I, like many Americans, was very saddened to hear of the passing of Roger Ebert today. No matter what my feelings were with the quality of his reviews (I feel like, later in his life, he could often be very inaccurate on basic plot tenants when providing a summary) I still felt like his reviews MEANT something. As a kid, when a movie had TWO THUMBS UP that was always a sign that the movie was going to be good. What I think I admired most about Ebert was his ability to appreciate movies as art, but to keep his reviews in line with his midwestern sensibilities, which could be counted on by the mainstream movie goer. He loved great films, high concept films, indie films and the like, but also did not punish films that were meant to be popcorn fare and would still give them the approval of the worlds most famous and influential thumb since the Roman empire.
Many of the comments on social media speak of Mr. Ebert going to that great balcony in the sky, where he will pick his argument back up with his long time sparring partner Gene Siskel , who passed away in 1999.
But to talk like that would be to blatantly disrespect Mr. Ebert. Mr. Ebert did not believe he would be going to any such place. Nor did he believe his friend would be there waiting for him. Because, to Mr. Ebert, no such place exists. Mr. Ebert understood our need to believe such a place existed; he respected that need, but found it completely improbable.
Today, when Roger Ebert smiled at his wife of 20 years and breathed his last he ceased to exist. Maybe not totally. In his own words, today he “live[s] on indefinitely in [his] constituent atoms, which will be recombined in dust, flowers, trees, the wind, other living beings, and eventually in cosmic stardust.”
In a country that wants to become completely tolerant of all views, and to allow every man and woman to make their own choice in the privacy of their own hearts, minds, and homes we must not disrespect his choice. We must not insist, contrary to his desire and will, that he lives on in a great balcony in the sky.
The balcony is closed.
I wish Mr. Ebert would’ve examined why it is we all need to believe he is with Mr. Siskel somewhere. Why we desire for two men we never have met to rekindle their friendship so they could go back to doing what they loved in this life. Why it gives us great hope and joy that the balcony somehow, someway, IS OPEN.
This innate feeling of ours – to believe in that reality of the afterlife – was just simply a premise not worth examining much* on his way to the conclusion that his atoms are now becoming cosmic dust.
So Mr. Ebert grants us these feelings, but thinks they are not founded in any form of truth. And we must respect his wishes – and in doing so we must confront the very real question – where IS Mr. Ebert now? We can comfort ourselves with our own hopes for Mr. Ebert, but we must then ask ourselves an even more important question – what do I believe about what will happen when I die?
*At least never in his public musings on the matter.