Ebert saab – that empathy in those last few lines

Posted: April 5, 2013 by moifightclub in cinema, Life Itself, RIP
Tags: , , , ,

Roger EbertTalking about Roger Ebert, or Ebert saab, as i like to call him, you wonder where to start. It’s quite a daunting task. In the last few years whenever i have read anything written by him, i have always wondered only one thing – how much he writes? No, really – HOW MUCH HE WRITES? He doesn’t eat, drink, or speak, but he keeps on writing – reviews, blogs, books, tweets. No wonder he has left behind such a huge legacy for cinema lovers. Google him and you will get to read so many great articles about him. Search on youtube and there’s so much to watch – him, his shows, interviews, appearances.

With twitter, a different kind of fun began. He never replied to me but you could tag him, tweet to him and troll him. Many times people told me to that look at the old man, how can you troll him? But I always looked at it him in a different way. Why should we have “old-man-who-cant-eat-cant-drink-cant-talk-bechara” attitude towards him? Let’s look at him “normally”. The way we behave with anyone else whom we respect. Am sure he didn’t mind because he also behaved in a similar way – to make it look all normal. Like us, he would happily keep on trolling Mitt Roney non-stop for many days. Once he even tweeted a link to the piece which blamed him for killing film criticism. Like his “your movie sucks” posts, his tweets were fun and snarky. And sometimes controversial too. Aha, he was just like us. At least on twitter. Oh, and like us he pissed off many people too. Remember this post?

I don’t exactly remember when and how i started following his reviews but it’s surely been many many years ago. Though ironical that this blog is named after one of the movies that he never liked. And he kept defending his stand many years later too. I often wondered why, and trolled him every time he wrote or mentioned something about Fight club. A great movie is worth a good fight, right? At least a twitter fight.

Over the years i realised that when he wrote about his life, or life in general, that’s where you could see the real magic in his writing. Things that you have observed, experienced, but could never articulate in words, he did that with much ease and in simple words. And maybe that’s why his reviews had the rare quality of “empathy”. Someone who could sense something so profound in mundane things, how could he not sense that in cinema. “Perceptive” could easily be his middle name.

I also noticed that he always kept the best lines for his last para. Sometimes the review would read like a fairly simple one – the plot, what’s good, what’s bad, and then he would sum it up with a statement that will keep you hooked. You keep on going back to those lines in every discussion about that film. Something that other reviewers rarely managed. It’s like putting a human face to the review. And then sitting close to him, holding his pulse like a good doctor, looking into his eyes, and telling him that let the world misunderstand you, i got you. So am going to quote some of his last lines/para from some of my recent favourite films which have stayed with me for a long time. All because of that humanist touch.

As a friend struggles to come to terms with his abrupt separation and tries to find a reason to justify it, the last two lines of Blue Valentine review never sounded so true.

I wonder what kind of script conferences Cianfrance had with his co-writers, Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne. They were writing about something ineffable, a void, a need. This wasn’t a story with convenient hooks involving things like, you know, disease — things stories are familiar with. It was about inner defeat and the exhaustion of hope. I’ve read reviews saying Cianfrance isn’t clear about what went wrong as they got from there to here. Is anybody?

From We Need To Talk About Kevin

Eva often looks like she’s in a state of shock. Her body can’t absorb more punishment. She is the wrong person in the wrong life with the wrong child. Is her husband as zoned out as he seems or is that only her perception? As a portrait of a deteriorating state of mind, “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a masterful film. Swinton told me of a line in the script that wasn’t used, wisely, I believe. After you see the film, think about it. She asks Kevin why he didn’t kill her. His reply: “You don’t want to kill your audience.”

The pure epic last line from Jero Dreams Of Sushi review

Standing behind his counter, Jiro notices things. Some customers are left-handed, some right-handed. That helps determine where they are seated at his counter. As he serves a perfect piece of sushi, he observes it being eaten. He knows the history of that piece of seafood. He knows his staff has re??cently started massaging an octopus for 45 minutes and not half an hour, for example. Does he search a customer’s eyes for a signal that this change has been an improvement? Half an hour of massage was good enough to win three Michelin stars. You realize the tragedy of Jiro Ono’s life is that there are not, and will never be, four stars.

