For my money, there isn’t a more fascinating entertainment writer working at the moment. Roger Ebert, he of movie review fame and near death experiences, has focused his efforts. Approaching the precipice, Ebert has become something greater in these last few years.
His review of Stephen Daldry’s The Reader was something of a wonder – combining theology, friendship, ethics, dinner parties with Gene Siskel, conservatism and Rush Limbaugh, the worst sin of his life, science, and the human condition – all to say that The Reader is not really about the Holocaust, it is about so much more.
His latest essay, because it’s not really a movie review of any kind, tackles Shakespeare, SETI, death, legacies, Warner Herzog, Studs Terkel, writing, existentialism, Prospero, fractals and Google, oh my!
So why then did he write? Why am I writing? Why do you write? Why are you reading? Why do we read Shakespeare? Not for a moment would I compare us to him; it simply occurs to me that we are all in the same boat.
“A person has to participate,” Studs Terkel liked to say. That’s how I feel. Meditating on futility–that’s no way to live. One of the most useful pieces of advice ever given me, at a time when I despaired, was: Act as if. Act as if you make a difference. If infinity is too big for you, live in the day. Shakespeare as usual expressed this better than anyone else, and it took him six words: To be, or not to be. That wasn’t simply an expression of the Existentialist choice between choosing to live or die. It was the choice to act, or not to act. To participate.
“Martin Luther said if he knew the world ended tomorrow, he would plant a tree,” Werner Herzog told me. “I would start a film.” What would I do? Plan to review it, and ask my editor to save some space in the paper. If you admire Herzog, you might want to pre-order your tickets. In the cartoons, there are always those wild-eyed guys with a placard saying, The End is Now. We are saved by a loophole: It is never Now yet.
My writer’s crush on Roger Ebert came on unexpectedly and without remorse. He always seemed like a great film reviewer once upon a time not too long ago when paired with Gene Siskel and later Richard Roeper. But nothing special.
However, over the past year he has developed into something worth remembering. He has become a special writer, a fine thinker, essential reading. I wonder if all this means he knows he’s approaching the final landing soon.