Sunday, April 7, 2013

Goodbye, Roger.

Chicago lost a legend this week, and many of us feel like we lost a friend.

After celebrating 46 years writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert passed away from a cancer that, in many forms, had been plaguing him for decades. I wanted to write "film critic Roger Ebert", but that doesn't say enough about who he was. Not nearly enough. I'm not alone in thinking of Ebert as more of a life critic than a film critic. Read any one of the posts and articles from this past week from his fans and friends and you'll find that his mark was much deeper than a thumbs up or a thumbs down.

I do consider myself to be a fan of film, but I only came to read Roger Ebert's film reviews after I connected with him on politics, religion and humor through Facebook and Twitter. It was through his huge internet presence in the time since he lost his ability to speak that I found an inspiration in his voice.  Since I began to trust his opinions on social issues, I started trusting his opinions on movies and found the secret of what separated him from other critics: he didn't review movies, he spoke to readers about what a movie could evoke in us, about what we could learn from a character, about what a scene showed us about ourselves. He didn't review movies, he interpreted movies, and, in doing so, interpreted life. I did not love Terrance Malik's Tree of Life as much as he did (and I told him so), but I understood what he loved about it. In recent years he grew kinder in his reviews - just the appreciation that comes with age, perhaps - but he was still always honest.

(An example from Ebert's Review of "A Lot Like Love" starring Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet: "Judging by their dialogue, Oliver and Emily have never read a book or a newspaper, seen a movie, watched TV, had an idea, carried on an interesting conversation or ever thought much about anything. The movie thinks they are cute and funny, which is embarrassing, like your uncle who won't stop with the golf jokes.")

In recent obituaries, Ebert has been said to have had the soul of a poet. I'd agree. There are plenty of progressive writers on the web with whom I agree, but most of them are either lacking the passion for words, cities, people, and ideas that Roger had, or perhaps lacking the words with which to describe that passion. I bought his memoir when it came out, and waited in line to have him sign it. It's so exciting to meet your favorite writer. I bought a copy for my mother. In the past few days I've been rereading some of the chapters. The words sadden me now, but his clarity about life and the eventuality of death is inspiring. His shameless love for his wife and his life, regardless of its challenges, is something we can all strive to obtain. His final blog post is one example of this inspiration.

Roger Ebert was my favorite writer and my favorite preacher, teacher and philosopher. He helped so many of us see ourselves and our world better through his words. We are lucky to have had him on this Earth for 70 years.

Further Reading:
Roger Ebert's 20 Best Reviews (via Jezebel)
Roger Ebert's website (Chicago Sun-Times)