I watched the Steven Soderbergh Che films on the weekend, and was enthralled by the story of Ernesto 'Che' Guevera. I am so intrigued by how the Che I've seen in film* seems to get many parts of 'the kingdom', and yet at some point rejects it thoroughly. Why? I wonder aloud. The next couple of posts surround my fascination with Che and, more importantly, the kingdom.
I can still remember the moment. It's third year at Mac. I'm in the living room of a student house with a bunch of friends and we're watching The Motorcycle Diaries. The movie ends, the credits run, and the DVD title screen loops for about 5 minutes before someone utters a word.
"Wow... That was good."
Most of us wanted to drop out of school, buy motorcycles, and travel around South America after seeing the film. Some developed mad crushes on Ernesto. Either way, most people had been unsettled by the film because of how foreign, and yet how close, it was to our experience living in Hamilton. We were students in programs we didn't necessarily love, and we wanted more out of life than academia offered. We wanted adventure, and we wanted to see change in the world.
It was in this context that I saw what is hands down my favourite scene in film. While on the way to visit a leper colony separated by a mighty river from the healthy medical staff, Che and his friend Alberto refuse to wear gloves to protect them from contact with the lepers. They reject the rules of the nuns, knowing full well leprosy doesn't spread through touch. Once they arrive, Che is welcomed by Papa Carlito, a leper excited to see newcomers. When Che extends his exposed hand as a gesture of friendship, Papa Carlito is shocked and apprehensive - is this a joke? After being assured otherwise, the two shake hands, and in this moment the unclean and the clean meet; the divide between healthy and sick falls; Papa Carlito experiences the sweet sensation of an identity beginning to be redeemed.
Shortly after seeing this film, I found myself studying scripture and following the story of Jesus. Over and over again Jesus is the one stepping into unclean places and making them clean - all the while shirking the social and religious taboos of the day. Che does the same, and as such shares in the gospel in this moment. Yep, he does. The guy who doesn't believe lives out the good news right there. Thus began the enigma of Che and the kingdom for me.
Some might say the more moving scene in the film is when Che swims across the alligator and piranha infested river to spend the evening with the lepers rather than the medical professionals. For me it is the look on Papa Carlito's face when he holds the hand of a healthy person who has deemed him important enough to extend friendship and touch.
*Yes, I am merely referring to the film portrayals of Che, and not the Che found in biographies and history textbooks. Those books tell stories, as does film. Both are important, but only one shows up here.