And that simple and profound statement for Herzog in “Into The Abyss” review

Opposition to the death penalty, in part, comes down to this: No one deserves to be assigned the task of executing another person. I think that’s what Captain Allen is saying. Herzog may agree, although he doesn’t say so. In some of his films he freely shares his philosophy and insights. In this film, he simply looks. He always seems to know where to look.

From   Drive review

An actor who can fall in love with a love doll and make us believe it, as he did in “Lars and the Real Girl” (2007), can achieve just about anything. “Drive” looks like one kind of movie in the ads, and it is that kind of movie. It is also a rebuke to most of the movies it looks like.

From Inception review

The movies often seem to come from the recycling bin these days: Sequels, remakes, franchises. “Inception” does a difficult thing. It is wholly original, cut from new cloth, and yet structured with action movie basics so it feels like it makes more sense than (quite possibly) it does. I thought there was a hole in “Memento:” How does a man with short-term memory loss remember he has short-term memory loss? Maybe there’s a hole in “Inception” too, but I can’t find it. Christopher Nolan reinvented “Batman.” This time he isn’t reinventing anything. Yet few directors will attempt to recycle “Inception.” I think when Nolan left the labyrinth, he threw away the map.

From Revolutionary Road

The direction is by Sam Mendes, who dissected suburban desperation in “American Beauty,” a film that after this one seems merciful. The screenplay by Justin Haythe is drawn from the famous 1961 novel by Richard Yates, who has been called the voice of the postwar Age of Anxiety. This film is so good it is devastating. A lot of people believe their parents didn’t understand them. What if they didn’t understand themselves?

From Man Push Cart review

Bahrani was inspired by “The Myth of Sisyphus,” by Albert Camus, the story of a man who spends his life pushing a rock up a hill, only to see it roll down again, and only push it back up again. Well, what else can he do? “Man Push Cart” is not an indictment of the American economy or some kind of political allegory. It is about what it is about. I think the message may be that it is better, after all, to push the cart than to face a life without purpose at the bottom of the hill.

From About Schmidt review

“About Schmidt” is billed as a comedy. It is funny to the degree that Nicholson is funny playing Schmidt, and funny in terms of some of his adventures, but at bottom it is tragic. In a mobile home camp, Schmidt is told by a woman who hardly knows him, “I see inside of you a sad man.” Most teenagers will probably not be drawn to this movie, but they should attend. Let it be a lesson to them. If they define their lives only in terms of a good job, a good paycheck and a comfortable suburban existence, they could end up like Schmidt, dead in the water. They should start paying attention to that crazy English teacher.

From The Savages

“The Savages” confronts a day that may come in all of our lives. Two days, actually, the first when we are younger, the second when we are older. “The Ballad of Narayama,” a great Japanese film, is about a community that decides when a person has outlived any usefulness and leaves that person on the mountain to die. It seems cruel, but even the dying seem to think it appropriate. Better that, after being healthy and strong once, than to be reduced to writing on walls with excrement.

Lars And The Real Girl

How this all finally works out is deeply satisfying. Only after the movie is over do you realize what a balancing act it was, what risks it took, what rewards it contains. A character says at one point that she has grown to like Bianca. So, heaven help us, have we.

 If we can feel that way about a new car, why not about a lonely man’s way to escape from sitting alone in the dark?

The Squid and the Whale review

These kids will be okay. Someday Bernard and Joan will be old and will delight in their grandchildren, who will no doubt be miserable about the flaws and transgressions of Walt and Frank, and then create great achievements and angry children of their own. All I know is, it is better to be the whale than the squid. Whales inspire major novels.

