Life Itself Movie Poster Image

Life Itself



Documentary captures film critic Ebert's zest for living.
  • Review Date: July 3, 2014
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Release Year: 2014
  • Running Time: 116 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Live life. That's how Roger Ebert approached every day, and this film reveals his immense appreciation for experiencing everything he could. That includes the positive (great films, great friends, new experiences) and the negative (mediocre movies, overindulging, and occasional bouts of bickering with people he loved).

Positive role models

Despite a debilitating illness that took away Ebert's ability to eat or speak, he always had a positive attitude and a glint in his eyes. Though he lost control of his jaw, it's entirely fitting that it seemed like his mouth was always smiling. This was a man who appreciated life and enjoyed every moment.


Some scenes show intense bickering between two very close friends.


A few sequences include clips from old films that show brief nudity and sex scenes. Some references to sex.


Occasional swearing, including "s--t," "f--k," and "goddamn."


The film frequently mentions the two Chicago newspapers where Siskel and Ebert worked, the Tribune and the Sun-Times, as well as their famous film-review TV show. Many movies, actors, and directors are mentioned by name. Ebert uses a Mac laptop toward the end of his life.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

For many years, Ebert spent almost every night holding court in a Chicago bar, and almost all of his friends have tales of his antics. Later, he realized he had a drinking problem and quit, and the same friends tell more stories about how he managed to get sober and how important it was for him to realize that he needed to stop drinking.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Life Itself is a documentary by the director of Hoop Dreams that examines life of acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert, who died in 2013. It traces both his career -- both as a newspaper critic and on his popular TV show with Gene Siskel -- and his personal life, including his late-in-life marriage and the impact of the debilitating disease that robbed him of his ability to speak and eat but not think and write. Expect some brief swearing ("s--t," "f--k," etc.), a few quick nude/sex scenes in clips of old movies, and a good deal of talk about drinking and Ebert's eventual realization that he had an alcohol problem.

What's the story?

Beloved film critic Roger Ebert had a huge appetite -- not just for movies, but for life. He adored and was enormously loyal to his friends, he valued artistry both high and low, and -- most of all -- he wanted to, as Henry David Thoreau said, "suck out all the marrow" out of LIFE ITSELF. This documentary traces Ebert's career as a lifelong reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times and his sometimes-combative yet important and loyal friendship with fellow critic Gene Siskel, his partner on their long-running TV show. The movie also delves into Ebert's personal life, including his early days as a raconteur who indefatigably held daily court at a Chicago saloon (and later realized he had a drinking problem), and his later-in-life dealings with love and marriage. And then there's the cancer that ultimately claimed his life, stealing his ability to speak (among many other things), but never his deep and compelling desire to communicate through his writing.

Is it any good?


Life Itself is a beautiful documentary that befits a man as complex, intelligent, and compassionate as Roger Ebert. As with many biographical films, viewers get to know the writer from childhood on -- born in a small Illinois town, dad was an electrician, mom was a homemaker, always wanted to be a journalist. But that's just the beginning; as the film goes on, Ebert's portrait (which he narrates himself in spots) gains texture not just through the many interviews with friends who share memories of a man with an deep yearning to experience as much as he could -- and demanded the same from the art he reviewed -- but time with Ebert himself, who remains eloquent even when cancer has made it impossible for him to speak.

No matter the impact of his disease, he still had his words on paper, and with these, Ebert never stopped sharing his wisdom. Some people might have sunk into bitterness and despair, but Life Itself shows that Ebert remained optimistic and joyful. He had no qualms about showing his face, even after surgery left him visibly disfigured. It's easy for a film to show what a man accomplished. Life Itself excels by showing us who the man really was. As Ebert himself says in a clip from the first few minutes of the film, "The movies are like a machine that generates empathy." Life Itself, as part of that machinery, succeeds.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how the film portrays Roger Ebert, both as a film critic and as a person. Why was he so influential? How does knowing more about his personal life impact your opinion of his film criticism?

  • How does the film treat Ebert's illness? What do you think about the way it showed him even after his face was so changed?

  • What do you think about Ebert's relationships -- with his friends, his wife Chaz, and his fellow critic Gene Siskel? Was Siskel a friend, a colleague, or both?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:July 4, 2014
DVD release date:February 17, 2015
Cast:Roger Ebert
Director:Steve James
Studio:Magnolia Pictures
Run time:116 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:brief sexual images/nudity and language

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 17 years old Written byB-KMastah July 13, 2014

Candid, respectful, funny, and heartbreaking.

I'm a person that will only see new movies in theaters. If a movie is simultaneously released day-and-date theatrically and on demand, I'll see it theatrically. If it isn't playing near me, I'll wait for it to play here me. I live in Michigan but I just happened to be in Chicago for college orientation, so yay, I saw it in a theater in Chicago! And I'm so glad that I did, because seeing a film theatrically really enhances one's experience, and if I watched this at home, I wouldn't have laughed or bawled my eyes out as much, nor would I have been as deeply touched and enthralled. This is an amazing documentary that is so unbelievably immersive and affective. I'll turn 18 in September and I've been reading Ebert's reviews since I was 12. His writing style and sarcastic humor was so inviting, and he was a person, not just a critic. This movie captures that so well, using archive footage of his television show with Siskel, excerpts from his memoir, and new footage of him in the hospital, which is as brave as it is heartbreaking. The direction is candid and the interviews are truthful, but the entire documentary is respectful. There's stuff in here that I didn't know about, and I applaud Ebert's family for their utter involvement in this project. The film is well-paced and balances different subjects, people, and themes very well without ever feeling crowded, and the movie flows from one piece to another seamlessly. The main thing about this documentary is how much of an effect it had on me. The ending that shows Ebert's final months and days is beyond powerful; it was like 12 Years a Slave in how much I cried. But it was a good cry, knowing that my emotions weren't being manipulated, because this is a expertly-crafted documentary that makes you close to its main subject, and then puts you in the place of his acquaintances and family. I could definitely see this again because of how interesting it is, and its emotional pull to it. But seriously, see this in a theater if you want to really appreciate it. It just isn't fair to see a documentary about Roger Ebert at home and not at the movies. 9.7/10, masterful, two thumbs up (duh), far above average, etc.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 17 years old Written byChristopherGraham January 17, 2015

"Life Itself" by Christopher Graham

I thought that this film was very captivating and true to its source material based on the greatest film critic in the world, Roger Ebert. The performances were just right, the direction was accurate, and the cameos were great too as well. Overall, I thought that this film was very rich in detail and very affectionate and that it launched a poignant tribute to the world's greatest film critic. Teens and 15 year olds are meant to see this movie if they are a fan of the film industry. Adults can see this too, if they are a fan of the documentary genre. Younger kids are not meant to see this movie based on its brief sexual images, nudity, and language.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Adult Written byBestPicture1996 January 6, 2015

A movie about a personal hero

As an aspiring movie critic, there's really only one man to look up to. Roger Ebert paved the way for virtually everyone to come. This movie examines his life, how much he loved the movies, maybe the not so desirable aspects of the man, his hilariously interesting frenemyship with Gene Siskel, and perhaps most heartbreakingly, his last few months with his cancerous affliction. Those scenes are the hardest to bear witness to, not because of their graphic nature but seeing a man having to suffer who was in alright condition prior. It's also very inspiring to see a man so unafraid of death. Though it shows some scenes from a trashy movie Ebert wrote in the 60s, catch the version on CNN if your aspiring writer kids want to see it. It's a great documentary and I hopes it wins an Oscar like everyone's saying it will!
What other families should know
Too much sex


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