Sunday, October 24, 2004

The real Che

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the Reviewer do not reflect those of the staff at The Strawman.

Anytime I'm in the mood for a mean-spirited diatribe from a priggish Conservative journal, I puruse the New Criterion. In a light and, at the same time, pointed piece, Anthony Daniels gives us his take on The Motorcycle Dairies, a film by Brazilian Director Walter Salles on social revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara. These are the passages that stuck out as gratuitously harsh.

It [the film] relies for its effect upon the fact that audiences will all know a minimum about Guevara: for example, that he was a social revolutionary who died in the jungles of Bolivia, and never made a penny for himself. But they will otherwise know little of his actual opinions or actions, and will not have read his tedious and inflexibly dogmatic speeches and writings. It is as if someone were to make a film about Adolf Hitler by portraying him as a vegetarian who loved animals and was against unemployment.


The film clearly intends to suggest that Guevara was a youthful idealist, and that his idealism—so generous, so disarming—was the source of his later opinions and activities, such as his liberal and open-handed signing of death sentences after perfunctory trials, his support of regimes that had killed millions and scores of millions, and his wish that much of the population of the world should be immolated in a nuclear war for the sake of an alleged point of principle. The film is thus the cinematic equivalent of the Che Guevara T-shirt; it is morally monstrous and emotionally trivial.


In presenting Guevara as a romantic figure, generous and compassionate rather than ruthlessly priggish and self-centered, and by suggesting that he has anything to teach us other than negatively, the director is guilty of mendacity of a very high order. The film is an exercise in moral frivolity and exhibitionism, self-congratulation, of course, opportunism. It should sell as well as Guevara T-shirts.

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