Monday, September 26, 2005

The Motorcycle Diaries

Last week I managed to watch The Motorcycle Diaries, directed by Walter Salles. Based on the journals of Alberto Granado and Ernesto Guevara (a.k.a "Che" Guevara), the film charts the companion's journey from Buenos Aires around South America on a battered 1939 Norton 500 motorcycle.

Alberto is a biochemist and Ernesto a medical student only one semester away from qualifying. Ernesto has various opportunity to practice his skills on their journey, not least when they arrive at a leper colony in the Peruvian Amazon. We see the beginnings of Ernesto's later political inclination when he becomes bothered by the segregation in the leper colony, and refuses to wear gloves to treat the patients, irritating the nuns who run the colony. One night during his birthday celebrations, Ernesto swims across to the leper colony from the 'safe' side of the river where the uninfected live. This symbolic moment encapsulates Ernesto's 'crossing over to the other side' both politically and medically; his approach to patients is both unconventional and passionate.

Having travelled in Peru last year I had wanted to see this film for its footage of Machu Picchu and the Amazon, and was pleasantly surprised to discover Che Guevara was a trained doctor. Although he finished his training, he never completed an internship, and as we all know went onto pursue a political career before being assassinated in 1967. His companion Alberto is still alive today, living in Cuba, having co-founded the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Santiago.

There is a Guardian Interview and info about the film available too. Overall a good film whether you are medically or politically minded or interested in foreign culture.


Anna said...

I agree with aj, this is a really good film being inspirational both medically and politically. Leprosy is a really intresting disease; an example of how lack of medical knowledge on transmission can leave sufferers completely isolated from society. A similar reaction was provoked in the early days of HIV where patients were treated by doctors wearing space like suits and masks. The poor patients must have felt like prisoners. Fortunately we now know better.

Giskin said...

I loved this movie! It's really well made and an interesting mix of road-trip, history, biography and medicine. Just be warned, if you're watching it because you're a motorcycle fan, the one that lends the movie its title is an early casualty.