Motorcycle Diaries

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I like The Motorcycle Diaries. Does that make me a communist?

Oct 27, 2004 (Updated Mar 4, 2005)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Great reminder to think about others...

Cons:Although I don't admit it in the review, the movie does hero-ize the Che somewhat...

The Bottom Line: www.motorcyclediaries.net


Before The Movie…

Here’s some semi-pertinent information related to this review.

A) I’m a bit of a tightwad.
B) For some reason I get easily annoyed at the movie theater.

Because of that, I don’t hit the big screen as often as I used to. I just can’t bring myself to pay $17.00 (two tickets) when I could see the same movie for 3 bucks in a month at the discount theater.

However, last week I had a coupon for a free ticket, a free drink, and free popcorn. So, my wife and I decided to take a trip to our local 30-plex. Due to reasons A and B we aren’t cinema regulars and don’t pay too close of attention to the mainstream movie scene. …that’s just a long way of saying that we had little idea as to what was playing. We decided to look at the posters. So, we traipsed through the local high-schoolers (who were doing their best to sport coolness while waiting for their moms to show up); and, as we finished our trek through youngsters and posters we found ourselves in front of The Motorcycle Diaries advertisement.

After wading through 15 posters of Hollywood crap we were staring at something that looked different. There were no famous faces on the front, no cleavage, no warnings of sexually explicit puppet scenes. We thought anything this different is probably worth a shot.

During The Movie…

We bought tickets and sat down with our free popcorn and free Coca-Cola.

…and, before I had made it to the kernels at the bottom of the bag we were off on a motorcycle journey through South America with two friends, Alberto and Ernesto…our eventual destination, a leper colony in Peru.

The movie jumped along like memories tend to do, one memorable moment of the expedition followed the next with little regard for the details in between. The movie was simplistic and funny, yet still smart. The best part was, it assumed that I as a moviegoer was smart.

The movie didn’t see the need to spell everything out for me. Instead of insulting my intelligence and wasting my time it allowed me to think for myself. Not only that, the movie allowed me to interpret for myself, which is something far, far too many movies do not allow.

An example…Ernesto meets a girl in his travels. He’s sure that love will prevail and they’ll meet together again and live a happy life. Then, in one town he gets a letter. We don’t know who the letter is from and we don’t know what it’s about. We’re just given a hint from a quick glance at his facial expression as to what the letter may have contained. We are never told exactly what was in the letter. We can only infer and guess that it was the girl saying “See you later”.

In that scene, I was able to use my imagination. What was in the letter? Why did she end her relationship with him? Did something happen to her? I was allowed to think for myself.

Soon the excitement of Ernesto and Alberto’s trip wears off. Instead of heading after adventure and girls, they start slowing down and seeing what’s been around them the entire time. As they turn their attention to more important things, the movie turn its focus to more important things.

More semi-pertinent information…Last year my wife and I spent 3 months in Brazil, South America. While we were there, we rented an apartment in a poor part of the town of Maceio. We stayed in the apartment for about 2 months and then for a little less than a month we traveled around.

I have to say the way the movie progressed was very similar to how our journey progressed for me. My first thoughts were of the excitement of travel. Then, I started paying more attention to the culture around me. Of course, we noticed the change in the culture as soon as we got there. But, it wasn’t until things had settled in a little that we started to notice the people behind the culture. We started seeing what they had to deal with and how they handled it.

The two friends in the movie head into this observational phase about halfway through the film. Ernesto in particular starts seeing people instead of their circumstances, their wealth, or even their health. His adventures aren’t what he notices, it’s the people surrounding the adventures that he sees. The director uses a very simple means to express this, but very effective as well.

Maybe I’m unique in this, but I doubt it. When I think back of our travels in Brazil, I don’t think of the crazy city of Fortaleza, I think of a two-hour conversation I had in English with a Brazilian at a birthday party. I don’t think of the beautiful beaches of Jeriquaquara until I first think of the guy from Argentina and the guy from Switzerland that we spent the day with.

The movie ends with a beautiful depiction of that same idea. The ending isn’t overly climatic; …don’t worry, I won’t ruin it for you. It boils down to this, after the grand finale at the leper colony, Ernesto thinks back on his travels and we see that the scenes for his adventures are merely backdrops for the people he has met. He’s a changed man; the trip has profoundly impacted him.

…How much it had effected him I didn’t know until I went home.

After The Movie…

I got on the good-old internet to see what others had to say about the movie, and I wanted to research the movie, since it’s based on a true story.

What did I find? I found out who Che Guevara was. The movie briefly told me that Ernesto ended up becoming Che Guevara, but it only had good things to say in its few "where-are-they-now" lines of text before the credits. The internet told me among other things...like the fact that he was a leader of the Cuban revolution. There’s mixed opinion on whether he was a good guy or a bad guy. With the knowledge I have now, I’m leaning toward bad guy (actually, a stronger word than lean should probably go there).

I also found some good reviews on the film. But, I found more mediocre reviews. Why were they mediocre? …Because they were going into the movie with false expectations. They wanted the movie to be something that it wasn’t.

Hmmm….let me pick a name as example….okay, Roger Ebert. Ebert wanted to see a movie about how Che Guevara turned into the bad guy that he ended up becoming. He wanted answers. Everybody giving the movie low ratings wanted answers…they wanted Ernesto to be portrayed as a bad guy, even in his youth.

Maybe they should have gone into the movie like I did, with no idea of what to expect and with no concept of who the main character ended up becoming. Maybe then they could have seen the movie for what it was instead of for how it wasn’t what they wanted.

It’s fine with me that the Che wasn’t portrayed as a bad guy. The world’s a complicated place. People are complicated. It’s extremely possible, even likely, that Che Guevara showed no signs of violence and no communistic tendencies at that age. People can change quickly because it’s easy to get swept away to extremes and be blinded to the wrong of an action.

Ebert questions the worth of a movie that doesn’t finish the story. In a sense he asks if it’s profitable to merely show Washington chopping down the cherry tree without showing him as president. I, however, don’t question the worth of a movie that only tells a section of a story…at least, I don’t question its worth when it’s honest about the things it’s trying to show me.

The Motorcycle Diaries reminds me of what it’s like to take an adventure. The thrill of the unknown prods you forward as you begin. Slowly your eyes are opened to the new world around you, and that world points you directly at the people living in it.

Maybe I liked the movie so much because it reminded me of my experience in South America. There’s a chance that it is purely Che Guevara propaganda. Maybe you’ll see the movie and agree with Ebert.

But, I challenge you to see the movie with an open mind. Then, you might leave with a reminder/exhortation that there are other people out there in the big world, and not all of those people have a 9 – 5 work week…actually, some don’t have a work week at all…and, actually, many don’t have a house at all.

What can we do about it? …that’s a thought question. But, the least we can do is realize that we don’t have to have the best house on the block to be happy, and the kids don’t need to be the best soccer players on the field...nope...I promise, there are more important things.

Che Guevara saw hurting people and went about fixing things in the wrong way. I saw a movie about Che Guevara and was reminded of the important things of life, people. And, really, I think that’s the point of the movie. It’s not a movie about a person, it’s a movie about people. If you realize that when you see The Motorcycle Diaries I think you’ll come away feeling touched by this excellent film.


Recommend this product? Yes

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