The extremes of compassion

Gael Gabriel Garcia in "The Motorcycle Diaries"

Gael Gabriel Garcia in "The Motorcycle Diaries"

[After reading an article in the The New York Times today about how restrictions on Cuba travel and business have been lifted, I thought I'd repost my musings on Che Guevara and "The Motorcycle Diaries" (originally posted on my Drama page). Che was not Cuban, but of course he figured heavily in the country's revolution.]

I was very touched by “The Motorcycle Diaries” (2004). I thought it was lovely, and I was already fascinated by Che Guevara, as many people are. He has been greatly romanticized and even celebrated for his revolutionary spirit. The film shows the origins of the impetus for what would become his life’s crusade. And it’s remarkable (but should it be surprising?) that this man who started out as a great humanitarian – a doctor, a healer, touched by the plight of the oppressed, moved to severe action – should become what he fought to protect against. He became the tormentor, the torturer, the oppressor of those who opposed him. Although from what I understand, he and Fidel Castro had a falling out of sorts (I’m half-remembering from a PBS documentary that basically he lost favor in Castro’s eyes mainly due to Castro’s jealousy of his popularity, but I could be wrong about that.). So Castro sent him off to the place where he would meet his end.

But as I recognize and, in fact, relish my fascination bordering on infatuation with this legendary figure, I can’t help but wonder why he and Castro are viewed so differently. Why was Che so revered and Castro so reviled? There may be a logical reason that I’ve missed, but I suspect it has much to do with appearances. Che was a very attractive man with passion and vision. His compassion and tolerance of people with views different from his own seems to have faded the deeper he and Castro got into their cause. I guess that’s just a hazard of the revolutionary model. The difficulty is ensuring the freedom of all people, even in a democracy, because in no system can there ever really be equality. Everyone can have the same opportunities, and even that is hard to come by because the playing field is rarely level for all. But there will always be the haves and the have-nots – or the haves and the have-less.

But we must try to improve things, mustn’t we? We can’t resign ourselves to the status quo. We must help people. Perhaps that is why Che is so revered, romanticized or celebrated – because he started from a place of compassion and was so committed to it that he forced change. He was a doer, not a watcher. A true, dare I say, pure, revolutionary. And it didn’t hurt that he was so easy on the eyes. We are suckers for good-looking people in all walks of life. Still, there’s something to be said for good intentions. The PBS documentary depicted Castro’s early involvement in overthrowing the Cuban government as being prompted mostly by political ambition. I think he is perceived as a power-hungry dictator, whereas Che remained a “man of the people” who did not seem to care for the trappings of power, politics and high society. At any rate, I feel like I was able to glimpse Che’s journey, his epiphany, through “The Motorcycle Diaries.” I’m glad he kept a journal for the screenwriters to follow.