Most movies, certainly most bio-pics, begin at the beginning, end with the ending and treat everything that comes in between like rungs on a ladder. “The Motorcycle Diaries” counts every step along with way and ends long before its subject, Che Guevara, enters history. This is a middle tale, and for better or for worse, you will get no origin stories, history lessons or conclusions. If you can appreciate a journey for the road it travels, “The Motorcycle Diaries” will glue you to your seat with the spectacle of a young man growing into himself. If you long for closure, narrative and purpose, the film is an empty if not beguiling suite of images capped with an ellipsis.
Before he joined the revolution, before his face adorned a million na?ve freshman t-shirts, before he was “Che,” Ernesto Guevara de la Serna (Gael Garcia Bernal) traveled the length of South America, from Argentina to Venezuela, with his friend Alberto (Rodrigo de la Serna). What begins as a self indulgent pleasure tour aboard a shoddy motorcycle called “The Mighty One” turns serious very quickly as the two men, both from affluent backgrounds; discover how their fellow Latin Americans live. What is remarkable about “The Motorcycle Diaries,” is the way the characters change slowly and consistently, with no sudden moments of clarity, no turning points. They are simply borne upon the wave of their own compassion until they simply can no longer be the people they were when the trip began.
The acting is nothing short of wonderful. Bernal may be looking at Oscar consideration for his portrayal of the man who would be Che. De la Serna manages to take a character meant as a foil, a comic lightweight to Che’s brooding outrage at social injustice, and turn him into a complex, emotionally charged character. Better still, the bond they share feels so genuine that you can hear the love in their voices, even when they’re swearing at each other at the top of their lungs.
The imagery is simple and touching, perfectly suited to the themes of the film. The trouble only comes when trying to look at the movie not minute to minute, but as a whole. It has no locus, the thinnest plot and no real characters outside of the two travelers. Even the movie’s themes, as omnipresent as they are, are implied. The plot is difficult to summarize except to say that two men travel and change as they do so, because so little, and yet so much, happens along the way. The attraction is the film’s infectious passion, not its logic or its method. More than a motorcycle, the film rides the young men’s passion all the way to end.
“The Motorcycle Diaries” hits local theaters Friday, Oct. 1.