Roger Ebert passed away yesterday night, finally succumbing to his long, arduous struggle with cancer. I woke up to the news today morning and haven’t been able to think clearly, if at all, for the better part of the day. How can I even begin quantify the impact Roger Ebert has had on me, as well as scores of other filmbuffs? For me personally, he was the baptist. He was the one who inducted me into the world of cinephilia by a trial-by-fire. It was somewhere between 2003-05 when I began reading his reviews. I clearly remember thinking he was elitist at the time. Of course, this impression had nothing to do with him and everything to do with me being grossly misinformed of movies in general. He challenged casual viewers to look at films as more than just meaningless entertainment. And I did. Once I was able to firmly identify myself as a cinephile, Roger Ebert became one of my two primary sources of film reviews, the other being James Berardinelli.
Though his contribution as a critic will go down in film history because of its breadth and depth, Roger Ebert will be equally remembered for his personal contributions over the better part of the last decade. His blogs about his battle with cancer have been inspirational on a personal front for me. Anytime I would come home thinking that I’d had a bad day and open up Ebert’s blog, there would be another post of him battling that malignant disease with a smile on his face. It always felt like a slap in the face and brought me back to consciousness. Ebert has remained charming and endearing even after he lost his ability to speak. It constantly inspired me that he was able to generate that amount of optimism in the face of such seemingly never-ending adversity. (In recent years, I’ve realized us readers owe just as much to his wife Chaz Ebert for guiding him in his battles.)
I wasn’t able to read his final blog entry until the news of his passing away reached me. But I did read a summary and thought about how chirpy and confident he sounded, “Now I’m only going to review the movies that I want to review.” However, I also had that sinking feeling in my stomach that it wasn’t going to last forever. It is a feeling I’d been having ever since I started seeing other names on RogerEbert.com besides his own. (No offense meant, these are all great writers in their own right, Richard Roeper, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Simon Abrams, Jim Emerson among others, but none of them are Roger Ebert. They don’t command the same attention that Ebert does. Nobody does.) I wanted to prepare myself mentally for his eventual demise, but I didn’t imagine it would come so soon.
I’ve often wondered why the passing of someone we’ve never met has such a profound impact on us. With Ebert, that was never a question. Through his film reviews and blog posts, I felt like I knew him more than I know most of my personal friends, and even some of my close relatives. I felt an attachment to him that I’ve rarely felt with many other writers. His passing doesn’t feel like something which will recede into the far reaches of memory easily, like it does with most other public figures. Roger Ebert is no more and it is going to take forever to come to grips with that.
Roger Ebert leaves an unquantifiable body of work behind. His reviews will be read until the day the Earth falls. His Great Movies collection will point countless casual viewers to masterpieces they might’ve not seen. (My memory might not serve me right, but I think reading his thoughts played a major part in me seeing Schindler’s List, a film I now identify as my favorite English language film.) My day usually begins (or began) with two essential checks: RogerEbert.com and ReelViews.net. The latter is still around, and will hopefully remain that way for a long time to come. But my daily web perusal will be infinitely hollower without Ebert’s thoughts to latch onto. If you open up my Chrome and type the letters ‘r’ and ‘o’, the first site that comes up is RogerEbert.com. That is how much this man and his writing were a part of my daily life. I have no idea to whom to entrust the responsibility of guiding me in watching movies, of helping me delineate between the good and bad. And although his older blog posts will continue to inspire me in their own life-affirming way, the enrichment I felt after having read an Ebert blog cannot, and will never, be replaced.
In essence, two words are not enough to convey my gratitude to Roger Ebert. But… Thank You and Farewell, Roger Ebert! Thank you for all the reviews I will eventually read and be enlightened by. Thank you for all the blog posts which have enriched my life and continue to do so. Thank you for being a heartfelt human being and reminding others there is nothing wrong in that. But most importantly, thank you for making movies and their criticism matter. Hope you get to watch all the films you want, along with your good buddy Gene Siskel, once you get past the Pearly Gates.
I leave you with his own parting quotes: “So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies.”
- Banner image used under the Creative Commons License from Wikimedia Commons