tee shirts and posters, from Warhol’s pop gaze and Neo-Imperialistic propaganda.
The film is based on Che’s book The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey. Both chronicle 23 year old Guevara’s, played by Gael Garcia Bernal (Y Tu Mama Tambien 2001, Amores Perros 2001) travels across South America on a motorcycle with his friend Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna) in 1951-1952. This personal odyssey ultimately is what inspires Che to become a revolutionary. On the surface the film is a coming of age adventure road trip. Imagine Kerouac’s On the Road in South America. The action in the film varies from the suspenseful (exploring Incan ruins) to the comedic (falling off their bikes, wooing women, drunken revelry) to the serious (volunteering at a leper colony).
However, as I sit here writing this review listening to folk music inspired by Che it is imperative that we understand that the film is so much more. The film is a journey into what it means to live for others. Once the duo leave Argentina Salles begins to incorporate a very effective documentary film style that plays out in a series of interviews with locals. These vignettes transform youthful adventure into an exploration of the beauty of the Latin American culture and the horrors of Latin American injustice that began with the arrival of the Spaniards 500 years ago. Guevara and Granado ultimately arrive at a leper colony along the Amazon River. Here we see Che’s growing love for other grind against Christian religion. I will develop this topic further in part two.
The Motorcycle Diaries is a journey through the geography of Latin American and human social structures. But it is also a story for us all. In a time in history where the U.S. middle class is shrinking rapidly, the global divide between the haves and the have nots continues to expand and global capitalism continues to drive the interests of world politics this movie matters. The spirit of Che Guevara is a sprit of compassion for the other, a spirit that we all should tap into, a spirit very much in union with the work of Christ. In this lies the rub . . . as followers of Jesus of Nazareth, what can a man like Ernesto Che Guevara teach us about our own faith and our own failure of faith. I dare say a lot.
“I am not interested in dry economic socialism. We are fighting against misery, but we are also fighting against alienation. One of the fundamental objectives of Marxism is to remove interest, the factor of individual interest, and gain, from people’s psychological motivations. Marx was preoccupied both with economic factors and with their repercussions on the spirit. If communism isn’t interested in this too, it may be a method of distributing goods, but it will never be a revolutionary way of life.” – Ernesto Che Guevara