It started ten years ago with a Google search.
"Oh HELL no."
Roger Ebert, acclaimed critic, cofounder of the famous thumbs up-down trademark, premiere pulitzer prize winning writer of countless columns, a championing and damning voice for thousands of films that graced the silver screen – had just done the unthinkable: he’d given not four, but three and a half stars to The Return of the King.
"You sir, are WRONG."
He had to be wrong. No one in their right mind would give Return of the King, the greatest of all great movies that was impervious to imperfection, a non-perfect score. How DARE he proclaim that this masterpiece of a fantasy narrative be a half star inferior to Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.
Unforgivable. Absolutely, wholly, unbelievably, unfathomably, unforgivable.
"You think you’re so cool huh? You think that some insomnia-curing film like Master and Commander is superior to Return of the King? Your credibility is DEAD to me, you hear me? DEAD. Like my interest in British naval ship stories which, for your information, is boring. Bravo-Oscar-Romeo-India-November-Golf – BORING."
The insanity couldn’t be overlooked, and compulsion unhinged a inquisitive madness.
"Well mister three thumbs and a half man, let’s see what OTHER films you’ve written about! Let’s see if you and I are on the same page about what makes a good or bad movie! Let’s see if you’re even qualified to BE critic!"
The train had left the station, and it was unstoppable. Not that I knew that at the time, nor do I ever plan on getting off of it any time soon.
Reading Roger’s columns on a weekly basis started off with a inherent desire to feel validated for my likes and dislikes, or to shoot mental daggers in his general direction whenever I felt he was wrong, wrong, and Oh So Wrong. But no matter what he said, no matter how much I disagreed with his final say, no matter how many eye twitches some of his star ratings triggered, I kept reading.
I read, and I grew.
After two years of weekly column visits, it suddenly hit me that I no longer cared about his star ratings, nor were my disagreements with his opinion increasing my blood pressure; at what point this had occurred I’m not entirely sure, but the self-awareness was something of a life changing moment. I had been reading before, but now I was really reading.
It wasn’t about likes or dislikes, stars or half stars, validation or the like: it was the content, his honesty, his conviction, and his conveyance of it all.
I was reading to understand, to learn, to push past the familiarity. And Roger was generous enough to offer such an avenue on such a regular basis.