Ernesto Guevara de la Serna
Ernesto is not a good dancer. He confuses the Mambo with the
Tango and after that social faux pas, he gets a raft named
after his incompetence – THE MAMBO TANGO. It's a sublime
gesture. It's a sublime movie.
me if I amble down a well-trodden adolescent lane. There are
certain works that earmark and ineffably define generations.
Rebellion in my teens was surfed on the giant and angry wave
of punk, espousing self consciously crude lyrics that managed
to get the 'c' word on the radio simply because it was a syllable
of 'vacant' (don't believe me, listen to Johnny's almost spat
out delivery). I was a Wall child strangely in awe
and in fear of Rotten, Vicious et al. I preferred the cosy
Pink Floyd concept album that I was able to perform in front
of a mirror without really being a pain in the ass to anyone
except possibly my dad (throbbing bass from a ceiling sat
uncomfortably with the tinny speakered TV throwing up A
Question of Sport downstairs). My Dad has since forgiven
me. Viva la rebellion.
in higher education there are the benchmark icons, the material
possessions you own (can you do anything other than own material
possessions?) that announce that "the world doesn't understand
me but that's OK, because I am unique" – and curiously
all these totems turn out to be the cookie-cutter same things
(unique, schmunique) – Klimt prints (something a lower grade Buffy villain once remarked upon so it can't
be just me), one or two posters of the four seminal BLUEs
(The Big Blue, The Blues Brothers, Betty Blue and Blue Velvet)
and conceivably a ciggie roll up machine made of red plastic
and a flimsy metal frame. Smoking was somehow synonymous with
sophistication, French intellectualism and dying a grisly
death but at eighteen dying a grisly death wasn't on any of
was a man who probably died a grisly death (well, he was executed
when I was six by the then CIA funded Bolivian army, way to
go, CIA). He also attained poster status beyond the dreams
of a bare-assed tennis player or even Farrah Fawcett in her
seventies' hair hey day. This guy became a real-life icon.
Here was a man who turned a beret into a political statement
and his extraordinarily beautiful face was stencilled on every
communist-in-training's T-shirt, a face stuck on the walls
of students everywhere who had an inkling that something else
existed beyond the world of money, commerce and injustice.
That's what you think when you're young enough to believe
that a difference may still be something that can be made.
TO SELF: it still can. Don't let the bastards grind
Simpson used to believe in things when he was young. He told
his daughter so. The inference here (throughout most mass
media) is that hope is something on which we've given
up all hope. Raising the sociological bar to the ubiquitous
"RUTHLESS MONEY MAKING BASTARDS, ALL" makes the
mean – well named average – height of the indifference bar
very high. So high in fact that a great percentage of people
do not even vote anymore. Unlike Australia (where it is illegal
NOT to vote) this country of ours has an antipathy close to
narcolepsy. Who can blame us? Look who we have to vote for.
A blood sucking vampiric old school right winger or a war
mongering right winger who happens to have stolen the right's
agenda and called it 'new left'. Oh god. Where is the left?
hope for? What is out there tapping into the nugget of the
human condition screaming in its own way "Get off your
asses, DO SOMETHING!" Very little, it seems. Movies don't
tend to change the world (unless Kerry gets in and Michael
Moore really was proven to have had something to do with it).
What about examining those who did move the world, who did
make a difference because their commitment was more important
than their own lives? We've done Gandhi.
Attenborough was suitably lauded but non-violence is very
much out of vogue at present. Extreme brutality seems to have
come to the fore and apparently (according to those who practice
it) it's God's will. Cheers, God... Nice one.
Christ. On a bike.
about a look at what made a man the man he became, the man
who affected many generations, a man who said (in essence)
'this is unfair' and spent the last third of his life trying
to make things NOT unfair. It earned him a bullet and martyrdom
beyond the dreams of bin Laden, but he did make a mark on
history and just how he came to make those choices that defined
his extraordinary life are examined in The Motorcycle
Diaries. Every great man or woman was a boy or girl.
