Friday, April 5, 2013

Concerning Roger Ebert

I am ashamed to admit that I never really watched Siskel & Ebert & The Movies during its original syndication on television, because my enjoyment of films weren't realized until much later, in my teen years. I found myself invested in this newly founded passion, but was at a loss in finding ways to express it. A reason for this was that I simply didn't know anyone who shared the same hobby as me; at least not on the same level.

While I of course was aware of Roger Ebert's existence and legendary status of a film critic, it wasn't until I officially decided to make a career in film when I began to read his reviews more seriously. Ebert's opinion of a film was the first one I checked every time, and at first, this was honestly because he was the only critic I was aware of – what Michael Jordan is to basketball, Roger Ebert is to film criticism. So for a while, until I became fondly aware of some other, lesser-known critics online, his opinion about a movie was the only one I cared for. However, this happened to be around the time that he was diagnosed with typhoid cancer, and spent a lot of time making non-film related entries on his websites like his own blog and Twitter. 

While many film critics remembered Ebert for how he was during his prime, I only remember him for his later years, when he no longer exclusively wrote about movies. He wrote about everything from death and God, to his mourning for the simple things in life that he took for granted before cancer entered his life, like the ability to enjoy time with friends at a restaurant. I believe these kind of entries made him more human. He was no longer just a legendary film critic. He became a philosopher and philanthropist, among other things. He just happened to apply his rare combination of talent and wisdom to movie reviews, despite his collapsing health.

Originally, I wanted to direct films myself. But as my own health started to slowly decline because of CF, I found myself unfortunately more comfortable sitting in front of a computer, behind a desk. Whether I like it or not, this is where I'll likely be for most of my professional life. So I applied my love for films in the only way I knew how – by writing about them. I have always tried to apply his attitude about his life to my own. Obviously, my current state of health is no where near that of Ebert's during the last decade or so of his life, but  I still struggle to be constant with my writing. I have failed many, many times to not let my disease hinder my passion and get the best of me. To this day, I am still trying.

While I don't doubt my love for film, I have always struggled to understand exactly why. But only two days ago I read an entry by Ebert himself, on the Chicago Sun-Times:

"At this point in my life, in addition to writing about movies, I may write about what it's like to cope with health challenges and the limitations they can force upon you. It really stinks that the cancer has returned and that I have spent too many days in the hospital. So on bad days I may write about the vulnerability that accompanies illness. On good days, I may wax ecstatic about a movie so good it transports me beyond illness."

Upon reading this excerpt, my eyes began to water. Because that's how much movies (and writing about them) meant to him. He could have put a stop to his career several years ago, and nobody would have thought lesser of him. But even from his own deathbed, Ebert still chose to focus as much as his free time as possible to movies, because he knew it was his only hope of letting is soul temporarily escape from his declining body. If that's not inspiration for me (or you) to pursue my goals, I don't know what is.

I not only realize now how fruitless my struggles are in comparison, but also that  my relationship with film is on a very similar personal level to his. It's not just a hobby, it's a state of mind. It's a gift of life that we can escape to, like a dream of the conscious.

Two days later, he died. This impacted me in ways that I really do not understand. I feel like I lost a friend, which I know is silly,  because Ebert was not aware of my existence. But I like to think that if I met him, he would understand my constant struggle between my disease and dream of being a respected film critic, and I try to wonder what he would tell me.

Many people today have thanked Ebert for the inspiration he has given them, that they owe their careers to him. Today, I thank Ebert for opening my mind. There are many dark days ahead, but I still deserve to enjoy them as much as the good ones.