Forty-six year old Reverend Ernst Toller is the pastor at the historic First Reformed Church in upstate New York. It is seen as the "tourist" church or the "souvenir shop" (its historical significance partly it being a stop on the underground railroad before the slaves crossed into Canada) by Abundant Life, which owns the church and which operates a modern self-named five thousand seat church overseen by Reverend Joel Jeffers. First Reformed is celebrating its two hundred fiftieth anniversary this year, for which a major event is planned, modest in size only at First Reformed itself although the dignitaries like the governor and mayor will be at attendance there, while the event will be simulcast at Abundant Life. Most of the speech-making will be done by local industrialist Ed Balq, a major benefactor of Abundant Life and who is the major donor for the necessary upgrades at First Reformed to be able to hold the event there, and for the event itself, while Toller's participation will ...Written by
Toller, at breakfast, pours hard liquor into a bowl and dips bread into it. This is similar to a moment in Taxi Driver (1976) (also written by Paul Schrader, more than four decades earlier), in which the main character pours liquor over bread chunks and eats them. See more »
When Toller is writing in his journal, the previous pages, which he has presumably already filled with entries, are perfectly flat as in a brand new journal, and not puffed up as pages which have been filled would be. Also, the thickness of the "filled" pages varies, getting thinner at times as the movie progresses. See more »
Reverend Ernst Toller:
I have decided to keep a journal. Not in a word program or digital file, but in longhand, writing every word out so that every inflection of penmanship, every word chosen, scratched out, revised, is recorded. To set down all my thoughts and the simple events of my day factually and without hiding anything. When writing about oneself, one should show no mercy. I will keep this diary for one year; 12 months. And at the end of that time, it will be destroyed. Shredded, then burnt. The...
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Some objectively good movies also make you feel good while watching them. Others crush you with weighty material, penetrating emotions and powerhouse performances. 'First Reformed' falls into the second category.
Legendary writer-director Paul Schrader returns to his past glorious form with this film. Some 40 years after writing 'Taxi Driver', he unleashes another portrait of a man experiencing a deep existential crisis as he sinks further into despair because of what he perceives to be a failing humanity.
Our new Travis Bickle is Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke, in an Oscar-worthy performance). Toller runs a small church in New York state called First Reformed, which has a dwindling congregation of merely a dozen. Nearby, First Reformed's parent church, which has a following of thousands, is headed by Reverend Jeffers (Cedric the Entertainer). Toller and Jeffers clash over their ways to best perform the Lord's work. Toller rejects all physical possessions and scoffs at the financial success of the parent church, while Jeffers futilely attempts to convince Toller that wealth and religious commitment are not mutually exclusive.
Toller is not a well man. He struggles to take joy in any aspect of life. His past haunts him, as do the present failures of humanity. His despair becomes increasingly clear with each passing day that he writes in his diary, which was intended to be a form of prayer and offer clarity but instead only serves as a vehicle for him to psychologically self-punish. As his mental health suffers, so does his physical state. He's sick, probably dying, but he guzzles hard liquor daily despite the stomach pain it causes. Perhaps this too is self-punishment.
As Toller struggles to find a purpose for his remaining time on Earth, one appears before him when a pregnant parishioner, Mary (a career-best Amanda Seyfried), asks him to counsel her suicidal husband. Toller agrees, but the conversations don't lead to any relief for either party. Toller believes he finds a purpose, but anyone of sound mind would hardly consider it a Godly cause.
This all builds to a climactic scene that will leave some viewers in breathless awe and others in maddening disbelief. I took the final moments as a welcome relief after a punishing first 105 minutes, but some may see the abrupt pivot in tone as off putting. In any case, it's certainly spiritual trip and one that will stick with you long after the credits roll.
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