The Motorcycle Diaries, 2004
Starring Gael García Bernal and Rodrigo De la Serna
Synopsis (From Netflix):
This film tells the incredible true story of a 23-year-old medical student from Argentina, Che Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal), who motorcycled across South America with his friend Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna) in 1951-52. The trek became a personal odyssey that ultimately crystallized the young man’s budding revolutionary beliefs. Walter Salles’s film is based on Che’s own diaries of the trip.
This is a film that is bursting with content and themes, and I could probably write a whole book on it (considering it was based on the diaries of both Ernesto and Alberto) however there are a few themes that run throughout this movie which I’d like to focus on- integrity, injustice, and erasing borders.
From the beginning of the film we could see that Ernesto “Che” Guevera had integrity. This was exhibited by how hard it was for him to lie. When he and Alberto lost their tent and they needed a place to stay they came across and old man who asked if they really were doctors, and if so could they examine him. Ernesto did and it became clear that the man had a tumor. Alberto wanted to play it off as something they could treat in exchange for room and board, but Ernesto knew this was a man’s life and health and had to tell the truth.
Ernesto was also given US$15 from his girlfriend in order to purchase a bathing suit. Alberto would constantly harass him for the money which he held on to because of the promise he had made to her. He knew that the money was not his, but merely in his possession.
“They who dwell within the tabernacle of God, and are established upon the seats of everlasting glory, will refuse, though they be dying of hunger, to stretch their hands and seize unlawfully the property of their neighbor, however vile and worthless he may be.” ~Bahá’u’lláh
However as the film progressed, the two men were tested over and over as their motorcycle failed, as people turned on them for being Argentinian instead of from Chile, when Ernesto’s girlfriend married someone else, and as they witnessed injustice when meeting the impoverished. A poignant moment transpired when the two men met an impoverished couple whose land had been taken away and were looking for work:
The Wife: Are you looking for work too?
The Wife: Then why are you traveling?
Ernesto: We are traveling to travel
The Wife: Well bless your travels
It was a strong moment because despite how hard this journey had been, with the crashes, and the snow, and the failing cycle, it was still voluntary. Ernesto realized these were hard working people that were not traveling by choice, whereas he was a a med student taking off from med school to travel around. We find out later that he ended up giving this couple the precious money, most likely because he realized he would never see his former girlfriend again.
When the men reach Peru they begin to see how unjustly the indigenous have been treated. They stand at Machu Picchu and cannot believe that these people who could create such beauty and had such a powerful grasp of science and mathematics were overtaken by the Spanish by guns. Alberto is so moved that he decides he should marry an indigenous and start an Indigenous Party to fight for their rights via a peaceful revolution. Ernesto replies that a revolution without guns would never work, a sad moment for both the film and for the world as we can see how much revolutions with guns were also ineffective and painful throughout Latin American history (and history in general).
Their journey takes them to a leper colony and this is where the themes come together and Ernesto experiences the most growth. This colony is literally divided by a river. All the sick live on one side of the river, cast out by their families, and all the healthy people (the doctors, the nurses, the nuns, and other workers) on the other. The rule is to wear gloves even though lepers in treatment are not contagious. Ernesto and Alberto refuse to wear them and treat the lepers with dignity, as if they are people and not contagions. It is this dignity that both men have learned to see in every human being on their journey. It transcends national, ethnic, class, or social boundaries. It is also why Ernesto chooses to swim across the river the night of his birthday, when the boats have stopped running. He wants to celebrate with the lepers as well as the healthy.
“Take pride not in love for yourselves but in love for your fellow-creatures. Glory not in love for your country, but in love for all mankind. Let your eye be chaste, your hand faithful, your tongue truthful and your heart enlightened.” ~Bahá’u’lláh
And Ernesto was onto something. These borders we have put up (of country, of class, of whatever) are fake. How do we erase the artificial borders? How do we unite humanity? Not through guns and violence which “Che” unfortunately tries to do later on, but through the actions he took during this film. Through treating people with dignity, by respecting that we are all human and therefore of the same stock and should be listened to and honored. By practicing the virtues of truthfulness and honesty in order to build trust. By traveling and actually meeting other people and learning all the gifts they can share. People in the film dismissed him as an idealist, and that is something Baha’is are also often labeled as, but these actions can have positive results and did in the lives of Alberto and Ernesto.