“The Motorcycle Diaries” is a road trip epic, where two friends embark on a journey across the continental South America during 1952. Our thrill seekers are Ernesto Guevara de la Serna (Gael Garcia Bernal), an asthmatic 23 year old med student and Alberto Granado, a chubby biochemist and amusing bullshitter. Their mode of transportation is an oil-leaking motorcycle nicknamed “The Mighty One.”
The first hour of the movie is absolutely entertaining, as the two twenty-somethings battle bickering, a faulty two-wheeler, Mother Nature, and absence of money. You have to marvel at the way they think they can get by with wit, charm, improvisation, and scholastic degrees. Despite the miserable circumstances, their determination to get drunk with fun is strong. They seek the pleasures of having satisfied stomachs and hormones. The second half of the movie changes dramatically in tone when Ernesto and Alberto encounter the poor local people. When they meet an indigent couple traveling miles in search of a job, the men are almost ashamed to say they are traveling for the sake of traveling. Slowly, they drop their hedonistic goals along the road and pick up tokens of worldly wisdom instead.
I admit the movie’s high rating is influenced by my own experience in traveling. The movie gets it right too many times. It captures the weariness of long-distance traveling and the surprising annoyance one can develop for a companion. Ultimately, traveling is an exploration of the human spirit. It is not entirely fulfilling if it is limited to just seeing a place, no matter how picturesque. It’s easy to have seen a different place. It’s another thing to come away with a different view of the world. And such change of perspective can alter your life forever. So while I think simply watching “The Motorcycle Diaries” is a poor substitute for traveling, it is nevertheless a moving vehicle that easily transcends above a majority of fiction films and gives us a realistic and awe-inspiring view of humanity.