First Look at “First Reformed” (2018)

Is Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed” an SJW fantasy, a critique of SJW-ness’ telos, a parody of SJW-ness, or some strange combination thereof? Schrader himself has always struck me as a conservative guy, or at a minimum not a PC guy.

From the sounds of it, “First Reformed” appears to be a further riff on themes Schrader explored in his screenplay for “Taxi Driver” (which was directed by Martin Scorcese.)

In “First Reformed”, Ethan Hawke’s Reverend Toller comes to identify himself with radical environmentalism and antinatalism:

The movie, which stars Ethan Hawke as an upstate New York minister who is undergoing a crisis of faith/health/isolation/midlife woe, is an austerely unabashed and compelling oddball, a pastiche of “Diary of a Country Priest” and “Winter Light” and what you might call the Schrader Paradigm, the one derived from “The Searchers” that he used (and made iconic) in his screenplay for “Taxi Driver,” and then in “Hardcore” and “Light Sleeper”: the loner who goes down a blood trail of redemption, trying to rescue a ravaged maiden who was taken by the forces of sin but remains, in his mind, unspoiled.

That said, there’s an additional component to “First Reformed” that, I think, accounts for some of the cartwheels that critics have done over it. The picture is a gravely absorbing cinematic-spiritual journey, but it’s also a message movie about environmental catastrophe in which the hero, emerging from his dour despair, begins to find a purpose in becoming radicalized. He gooses himself awake, and by the time the film reaches its nutty inspired climax, this somberly cautious and reflective man is flirting with strapping on a suicide vest. For a lot of indie-film buffs who consider themselves social justice warriors, that’s close to a feel-good ending…

He views himself as an enlightened activist, but he’s also a messianic narcissist who has figured out a way to make climate change all about him.

I’m looking forward to checking this film out.

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