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Motorcycle Diaries

MPA Rating: R-Rating (MPA) for language.

Reviewed by: Chris Monroe

Moral Rating: Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:
Primary Audience: Adults
Genre: Adventure Biography Drama Adaptation
Length: 2 hr. 6 min.
Year of Release: 2004
USA Release:
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Film based on the books Notas de viaje by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and Con el Che por America Latina by Alberto Granado

Che Guevara, the Argentine Marxist revolutionary, physician, author, guerrilla leader, diplomat, and military theorist who was a major figure in the Cuban Revolution

Communism’s terrible effects on the world

Featuring Gael García Bernal
Mia Maestro
Rodrigo de la Serna
Mercedes Moran
Susana Lanteri
Director Walter Salles
Producer Karen Tenkoff, Michael Nozik, Edgard Tenenbaum, Karen Tenkhoff
Distributor: Focus Features. Trademark logo.
Focus Features
, a subsidiary of Universal Pictures, a division of NBCUniversal/Comcast

“Let the world change you… and you can change the world”

While a motorcycle is a vehicle that survives through only half this story, the portrayal of the mid-twentieth century Latin American revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara as a blissful ideal is one that continues through to the very end. This slice of life drama displays a host of his experiences that purportedly solidified his convictions, avoiding any exhibition of his actual political exploits, and only briefly mentioning how his life ends.

It’s early 1950’s Argentina when a med student, Ernesto (Gael Garcia Bernal) and his scientist friend, Alberto (Rodrigo De la Serna), set out on motorcycle to travel 10,000 miles around the South American continent before Alberto turns thirty and Ernesto finishes medical school. Intending to broaden their horizons, their journey consists of fun and adventure, but also a series of meetings with doctors and hospital patients and a host of struggling individuals who make up the specific countries. But more than plot, this story reveals the character of these two young men, emphasizing the opening narration by Ernesto that “This isn’t a story of heroic feats, but about two lives that ran parallel for a while.”

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A couple of things to note: First of all, there is a fair amount of foul language used throughout this story. Too, there are several discussions involving talk of sex, and some situations that imply sexual relations (although none of it is shown). There is one involved moment where it seems two characters may have sex, but they refrain. Still, sex is referred to a lot, as it is one of Alberto’s goals for this trip.

This film is not driven by plot; it is clearly a character piece. The story is not about one big event, but is a accumulation of many different, small events where little choices and nuances are highlighted to reveal character. The character most obviously being highlighted here is Ernesto (“Che”), but they more aptly define him by contrasting him with his amigo Alberto. Throughout this story we see a saintly Ernesto as he tells the truth, does the right thing—even when it’s difficult—sacrifices, cares for people, experiences heartache, and even suffers with his own illness. Alberto, on the other hand, is more interested in money, having a good time, getting people to like him—even if he has to lie—and using people. They still seem to present Alberto as a good guy, but Ernesto is undoubtedly the better guy.

In one scene, Ernesto and Alberto are asked to read a book by a doctor whom they’re visiting. They follow through with it, and are questioned by the doctor about it before they leave for their next town. Alberto immediately lays on thick compliments about the book, even though it seems it is difficult for him to give his opinion. Ernesto, however, pauses, and then tells this doctor—who has been so nice as to house and feed these two men—that he doesn’t like the book. Ernesto tells their doctor friend plainly that his book isn’t good. Humbly, however, the doctor thanks him.

Two proverbs that come to mind in light of this are Proverbs 27:5 which says, “Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed,” and Proverbs 27:6 saying, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” Although it wasn’t easy, Ernesto still does the right thing by being honest.

There are many other noble things this film portrays about Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and while they are exemplary deeds, it felt like there is some political motivation behind it. Nevertheless, the film is very well made, entertaining and hosts many picturesque scenes of these Latin countries, especially with the black and white static shots of people.

Violence: Minor / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Mild

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—Director Walter Salles has proven himself better than any American director when it comes to making road movies. He doesn’t water them down the way Barry Levinson does in “Rain Man.” One of the best films in recent times was Salles” Brazilian masterpiece, “Central Station” about a woman con artist who goes on the road in attempt to save a young boy from an unspeakable horror. In the process she saves not only the boy, but herself.

Salles’ “Motorcycle Diaries” is wonderful too, but in a different way. It gives great insight into the development of a political consciousness without coming down too strong on one side or the other. I have a better understanding of a man’s coming to terms with himself and with the world, and I appreciate that Salles does not ask us to see Guevara as a great man or even a good one, just as a man. And he was an appealing and handsome man. No wonder his face continues to adorn T-shirts and dorm room posters. There is room left for judgment of his later exploits which we know all too well.

The man we see tending to patients in a leper colony in Salles’ film would several years later say things like “I am one of those people who believe that the solution to the world’s problems is to be found behind the Iron Curtain” or that hatred is “extremely useful,” and whose legacy includes opening Cuba’s first forced labor camp and shooting little boys who stole food from the Cuban army. The scenes in Peru were particularly beautiful (the cinematography is stunning).

