Life Itself

I just finished watching “Life Itself”, a documentary about the life of Roger Ebert.  There was probably a time when I wouldn’t have been able to remember NOT watching him on TV – he and Gene Siskel just seemed always to have been there.

Ebert - Life ItselfI always related more to him than to Gene Siskel.  Roger seemed far more able to enjoy a movie for what it was, when Gene always seemed to be expecting them to hit some high standard worthy of being called “cinema”.  But there’s a place in the world for stupid, silly, sex-obsessed or drug-induced movies.  Not every film can be Citizen Kane; nor should they try to be.  In any case, if Roger gave it a thumbs up, I was more likely to see it.

I love movies, but I’ve never been a movie geek.  I can’t tell you who produced what, or when.  And half the time, I couldn’t tell you the plot of a movie I saw last year.  So, as I got older, watching Siskel & Ebert became less and less important, and eventually, non-existent.  But, as a Chicagoan, Roger Ebert has always been somehow important to me.  He wasn’t born there, but he made Chicago his home, and passed up many offers to make much more money in other cities, so to many of us, he’s a native.

I remember being shocked the first time I saw a picture of Roger after his surgery for jaw cancer.  And feeling sorry for a man who would no longer be able to speak, after spending decades talking to Chicago, and all of America, about film.  But, in “Life Itself”, we see that Roger’s voice was never silenced (and in many ways never will be), only changed.  He was forced to put more emphasis on the written word, and he became even more prolific as a result.

As it relates to the theme of this blog, the movie reveals Roger’s attitude about death.  He believed it to be a part of life, and wasn’t afraid of it.  Even to the end.  There’s not much more I can say about it.  I hope I will have the same perspective when it’s my time.

I don’t cry a lot when I watch movies, but I cried at the end of this one.  Because Roger Ebert was able to walk a path that gave him fulfillment in life.  Many (most?) of us do not.  It was his wife’s description of his passing that finally got me.  Even at his death, he gave her strength, as she gave him during life.

If you ever enjoyed Siskel & Ebert at the Movies, or if you’re just a movie buff, watch “Life Itself”.  But have a tissue handy.

—Tim

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