Acton Commentary

Scary Movie: Hollywood Humanizes the Despot


Che Guevara

Che Guevara is commonly used in dorm room decor.

As Halloween approaches, Hollywood is set to release aspate of movies designed to frighten moviegoers with the usual seasonal fare ofvampires, werewolves, and zombies. But critical accolades are also being paidto another type of horror film, one that shows the allure of destructiveeconomic and political ideologies championed by charismatic personalities.These new films look at a Nazism and Communism that, under the guise ofbringing economic salvation, unleashed some of the greatest horrors in humanhistory. Pope John Paul II rightly described these systems as “ideologies of evil.”

A German movie, Der Untergang ( The Downfall ),depicts Adolf Hitler as a fully realized man rather than the simplistic monstermore commonly given us by filmmakers. This is important in that it is crucialto see how one man was able to manipulate the economic depression and rampantinflation of Weimar Germany, as well as longstanding group prejudices. The filmshows how Hitler was able to exact his will and hold his countrymen in thrallwhile nearly succeeding in exterminating Europe's Jewish population andslaughtering millions of European and American soldiers and civilians.

If The Downfall goes to great lengths to humanize Hitler in order to makemore realistic his rise to power and ability to shape world events bysponsoring horrific acts, The Motorcycle Diaries is even more frightening in its attempts to humanize theSouth American ideologue and revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara. The film isan attempt to validate the Communist ideology as a cure for the diseases ofpoverty and illness and as a substitute for the religion that is, in the film'sdepiction, petty and ineffective.

The Motorcycle Diaries chronicles the South American trek of a young Guevara andhis friend, Alberto Granado, in 1952. Both men are portrayed as handsome andidealistic. That the trip awakened the son of an Argentine aristocrat to therealities of poverty, despair and illness is evident in the title of one of thefilm's two sources: Traveling with Che Guevara: the Making of aRevolutionary . The poverty and diseasewitnessed by Guevara were real. However, the political solutions he eventuallydevised for these problems were as ill advised as his rejection of religion.

Detroit Free Press critic Terry Lawson concedes that “the perfume of Marxistidealism has long been overwhelmed by the rot of Castro's Cuba, even for thosewho still believe Guevara was martyred in the cause of freedom and justice.”But Lawson and a critical cadre in the mainstream press ignore the fact thatGuevara used the injustices and inequities he witnessed as excuses forfomenting Communist revolution throughout Central and South America, and forserving as a liaison between Soviet Russia and Cuba.

In one of the film's key scenes,Guevara flouts the rules of the nuns who run a leper colony in Peru. The nunshave imposed a rule that requires the lepers to attend Mass before receivingfood. Guevara, a physician, endears himself to the lepers by examining themwithout surgical gloves and smuggling food to those who refuse to attend Mass.As New Criterion writer Anthony Danielsnoted, the film is rife with ironies, including the fact that “denying food orgoods to those who don't conform ideologically has long been a practice ofCommunist regimes, including Cuba's.” Another irony noted by Daniels and notaddressed in the film is the fact that trips such as those made by Guevara andGranado are impossible today, largely due to the oppressive governments thatrose to power through the efforts of Guevara and his ilk.

The plight of the poor has longbeen exploited by tyrants seeking unchecked power. The sacrifice of economicand personal freedoms under the false pretense of eliminating poverty is one ofthe most seductive--and hence frightening--ideologies confrontinghumanity, regardless of the charismatic, physically attractive, and humanisticfaces filmmakers might attach to them. With the Hitler and Guevara films, Hollywoodhas given us two of the very scariest movies of the Halloween season.