‘Courage is the solution to despair, reason provides no answers. I can’t know what the future will bring; we have to choose despite uncertainty. Wisdom is holding two contradictory truths in our mind, simultaneously, Hope and Despair. A life without despair is a life without hope. Holding these two ideas in our head is life itself’
Yep, that makes you ponder and pondering is what First Reformed does. The film centres on 46 year-old Reverend Ernst Toller, who is the pastor of First Reformed Church, a small church with a small congregation which is seen as a tourist spot more than a church. Ernst has just started a journal, specifically a handwritten one, in which he tries to write down his thoughts into everyday. He also has a simple mobile phone, one with no social media apps or Internet – just a simple messages and call phone – like a phone used to be, he sleeps in a modest room with modest furnishings.
Ernst has had some sadness in his life, he lost his son Joseph to an unjust war, subsequently his marriage soon feel apart. He now preaches, but he is on a downward spiral, he drinks heavily and is passing blood. He meets Mary, a young woman who is concerned about her husband Michael an environmentalist who has recently home after a stint in prison for his activities. Mary is pregnant but Michael is concerned about bringing a baby into the world which he believes is doomed.
Ernst tries his best to council Michael, but, he stumbles as he is at a crisis himself about his beliefs and thoughts. The more Ernst learns about Michael and his belief about the world the more he spirals. Even with all the people around him, Ernst is still lonely, he in fact embraces it as some sort of badge of honour,
‘Some are called for their gregariousness, some are called for their suffering. Others are called for their loneliness’
But deep down, he knows he needs emotion but where will he find?
‘The desire to pray itself is a type of prayer. How often we ask for genuine experience when all we really want is emotion’
It is no surprise First Reformed screenplay has been nominated for an Oscar, it is excellent. Similarities have been made to Taxi Driver (also written by Paul Schrader) and to some extent it is rightly so, I would also say there are elements of David Lynch with its dark tones, the cinematography is also quite soft and reserved and the film is shot on a 1:37:1 aspect which is an old style of filming allowing for more focus.
Ethan Hawke is very good, he delivers a restraint and emotional performance as Ernst, (not sure why he didn’t get an Oscar Nod for it). He supported by Amanda Seyfried and Cedric Kyles. I have not mentioned the ending, as, it is interesting one, I will leave it up to you to decide, I just hope you don’t despair.