Hollywood’s latest round of “Che-mania” kicked off last Friday in New York with a one week preview of Steven Soderbergh’s epic four hour biopic on the life and times of Ernesto Che Guevara. The film opens nationwide, edited into two halves, in January.
When asked why the movie needed to be so long, co-producer and star Benecio Del Toro replied, “That is a question for Che. Why such a fulfilled life? We believe that this is the shortest film about Che Guevara’s revolutionary life that could be made.”
The shortest film about Che’s revolutionary life has already been made. In it, a couple of scruffy, paramilitary-looking, motorcycle-riding cartoon cockroaches decide to “take over” a kitchen, running amok until a giant muscle-bound can of Raid appears and “kills them dead.”
Guevara, in reality, belongs to that species of human vermin who attach themselves to a charismatic villain — in Che’s case, Fidel Castro; in Heinrich Himmler’s case, Adolf Hitler; in Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s case, Osama bin Laden — and enact their murderous agendas until the countervailing forces of history end their pathetic existences. Granted, Che is more photogenic than either the thin-lipped Poindexter Himmler or the hairy-backed Super Mario Brother Sheikh. It’s hard to imagine either of them ever moving a gross of tee shirts the way Che does. But the fact that Che continues to sell is a testament to the historical ignorance of every consumer of his visage.
Indeed, one of the ongoing mysteries of American popular culture is why Communism is merchandised more often and more effectively than Nazism or Islamism. Is it just a matter of public relations? Why does an obsessive Nazi-hunter like Simon Wiesenthal get positive press while an obssessive Communist-hunter like Joe McCarthy is vilified? Why is Marxist Theory, with its alternative view of individual versus collective rights, an accepted academic discipline — but Sharia Theory, with its alternative view of female empowerment, an insult to women?
The truth of the matter is that Nazism, Islamism, and Communism are all totalitarian movements. All three stand in direct opposition to Enlightenment values of religious tolerance and rational inquiry. All three seek to exterminate whoever stands in their way. Nazism justifies its genocide in the name of racial purity. Islamism, in the name of spiritual purity. Communism, in the name of socio-economic purity.
One way or another, the shallow graves get filled.
So as you sit in the darkened theater, listening to Soderbergh’s Che murmur dreamily that the true revolutionary is guided by “love,” you might want to consider how that love was manifested in a man who used to lay on his side on top of a wall, chomping a cigar even as he urged on the firing squads he commanded.
Or you might consider Che in his own words.
Here is Che, for example, recounting the execution of Eutimio Guerra for betraying the Cuban revolution: “I fired a .32 caliber bullet into the right hemisphere of his brain which came out through his left temple. He moaned for a few moments, then died.”
And here’s Che philosophizing on the rule of law: “To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary. These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution! And a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate.”
Oh, and here’s Che lamenting the outcome of the Cuban Missile Crisis: “If the missiles had remained, we would have used them against the very heart of America including New York. We must never establish peaceful coexistence. In this struggle to the death between two systems we must gain the ultimate victory. We must walk the path of liberation even if it costs millions of atomic victims.”
Finally, here’s Che on his commitment to his cause: “In fact, if Christ himself stood in my way, I, like Nietzsche, would not hesitate to squish him like a worm.”
Which raises an intriguing entomological question: Can a cockroach squish a worm?
– Mark Goldblatt writes from New York.