I was reminded of another South American, Martin of Porres, the illegitimate son of a Spanish knight and a Panamanian refugee. Martin lived in the early 17th century and he saw many of the same injustices and inequalities that Che saw. Martin even witnessed the ravages of the slave trade which boomed in Peru at that time. He founded hospitals and orphanages and ministered to African slaves. Martin came from a somewhat similar background as Che, and saw similar things. How does one man deny himself for the good of mankind and the other exalt himself in the advance of evil?
My Ratings: [Average/4]
Jim O’Neill, age 51
Neutral—This subtitled movie was quite adventurous. It’s a good story about 2 guys on a motorcycle adventure in South America. There are parts where the travelers fool the locals with made-up stories in order to get food, drinks, etc. However, the strong focus was about taking notice on the country’s poverty. It gives a good message on embracing those who have nothing. Che and his friend work as a doctor helping lepers in the village, and Che grew a close attachment with them. It was the best part of the movie. Overall, there were scenes of temptations, lust, etc, but most of it was hidden. I would recommend it if you like films based on a true story.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/3]
Paul, age 29
Negative—Che Guevara was for a long time a kind of an “icon” of the Communist movement, full of idealism. The Communist movement has to have always this type of “saint” to be able to recruit. By your description of the film it seems that the producers are trying to re-launch Che in that light as a person extremely upright and sincere. These are the basic elements that would make him such a hero, without having to mention directly any political issue or idea. [I have not viewed this film.]
My Ratings: [Average/3½]
John Da Costa, age 58
Positive—As a university student I found this film to be rejuvenating. I have read Che’s Bolivian Diaries and watching the young idealist that Che embodies in this movie filled me with sadness in knowing how this man’s life plays out. Perhaps being in a similar situation, with the status of current events I think a lot of students can empathize with Che and all that he sees in the movie. My point is that in the movie Che channels his energies into something constructive and the obvious love and pity that he has for his poor countrymen is very Christ like. I think its important for us to realize what a difficult life Che lived, and we must admire him for the courageous stance he took for injustice, and the context from which he was coming from. To me, Che is an inspiring figure, because he did not apathetically lie and what for the injustices of the world to overpower him, but rather he took stand against injustice, and while he was a communist, there are much worse things in this world then communists. My economics teacher always refers to Jesus as the first communist, so let’s not freak out because Che was one.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/5]
John Vychytil, age 21
Negative—“Che” was truly an evil man—a murderer, a sociopath, and a psycopath. Anyone who actually reads what he wrote would know that. “Man’s highest aspiration in life is to be a cog in the wheel of the production of consumer goods.”

Beside being morally offensive and manipulative, the movie is dull and poorly structured, the writing is by-the-book, and the acting is rote.
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive/1½]
Akira O’Brian, age 42
Positive—A compelling look into the economic hardships faced in South America and two compassionate men who are changed by what they see on their travels.
My Ratings: [Good/4½]
Baldwin, age 18
Negative—I can’t see how any one could enjoy this movie, unless they are ignorant of who Che really was. He was a Communist, who who was a brutal killer and executioner. Che and his political philosophy, is responsible for the deaths of over 100 million innocent people. I don’t see how any Christian could watch this movie that portrays him in a good light, and enjoy it. Though the scale of the killing is not the same, this would be no different than doing a movie about Stalin, Lenin, or Hitler, and making it all positive.
My Ratings: [Offensive/3]
Eric, age 24
Positive—A previous reviewer made the point perfectly—the label of “communism” should have nothing to do with a honest persons critique of the life of another man or woman. Jesus speaks no more of communism than he does of democracy! Besides, this is a review of the movie Motorcycle Diaries, not what you may think of Cuba. The movie was beautiful and showed a man whose life was guided not by selfish pursuits but entirely by concern for his fellow man. There are few of us reading this Web site who could lay such a claim. Che gave his life helping those he saw as the most oppressed, the poorest and sickest. There are few of the world’s truly poor ordering movies on Netflix… and I doubt they care about the political dogma of anyone willing to help them, which should sound familiar to all readers herein.
My Ratings: [Excellent!/5]
Helm, age 29
Neutral—I thought the movie was good, but a tad slow moving. The scenery is beautiful. Content wise, it was somewhat offensive but not terrible. What I found more offensive was the portrayal of Che. Yes, he had some good ideas, but anyone who studies ALL of his writings will see that Cuba has turned out pretty close to how he would have wanted it to.
My Ratings: [Average/3]
Josiah Hager, age 21
Negative—This is another film promoting a popular icon—it paints him as being sensitized to the poor around him, as he was from a very wealthy family, and did not have a “hard life.” However, I don’t buy into the sensitive portrayal of him—I have an issue with the subtle (and sometimes overt)portrayals of agenda setting historical narratives within cinema, especially of historical characters that we should not edify.
My Ratings: [Average/4½]
Christina, age 32
Positive—The reason I like this film is not because of its political portrayal of Che Guevara. I do find what he did in his later years in Cuba (as well as other countries to a smaller extent) to be utterly morally corrupt. I hold him responsible for what he did to innocent human beings. I don’t think communism was the force driving his evil actions. I don’t even think communism is even that bad of an idea. But all of those debatable personal opinions aside all I wish to say about moral judgment of Che Guevara, is that all human beings have some admirable qualities.

Now to the movie. I am from the United States of America. I have been to Ecuador. I have seen the people, all the way from the village healer out in the middle of the rain forest to the highest fraction of a percent living in modern beach houses. And it was one of the saddest things I have ever seen, because the rich remind me of myself, fortunate by birth, and the poor despite the fact that they were oppressed (and they are) had so much pride in the smallest things. A hole in a wall becomes a way to allow light into a room and not a place were leaks plague their wellbeing.

I saw an accurate portray of a concerned global citizen in the way that Che addressed the problems he comes across. So legacy aside, the movie was very well done. It was not meant to climax but to be real and inspiring. And it was both and thus I give it a full 5 out of 5.
My Ratings: [Good/5]
Shojak, age 20