Movie Review: First Reformed

By William Anthony | Southern History Department | Central Library

Ethan Hawke arguably gives the best performance of his career as a pastor who starts questioning his life and purpose. His character, Ernst Toller, journals his inner thoughts in order to evaluate his faith. He wrestles with alcoholism and hurts from severe stomach pains. The death of his son also haunts him. After befriending both a radical environmentalist and his pregnant wife, he develops a growing fear over climate change. As he prepares to celebrate the 250th anniversary of his church, the First Reformed Church, Toller still tries to make sense of his place in an unpredictable world. He never aspires to let go of hope, but his doubt emerges when he contemplates the condition of Earth. His first-person narration gives a chilling account of what it feels like when the world weighs down on your shoulders. 

Paul Schrader
, who penned the screenplays for classic films such as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, also wrote and directed this original, powerful movie that does not hesitate to bring up the difficult questions that some people might have about God or the depravity of mankind. The movies that stand the test of time are the ones that give people something profound to talk about afterwards. It is apparent that Schrader wants viewers to think critically about our world while appreciating the depth of all the conversations that Toller has with different people. First Reformed encourages us to participate in insightful but civil discussions about contentious topics such as religion and the environment.

First Reformed 
is available to stream on Kanopy and to borrow on DVD in the Jefferson County Library Cooperative.