There are many such other reviews with some great lines. These were just few of those which were on top of my mind. If you got a favourite one, do post it in the comments section.

And talking about last few lines, let me end this post with last lines from his essay on Death which he wrote for Salon. He surely knew it all – life, cinema, and his death too. It’s eerie. You can read the entire piece here.

Someday I will no longer call out, and there will be no heartbeat. I will be dead. What happens then? From my point of view, nothing. Absolutely nothing. All the same, as I wrote to Monica Eng, whom I have known since she was six, “You’d better cry at my memorial service.” I correspond with a dear friend, the wise and gentle Australian director Paul Cox. Our subject sometimes turns to death. In 2010 he came very close to dying before receiving a liver transplant. In 1988 he made a documentary named “Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent van Gogh.” Paul wrote me that in his Arles days, van Gogh called himself “a simple worshiper of the external Buddha.” Paul told me that in those days, Vincent wrote:

Looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map.

Why, I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France?

Just as we take a train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star. We cannot get to a star while we are alive any more than we can take the train when we are dead. So to me it seems possible that cholera, tuberculosis and cancer are the celestial means of locomotion. Just as steamboats, buses and railways are the terrestrial means.

To die quietly of old age would be to go there on foot.

That is a lovely thing to read, and a relief to find I will probably take the celestial locomotive. Or, as his little dog, Milou, says whenever Tintin proposes a journey, “Not by foot, I hope!”


  1. Andy says:

    I know I will truly miss ebert.He was the one who introduced me to movies like La Dolce Vita,L’Avventura,Hoop Dreams and Au Revoir Les Enfants.The first post of Ebert I read was that of Raging Bull from his Great movies section.It had a really great last para too and one of my favourites:
    Raging Bull” is the most painful and heartrending portrait of jealousy in the cinema–an “Othello” for our times. It’s the best film I’ve seen about the low self-esteem, sexual inadequacy and fear that lead some men to abuse women. Boxing is the arena, not the subject. LaMotta was famous for refusing to be knocked down in the ring. There are scenes where he stands passively, his hands at his side, allowing himself to be hammered. We sense why he didn’t go down. He hurt too much to allow the pain to stop.

  2. Roger Ebert was a big influence on me and my love for films. I was quite thrilled the one day he replied to me. Anyway,couple of favourite last paras:

    Pulp Fiction(Great Movies): Watching many movies, I realize that all of the dialogue is entirely devoted to explaining or furthering the plot, and no joy is taken in the style of language and idiom for its own sake. There is not a single line in “Pearl Harbor” you would want to quote with anything but derision. Most conversations in most movies are deadly boring_which is why directors with no gift for dialogue depend so heavily on action and special effects. The characters in “Pulp Fiction” are always talking, and always interesting, funny, scary or audacious. This movie would work as an audio book. Imagine having to listen to “The Mummy Returns.”

    Midnight in Paris: This is Woody Allen’s 41st film. He writes his films himself, and directs them with wit and grace. I consider him a treasure of the cinema. Some people take him for granted, although “Midnight in Paris” reportedly charmed even the jaded veterans of the Cannes press screenings. There is nothing to dislike about it. Either you connect with it or not. I’m wearying of movies that are for “everybody” — which means, nobody in particular. “Midnight in Paris” is for me, in particular, and that’s just fine with moi.

    Also, a line I’d like to mention from his review of the spirit (in the first para though) : To call the characters cardboard is to insult a useful packing material.

    He will be missed.

  3. […] Ebert saab – that empathy in those last few lines […]

  4. Charn says:

    Roger Ebert was one of the most popular critics that cinematic world has seen..on 3rd april 2013,he published an article on his blog (it was 46th aniversery of his first review he mentioned) where he expressed his future plans..his desire to review “only the movies that he wanted to review”..and most importantly said that he was taking a “leave of presence” leaving his legacy to his fellow critcs that he admired so much…and guess what he takes a very long leave of presence the next day where he shall only be present among the words that he wrote or said..the movies that he lived..

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