Put aside for a moment that Roger Ebert is the most famous, most influential movie critic ever. In the documentary “Life Itself” based on his autobiography with the same title, we see quite a bit of the last months of Ebert’s life. Age 70, Roger succumbed to the last throes of long suffered cancer. We see quite a bit of his wife, Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert. Roger never married until age 50.
Roger Ebert graciously shared his grotesquely disfigured face with matter-of-fact confidence in its irrelevance. Clearly it was not irrelevant. Essentially, his jaw had been removed. He could no longer speak. It’s the sort of thing people are uncomfortable seeing and do not want to be around. Because of this man’s celebrity and the way Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) included Ebert’s last months in this film biography, maybe we can become a tad more comfortable, a bit more accepting.
Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert graciously bared her loving devotion to her husband during the tribulations of his last months. Her demeanor makes it palpably irrelevant that she’s African American. Though irrelevant, race continues as America’s flagship issue. Although interracial marriage grows more common, it’s a telling statistic that Black husband White wife marriages outnumber Black wife White husband marriages two to one. Interracial marriage causes concern in people whether they are prejudiced or not (Hint: we’re all prejudiced.)
The film doesn’t ignore something so noticeable. In an appropriately proportioned way, Roger Ebert expresses his gratitude at how fully her family accepted him. What shines is how much this husband and wife loved each other, supported each other, how thankful they were to have found each other. See “Life Itself.” It may help us become a tad more comfortable, a bit more accepting of people regardless of race.
Oh, yes, there’s also the fact that Roger Ebert is the most famous, most influential movie critic ever. This film helps us remember and appreciate why. It does so with craft, with respect, and with some edginess that a movie about this man’s life should have. Roger would have given “Life Itself” a big thumbs-up.