First Reformed

Paul Schrader’s First Reformed is the writer/director’s best work in a very long time. The writer of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The Last Temptation Of Christ is having a crisis of faith, examining personal issues of religion in a way that he hasn’t done in many years.

Poster for Paul Schrader's new drama First ReformedThe always-great Ethan Hawke plays a chaplain named Toller at the titular First Reformed Church, a small place seen more now as a tourist stop than a house of God. One of his flock, Mary (Amanda Seyfried), comes to him asking for help with her husband, Michael (Philip Ettinger). The young couple are about to have a baby, but Michael, recently turned into an extreme environmental activist, doesn’t want to bring life into a dying world. He’s convinced that the species will be extinct in his child’s lifetime. How could you purposefully do that to someone? The conversations shake Toller to his core.

First Reformed is a deeply theological film. Toller says, ‘Wisdom is holding two contradictory truths in our mind at the same time: hope and despair.’ But what happens when the latter greatly outweighs the former? How does one maintain hope? And how does one proceed when faith seems to be inadequate? We’ve been taught that godliness and prosperity aren’t linked, but it can be increasingly difficult to maintain belief when your world is coming down. And for Toller, even worry is wicked. Doesn’t anxiety indicate doubt in the Lord?

This is a film of fascinating conversations, anchored by Hawke’s completely genuine performance. We need more movies like it.

– Brian Tallerico,

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