Roger Ebert. My Hero. In Memory.

Roger Ebert at the Movies

He really was my Hero. He delivered me from a lot of the dismal possibilities of an uncertain life: the tragedy of a wasted youth, the temptation to rebel, and the confused depression of having to face a future without a path. Everyone who knew him will share certain memories of his life – his reviews, his achievements, his passion, his complex relationship with the late Gene Siskel – but it is our personal memories of him that will prove to be the most enduring, the most significant.

My memories of Roger Joseph Ebert are one of my most prized possessions. His wisdom changed the way I identify people, his humor changed the way I carry my problems, and his values changed my perspective and priorities. He was my teacher, my supporter, and my correspondent, and during times of doubt and sadness, he was also my encourager, my counselor, and, above all, my friend.

And now he is gone.

A great light has just faded in my world, and I am in what feels to be, the darkest point of my life.

Roger Ebert: My Hero

It is unusual for someone to express this much sorrow for a film critic, but to categorize Roger as a simple “Film Critic” is to commit a crime against his memory. Yes, his inexorable passion for the movies permanently altered the essence and practice of film criticism itself, but it was his kindness, empathy, insight, compassion, humility, and invincible optimism that defines his humanity. If it was possible for me to give him my youth, he would be dancing to “Singin’ in the Rain” somewhere in Chicago right about now.

I first encountered Roger’s reviews when I was 16 years old (five years ago), which was the peak of my prayer life. I had been asking God for something that millions of other people are searching for: a direction. I was one of those aimless high school students who was too busy playing video games to pursue anything of real substance. I had already been in love with the movies at that point, but there was nothing more to it. I stumbled upon Roger’s work, and after a few months of endless reading, my dream was born. I kept reading and never looked back. God provided a direction for my journey by introducing Roger to me.

They say that God works in mysterious ways. Isn’t it mysterious that he intended for me to find a deep connection with a person who is two generations older than I am?

Roger Ebert

Long ago I decided that I wanted to become a film critic by profession. I still do. From the very beginning, I knew that it wasn’t a common profession and that it didn’t involve a lot of monetary rewards. I didn’t care. I still don’t. I found a passion that made me feel good about myself because there was an urgent importance to it. I have a stable job that has taken over a large portion of my life, but the fire of my dream remains burning. To abandon a dream because it doesn’t pay much is to betray the gift of your existence.

One of my lasting attributes is my extreme insecurity. I never enjoyed talking about myself, but you couldn’t shut me up whenever Roger was mentioned in a conversation. He is one of the few things that I am completely and unashamedly confident about. That I’m one of those people who was blessed enough to discover his razor-sharp, lightning-quick wit. That I’ve memorized his pans that has obliterated the reputation of countless bad movies that had it coming. That I’m part of a group of movie-lovers who understands that “a movie is not about what it’s about, but how it’s about it”.

I recited Roger’s words on command, and I would recite Roger’s words even if no one asked for it, and even if I know that they’ve heard me tell them before what I’m about to say. A lot of my friends know how much I admire him, but no one will ever understand how much he means to me. Whenever I feel left out on a particular movie, I could always count on Roger to either back me up or correct me. With Roger, it never really mattered if you agreed with him or not; his opinion may be worlds apart from your own, but you can find peace with his reviews knowing that he only intends to make you a smarter moviegoer.

Reflecting on these things, I somewhat feel hopelessly alone now that Roger’s no longer around.

Roger Ebert on Imperfections

Roger loved the movies more than anyone, and he was the absolute best at what he did. He transformed freedom of expression to an art, and no force in this world could make him compromise his work or surrender his passion. (Roger continued to write, tweet, host film festivals, and appear on television during the last decade of his life despite suffering from cancer.) When Roger wrote about the movies he loves, he transcended opinion writing and approached perfect poetry. When faced with the task of reviewing a bad movie, he was merciless in his condemnation. He did everything in his power to preserve the most profound of all the art forms by lifting the movies that shape it and burying the ones that shame it.

I consider it my duty to continue what he, for so long, fought for. Werner Herzog considers Roger to be the Soldier of the Cinema; he spent 46 years of his life paving a path for those who value the movies as much as he did. Roger left us with 15 books to his name, over 10,000 reviews from his website, and hundreds of other essays for us to read, analyze, breathe. We are well-equipped. All we have to do is march.

Roger’s Blog is one of the calming refuges of my messy life. I would leave comments on his entries in hope that he would one day reply. Guess what? On June 18, 2010, he replied. It was his 68th birthday. I told him about how much his writing gave me a hope, a dream, a skill, and, eventually, a job. Summarizing that lengthy comment on that blissful day, I gave him my eternal gratefulness and told him that he was my biggest Hero. I imagined his voice saying the words as I read his reply: “Anyone receptive to inspiration will find it somewhere.” Oh I was receptive all right. And boy did I find my inspiration. He’s gone now, but I’ll be thinking of him every day, just as I always have.

Thank God for Roger Ebert.

Thumbs Up from Roger Ebert