First Reformed is a drama written and directed by Paul Schrader. It follows a Protestant minister faced with questions of faith and morality while serving as pastor of a dwindling historical church. While screened in August of 2017 at the 74th Venice International Film Festival it was theatrically released in the United States in May of 2018, which enabled the film to be considered for an Oscar in 2019. I liked First Reformed and was glad I decided to see it, as it is a decent story.
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Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) of the First Reformed Church in Snowbridge, New York has been writing his thoughts in a journal for a year, that he intends to destroy. First Reformed is a 250-year-old Dutch Reformed Church that is facing dwindling attendance under Reverend Toller’s leadership. His teachings has taken the church in a new direction and away from its historical focus on Reformed theology. Toller used to be a military chaplain and struggles in the aftermath of his son’s passing. His grief is further compounded by the fact that he encouraged his son to enlist in the first place. Toller meets Mary Mensana (Amanda Seyfried), who is a pregnant member of his congregation seeking counseling for her radical-environmentalist husband Michael Mensana (Philip Ettinger), which further challenges his beliefs. Mary turns to Reverend Toller for support. This and trying to seek a deeper experience through reading Roman Catholic (Thomas Merton and G.K. Chesterton) plus a mystical book (The Cloud of Unknowing) also adds to his crisis of faith. This new spiritual direction leads him to seek support from a nearby charismatic megachurch, Abundant Life, which owns the historical landmark the (First Reformed Church that was once a stop on the Underground Railroad). In the meanwhile, Toller meets with Michael who explains that he wants Mary to get an abortion because he does not want to bring a child into a world that will be rendered almost uninhabitable by climate change. Toller listens intently and starts to agree with Michael’s beliefs. I am stopping here as not to tell the whole story.
First Reformed is a dark and mysterious story that takes a lot of concentration and understanding from the viewer. The story has potential and certainly interesting. Toller’s depression seems to transfer to the audience — we are saved by our curiosity, the excellent cast and their brilliant acting, all the suspense, plus the relationship between Reverend Toller and pregnant Mary. Also, Cedric Kyles “Cedric the Entertainer” stars as Pastor Joel Jeffers and gives quite the performance. This film gets very interesting but has an ending that leaves you wanting a little more explanation. All in all, First Reformed was acclaimed by critics, with specific praise for Hawke’s performance and Schrader’s screenplay and direction, and was chosen by both the National Board of Review and American Film Institute as one of the Top 10 Films of 2018. At the Independent Spirit Awards, the film received nominations for Best Film, Best Male Lead (Hawke), Best Director and Best Screenplay. I would wait for the DVD but do Check It Out!
[First Reform is Oscar nominated for Best Original Screenplay]