Martin Scorsese says Roger Ebert Understood Him Better As A Director Than He Understood Himself

Steve James documentary Life Itself, dedicated to the life and work of late film critic Roger Ebert, has been generating reams of positive press as it makes its way to theaters on July 11 (it will open in limited release on July 4). But no quote attributed to Ebert’s influence struck me quite as deeply as the one that legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese shared… even though it never made it into the finished documentary.

The Raging Bull and Goodfellas maestro spoke with Steve James about Roger Ebert’s reaction to The Departed. The anecdote is captured and shared by The New York Times, which reveals that Scorsese believed the iconic critic figured out a crucial component to the filmmaker’s psyche before it even became clear to Scorsese. Roger Ebert, as the story goes, said The Departed carried extra weight because of Scorsese’s staunch Catholic upbringing, and how some men eventually confess to their wrongdoings, but admit to the parish priest that they had no real choice.

"This movie is like an examination of conscience," Ebert wrote of the film at the time of release, "when you stay up all night trying to figure out a way to tell the priest: I know I done wrong, but, oh, Father, what else was I gonna do?"

Upon reading that, Martin Scorsese amazingly confessed to Steve James:

"When I saw he said that, I said, ‘Well, that’s what it’s all about.’ I mean, he may say, ‘Well, it’s not enough.’ I think it is, in terms of being a human being and saying, ‘I know it was wrong. But I had no choice, I couldn’t do otherwise.’ And it took me years to understand that that’s who I am. And Roger knew that."

When it comes to compliments, I’m not sure they come much higher than that.

Martin Scorsese joins a long list of filmmakers, though, who admit to having a deep emotional connection with Roger Ebert over the course of the film critic’s staggering career. He appears alongside the likes of Werner Herzog, Errol Morris and Ramin Bahnrani in the trailer for James’ doc:

But from everything that we have been hearing about Life Itself (and as the title suggests), the movie isn’t only about film. It’s also about celebrating life, about recognizing one’s passions, and about being recognized by our peers. The film rolls out in select markets over the coming years. Celebrate the life and work of Roger Ebert alongside some of the greats: Martin Scorsese, among them.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.