The iconic image of Ernesto “Che” Guevara can be found ont-shirts and dorm room walls around the world. He is thehandsome face under the black beret, staring off into the distance. Since his death in 1967, Che Guevara, who stands as one ofthe most important political figures of the 20th century, has beentranscended from guerilla revolutionary to pop culture icon.
A new movie, released late September in theaters across thecountry, centers on the early years of Guevara’s life. “TheMotorcycle Diaries” is based on journal he and a close friend keptduring their 1952 journey across Latin America.
The subtitled film, by Brazilian director Walter Salles, starsGael Garcia Bernal (Y Tu Mama Tambien) as a handsome 23-year oldChe, and Rodrigo de la Serna as his pal Alberto. In theirtravels across the countryside, the two encounter the immensepoverty and suffering of the poor and downtrodden. Theseeye-opening experiences eventually push Guevara to shift to a lifeof politics, although the movie does not delve into his politicalbeginnings.
Washington Post critic Desson Thomson’s review of the film notesthat “their fate is not the point of the story. It’s theyouthful journey that led to it.” He goes on to say the film “couldbe accused, legitimately, of furthering Che’s ubiquitousT-shirtification.”
Other critics, though praising the films cinematography andplot, question its depth. Owen Gleiberman of EntertainmentWeekly argues, “‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ is glazed over by itsworship of Che Guevara.”
“The Motorcycle Diaries” is one of the first motion pictures toexplore the turbulent life of the Argentine revolutionary. Guevara was born on June 14, 1928 in Rosario, Argentina to amiddle-class family. He attended Buenos Aires Universitywhere he studied medicine and showed little interest inpolitics.
He loved to travel and in 1949 took the first of many trips toArgentina; an experience that changed his life and led him to joinCastro and other Cuban rebels in Mexico in 1954. Che proved to be aresourceful guerrilla leader and became one of Castro’s closest andmost trusted friends.
After the overthrow of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1958,Guevara went on to lead violent, bloody revolutions throughoutSouth America and Africa. During this period, he also servedas Minister of Industry and president of the National Bank ofCuba. In 1967, during a failed guerilla movement in Bolivia,he was captured by a Bolivian army unit and killed.
He is rumored to have told his executioner, “shoot, coward, youare only going to kill a man.”
In the years since his death, Che Guevara has truly become aJames Dean-type icon: young, handsome and rebellious. Jon LeeAnderson, author of “Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life”believes,”There is something about Che’s face – the iconicimage – which seems immediately identifiable to young peopleof almost any generation and almost any culture.”
Whether his legacy be celebrated in film or on a t-shirt, it isundeniable that Che Guevara is still the personification ofrevolution and defiance for our generation.