I just saw the new documentary biography of Roger Ebert, titled after his memoir, Life Itself. This film, by Steve James, gets two thumbs up from me.
Before seeing the film, I would not have described myself as a big fan of Ebert. I remember seeing him on TV, fighting about movies with Gene Siskel when I was a kid. I remember thinking at the time that grown men didn’t need to act like children. Seeing footage from the show in the movie, I stand by that assessment.
This movie did what good movies do–it taught me things about someone else that ended up teaching me a lot about myself.
Ebert’s voice was a strong one, long before he started telling us which movies were worth seeing. He started working as a reporter at age 15 and wrote for the Daily Illini all through college, serving as its Editor in Chief.
This is the first paragraph to the article he wrote after the bombing at the church in Birmingham in 1963. Ebert was 21 years old at the time.
“The blood of these innocent children is on your hands,” Martin Luther King cried out to the governor of Alabama. But that was not entirely the truth. The blood is on so many hands that history will weep in the telling. And it is not new blood. It is old, so very old, and as Lady Macbeth discovered, it will not ever wash away. It clings and it waits and in its turn it kills again.
He used his voice in so many powerful ways. And then it was gone. His cancer took out his jaw. And as he lost his physical voice, he continued to find other ways to speak. He started blogging in 2008 and you can read all of his movie reviews on his blog.
I’m reminded it matters how I use my voice. I’m reminded not to take it for granted. Am I saying things that matter? Do my words build up? Does my voice speak truth?
Not all of his words did that, of course. He could be petulant and churlish like the rest of us. Watching him in the film, missing half of his face, without his voice, though, makes me grateful for the one I’ve got. Right now. Today.
He also used his voice to help others.
There are some powerful stories shared in the film by film writers and directors whose lives were touched for the better by Ebert. We don’t always get to see how our lives intersect with others, the impact we make, the hope we inspire. The stories shared in the film reminded me to tell the people who inspire, encourage, and love me that their presence in my life matters and is so important.
He was also very open and transparent. He publicly spoke of his alcoholism and how AA saved his life. His openness with his drinking problem led other people to an awareness of their own.
As he was struggling with cancer, he was very open about those struggles too. His wife didn’t want some of the scenes to make the movie, because they showed him suffering and in pain. He knew that honesty made for a better story.
I was reminded that speaking truth about brokenness and pain seems like courage from the outside, but is, in fact, the easier thing to do because it frees us to live.
This movie is a celebration of life, itself. The gift of friendships. The love of family. The pursuing of passions. The beauty in the mess and the pain.
Two thumbs up.