If you would extensively examine Roger Ebert’s works as a film critic, you will be surprised to discover how open he has always been about his personal life. His movie reviews are heavily influential to many film writers today because of his subscription to film criticism as a personal diary.
Ebert did not only talk about what’s good and what’s bad about a certain movie. For him, the best way to assess someone’s work is to peel a part of yourself to come up with a more concrete argument. Life Itself (2014), the documentary about Ebert, exemplifies his eagerness for openness.
The film is specifically Ebert’s, a love-letter to his glory days and achievements as a film critic as well as a peek to his most vulnerable stages. No movie review of Ebert will match his willingness to be as transparent for his documentary.
Life Itself was filmed at Ebert’s final months. In the documentary, we see him laying down on his hospital bed due to thyroid cancer. He cannot speak because part of his jaw was removed because of the disease’s growing complications. His way to communicate is through his trusty laptop, wherein he would type in his thoughts and a computer text reader would speak it out in his stead. Even through a computer, Ebert’s words still convey so many emotions. It still carries so much life, like how his writings can become so inclusive regardless if you knew a single thing about what he is talking about or not.
The documentary was able to capture a good chunk of Ebert at this stage. It can be fascinating to see his evolution and how insanely funny he can get through age.
And then, there is his passion for movies. Life Itself is a celebration of film criticism as much as it’s a celebration of Ebert’s professional and personal legacy. The documentary extensively showed a peek behind Ebert’s landmark television programs Sneak Preview and At the Movies, which he co-hosted with fellow film critic Gene Siskel. In their shows, both Ebert and Siskel have been known to champion the works of lesser-known filmmakers, a practice that made the most meaningful effect on their works.
The documentary’s director Steven James is one of those filmmakers who Ebert has helped to make it in the industry through his Hoop Dreams, which the critic has always championed as his best film of the 1990s. Here, Life Itself can be interpreted as an act of humility about a filmmaker trying to create the best possible gift to a man deeply close to him.
And it shows. Life Itself also featured interviews of friends and loved ones who are more than willing to honor a man that has become instrumental for them, including Chaz Ebert, Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog, and Ava DuVerney among many.