Movie Reviews
12:44 pm
Tue October 5, 2004

Motorcycle Diaries

Become a spiritual companion on the ride of a lifetime.

A cocktail of motorcycle, youth, idealism, and the open road is spirit altering even for the most densely macho man. But that "drink" in the hands of 24-year-old Ernesto "Che" Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal, "Y Tu Mama Tambien") and 30-year-old Alberto Granado (Rodrigo De la Serna), the former an almost medical doctor and the latter a pharmacist, is transformation to shake the world. Most notably, in "Motorcycle Diaries," a new film based on his recollections, the introverted Che gradually sees in the 7500-mile trek from Argentina to Venezuela the "injustice" to peasants, culminating in the insight that "life is pain."

This picaresque through South America is exhilarating: Sometimes you see the motorcycle tumbling amid the beauty of mountains and desert and other times you linger with hand-held tightness on the changing landscape of Che's beautiful face. This is, after all, the boy who would be rebel, the future iconic leader of the Cuban Revolution, who was subsequently assassinated in South America with the help of the CIA. I now anxiously await the film with Benicio Del Toro as director Terence Malick's "Che."

Director Walter Salles ("Central Station") doesn't apotheosize Che just yet; he lets the boy survey women and miners and all sorts of peasants and lepers until their plight becomes his, until he forsakes the pleasures of youthful abandon for the nobility of service to humanity. When he refuses to wear symbolic gloves in the leper colony, that small rebellion is emblematic of a leader who will not compromise the integrity of the people he serves. However, Salles never lets his characters slip into caricatures of sacrificing humanists, for Alberto remains a hedonist who won't fully find his altruist self until he founds a hospital in honor of Che years hence, and Che himself narrowly escapes the wrath of a husband who realizes Che is after his wife.

That's the inevitable scenario for any lengthy journey of a young person. My own 6000-mile round-trip motorcycle tour from Ohio to Alberta by way of Montana revealed landscapes and kindnesses I never believed existed, and they remain in my imagination. "Motorcycle Diaries" is only half about the challenge of riding and losing "The Mighty One," as the cycle is called; it is mostly about becoming mighty for yourself, finishing your life's journey by foot among people whom you change forever. The name "Che" today echoes with sacrifice and a journey well taken.

No one should be surprised to see Robert Redford's name as executive producer--there's another name of someone who cares. Go with them in this movie and become a spiritual companion on the ride of a lifetime.

Wordsworth, a wanderer himself, knew the conjunction of wisdom, humility, and humanism: "Give unto me, made lowly wise/ The spirit of self-sacrifice."