Greatness may have been thrust upon him but essentially the
real person started off as a real person. It was time, myth
and historical manufacturing that created the icon. Che Guevara
is still a powerful icon but once upon a time he was a young
man (Ernesto Guevara de la Serna), idealistic and confused
and empowered by terrible injustice.
actors Charlie Boorman and Ewan MacGregor (whose recent over-media'ed
jaunt has captured the public imagination), (C)he and his
best friend Alberto wanted to travel on a motorcycle and explore
the huge beyond – the South American land mass they called
home. They had one motorcycle (the Mighty One), a Norton well
past its and a lot of others' primes but it got them some
thousand miles into their quest. In fact they had many accidents
along the way, crashes in the film that are merely documented
not made significant by some paradigm of the Hollywood screenwriting
gurus. Ernest and Alberto fell off and out but the journey
continued and what a terrific movie resulted.
movie (based on the book co-authored by the two travellers)
presents the pair as (1) Alberto; out to screw whomever's
around by any means possible and (2) Ernesto; not above the
allure of the flesh but also caring and brutally honest. Could
Che's parents have named their ground-breaking offspring any
name other than Ernest? If this had been an American film
(oh my Lord, thank fuck it ain't), the pair would have had
their character arcs and would have performed according to
them like seasoned puppies begging on cue. And it would have
had a happy ending. Ay Car-fucking-Rumba.
this is a real film, a real film that in twenty years will
be seen as a true rite of passage movie. This is essentially
a film about what it takes to be a good person in such a bad
world. And oh, do we need that. In spades. In twenty years
the carefree-life poster that is The Motorcycle Diaries may be up there with Betty, Belushi and Jean-Marc Barr. But
in this instance it may mean more than the sum of its parts. The Motorcycle Diaries is the birth canal
of revolution, giving shape and form to the events that fostered
a man who denied the material and embraced what might be.
Here really was a man who put his life second, his ideals
first. He lived a life of selfless sacrifice and died courtesy
of the American oil-dollar machine that saw communism (the
fifties and sixties' Al Qaeda) as a direct threat. Since when
has the idea of being fair and selfless been such a threat?
Isn't that Americanism writ large?
Motorcycle Diaries (without the cumbersome weight
of Che Guevara's heavily romanticised character) is
a film about two guys, one a doctor-to-be, the other a chemist
with delusions of sexual potency based on his mostly invented
exploits, travelling the north-south of their immense continent.
They come to the conclusion that all south Americans are the
same (for that read all of us en masse) and that we all deserve
the fairness that human consciousness has bestowed upon us.
comes from a loving family. Well into his trek, he admits
to missing his siblings most of all. He is a gifted medical
student whose honesty diagnoses a man's life threatening tumour
as exactly that rather than a benign lump, the latter diagnosis
almost guaranteed to give the travellers a comfy bed to sleep
on. Ernest is brutally honest about the literary merits of
a book written by one of his own medical heroes. Rather than
anger and despair, the writer of the ‘lame' book
celebrates Ernest's honesty shaming his friend's sugar coated
review by the sheer force of his will.
pair eventually make it to their goal, a leper colony in northern
Chile. There is no Rob Bottin make-up on show here (unless
Rob has honed his talent to a level of realism that I find
impossible to fault). These are real lepers (as far as I could
tell) and they are to a man and woman, consummately REAL actors.
It lends the film an air of documentary-like realism that's
hard to refute. In their three weeks, the two idealists attach
themselves to the colony as cotton wool attaches on a wound.
They refuse to wear gloves in dealing with the afflicted (leprosy
is not a communicable disease) and in so doing earn the respect
and over time, the love of those who have lost arms and legs
to the horrific disease. Their sheer, bald humanity pierces
prejudice and even the sexually starved Alberto comes to realise
that his closest friend has experienced an epiphany, one that
will mark him for the rest of his life.
an ending that may be interpreted as a Hollywood stunt, Ernest
swims a quarter mile to the leper colony at night on the eve
of their going away party. It's Ernest's birthday and
he wants to celebrate it with those whose lives he has shaped.
He is asthmatic but he makes it (of course he makes it, he's
Che Guevara and will live to swim – and be shot – another
day). It's a climax to a film that really didn't need a climax.
The fabric of the film creates its own climax. It doesn't
need a rousing finale. It's like being drunk and some idiot
insisting that you have to be REALLY drunk to fall asleep... The Motorcycle Diaries has its own trump
card – photos, real photos, of the events dramatised in the
film – as an end. You're suddenly brought up short. This is
real. This happened. And then you feel grateful that it did