For as long as it's been online, I've gone to www.rogerebert.com every Friday to see what movies Roger Ebert is reviewing. I wouldn't read every review, just the ones that interested me, and always the reviews of movies I was considering taking Valerie to see. Garth Franklin is right to call Ebert "America's most famous film critic, probably the most famed film critic in the world over the past few decades."
It wasn't that I always agreed with Ebert; often, I didn't. His review of Fellowship of the Rings is an example of the worst kind of review (second only to the L. A. Times' review of Cujo, which unintentionally revealed that the reviewer had not seen the complete movie). Though he gave FOTR three of four stars, Ebert criticized it for not being the movie he'd have made from the book — which shouldn't be the point of a review.
Nonetheless that review, like all of Ebert's reviews, was written with style and vigor. That's why I read him. Ebert was frequently funny, always opinionated, often informative. When he liked a movie, I often could tell from his reasons that I would hate it; and often when he disliked a movie, the reverse dynamic would obtain. He tended to love sensitive, positive portrayals of immoral people and behavior; and tended to hate patriotic, moral movies — but only "tended." He wasn't utterly predictable. Nonetheless, Ebert would usually give me enough to make an informed decisions: try it out, or avoid like the plague.
I've known of him for decades, since watching him with Gene Siskel in their Sneak Previews / At the Movies shows. Their banter was lively and fun, and not always completely friendly. But they took the occasional moral stand against exploitive movies, such as no critic takes today.
I was sad to learn of Ebert's death to cancer yesterday. It's always sad to read of the death of someone who gave no evidence of being prepared to die. Just a few weeks ago Ebert wrote of his Roman Catholic faith... if you can call it that. His conclusion:
I consider myself Catholic, lock, stock and barrel, with this technical loophole: I cannot believe in God. I refuse to call myself a atheist however, because that indicates too great a certainty about the unknowable.There it is: Roman Catholic, except for all the specifics. That has never failed to boggle my mind. Why would anyone choose to identify himself with a religion whose main advertised selling-point is that it is infallible in its official teachings, alone in its claim to be the true church, completely unified thanks to the Magisterium, and thus invested with the right to totalitarian authority over the lives and thoughts of its members — only to disagree with just about everything that church teaches?
Yet that's what autonomy does, and Ebert was proudly and loudly autonomous in his thinking to his last public statements. Of two things concerning which he did not have an atom of actual grounded or empirical knowledge, Ebert made this dogmatic assertion: "I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state."
He was foolishly betting, not merely absent data, but in the face of it. We just celebrated the grand counter to Ebert's tragic miscalculation: the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the climax of a complex of events fraught with meaning and significance. That Ebert chose to ignore Christ's significance says nothing about Christ, and many sad things about Roger Ebert.
Nor did Ebert heed the Lord's half-brother's warning (James 5:13-16). On April 2, Ebert said "I am not going away," and announced confident plans for the future.
Then on April 4, Roger Ebert died.
As I always do, I will cherish the hope that Ebert thought better before God's generosity reached its end (Rom. 2:4), that God awoke Ebert to his need and God's provision in Jesus Christ.
But for me in the meanwhile, I'll likely think sadly of Roger Ebert every Friday, as I'll want to turn to his witty, insightful reviews. I don't have a sixth-favorite reviewer, much less a second-favorite. There just wasn't anybody like Roger Ebert. And now he's gone.
Would that his many admirers would reflect on the inevitability of death, find the fear of God, and make the preparations which Roger Ebert never shared that he had made.