Walter Salles’ film, The Motorcycle Diaries, concerns the choices of two South American men, Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Alberto Granado on a physical and inner journey through South America. They were faced with choosing between helping the people of South America and looking after themselves as they scrape by throughout their perilous expedition, for example; when Ernesto and Alberto meet the man near the side of the lake and they inspect the lump on his neck and Ernesto is more concerned of the health of the man whereas Alberto is more concerned with sleeping somewhere and tells the man that it is nothing when it is in fact a tumour shows that Alberto was choosing petty things over the welfare of the people he was meeting and the exact opposite for Ernesto.
While the path they are taking through South America is clearly a physical journey, the emphasis is on the inner journey, which is shown through Ernesto’s choices through the journey, shifting from helping himself to trying to help everyone he meets. The tendency to use others to get by suggests lack of preparation for the length and scale of the journey. There is a sense of frustration and irritation that they are not going as fast as they want to be and the many mishaps they have throughout the journey. There is also a sense of realisation as they come to notice that they may be having problems with their travels but the people they are meeting are far less fortunate than themselves and show Ernesto and Alberto that they are facing much smaller problems than the people they are meeting.
How has Salles conveyed these aspects of the journey?
The film begins superficially and light but as the movie progresses, it’s meaning deepens and reveals the issues Ernesto wishes to combat – poverty, dispossession and homelessness. The narration of letters, postcards and diary entries reveals the inner thoughts of Ernesto and his transformation through his experiences as he ventures through the vastness of South America. Ernesto’s character becomes exposed as a compassionate and humble man who is attempting to help the continent and focuses on the people he meets while Alberto is more focused on the destination than the journey undertaken.
The use of geographical shots (establishing shots) shows the various landscapes and the passage of time through the film, further achieved by the use of a tracker showing the date, city currently in and kilometres travelled shows the depth and length of the journey. The use of black and white photographs at the beginning and end of the film demonstrates the harshness and the effect of the journey on the people within the film and provides context for the time period. In the climax of the film, Ernesto swims across the river to join the lepers for one last night which symbolises up the deeper meaning of the journey – Ernesto’s attempts to bridge the gap of injustice between healthy and sick.
Finally, the use of a handheld camera during the scene in which the miners who failed to be chosen for a career and are traversing a mountain shows the audience the perspective of Ernesto and Alberto as they look out of their latest hitch-hike and authenticates the rough and unprofessional manner in which they are travelling and shows that they were not prepared for their journey despite their “10 years of planning.”