“Che”
 
            Yes, it’s long.  OK, now that we’ve gotten past that, we can talk about the movie.  Benicio Del Toro converts the diaries of Ernesto “Che” Gueverra into a detailed account of the life of a revolutionary, in an era, not that long ago, when a man with a rifle in the jungle could still change the world.
            The narrative switches back and forth between the earliest days of recruiting peasant soldiers in remote villages to addressing the U.N. ten years later, but still, the themes are similar:  the government mistreats the common people.  There is no available medical coverage, wages are pitiful, most villagers cannot read or write, and too many survive on a subsistence living, to which their children are inevitably doomed, as well.  Ernesto Gueverra is an Argentinean doctor with high ideals for a just society, but practical enough to know that socialist speeches will not change the government.  Only having a viable force in the field will insure the success of a revolution.  Of course, George Washington said the same thing.  But he’s our hero, and Che, well, he is sanctified or vilified, depending on political point of view.  But few are neutral about the charismatic foreigner on whom Fidel Castro implicitly depended, along with his brother, Raul.
            Because we do have so much time to explore the details of Che’s life in this two-part film, we can slog through the day-to-day skirmishes, the training of raw recruits, and Che the physician’s constant attention to the medical needs of those around him, recognizing that the war would ultimately be won not with superior military forces, but in capturing the minds and hearts of a people, so that the corrupt government would simply collapse of its own arrogance and greed.  They were notably successful in Cuba .  But, of course, after the romance of guerilla warfare was over, they had a country to run.  Fidel took on the role of Dictator with relish, but Che grew increasingly restless, convinced that in order to be a real revolutionary, he had to help yet another impoverished people with their political struggle.  He chose Bolivia , a country with a strong military, and, perhaps more significantly, political ties with the United States .  Things were different in Bolivia .  Gueverra was considered a foreign interloper, a Communist organizer, who couldn’t even successfully ally with the other rebels (a significant contribution of Castro in the early days of the Cuban revolution).  Che’s ragtag forces were constantly hounded by a trained military with superior weaponry along with American advisors who were Vietnam veterans, and well versed in guerilla tactics.  The peasants, suffering reprisals whenever they helped the rebels, soon turned against them, and the jungle fighters were undernourished as well as undersupplied and underarmed.  But Che died the way he lived, putting his life on the line for a cause that he believed in.  He leaves behind a legacy of the romantic revolutionary, articulate and well-educated, willing to forsake his comfort, and risk his well-being, for his convictions.  Whether he’s a martyred saint or a seditionist criminal depends on your point of view.  But either way, Del Toro brings Che to life for a new generation.
 
Questions For Discussion:
1)      Why are some revolutions successful and others not?
2)      How was George Washington different, and similar, to Che Gueverra?
3)      Do you favor the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba ?
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas