A reason to believe
In First Reformed, actor Ethan Hawke and director Paul Schrader are on a path to glory
Paul Schrader is not the first creative type to be hoisted by his own genius. No matter what else he has done — directing American Gigolo, co-writing Raging Bull
— he will forever be the guy who wrote Taxi Driver. But perhaps, knowing that the first line of your obituary has already been written, brings with it a certain freedom — a realisation that you can do what you want, because no one will allow it to supersede your earlier achievements anyway.
Which is maybe how First Reformed came about. Schrader wrote and directed this stirring portrait of another tortured loner, Father Toller, played by Ethan Hawke, who is struggling to reconcile his own personal misfortune with the dwindling fortunes of his church, a neat upstate New York establishment, that has been taken over by a neighbouring mega-church.
Then into his life comes a new problem — or perhaps a solution — a pregnant young woman (Amanda Seyfried) whose husband, Michael, is so fearful of the forthcoming environmental apocalypse that he wants her to get an abortion. She wants Father Toller to talk to him. Oh, and just in case this all sounded a bit literal and Earthly, her name is Mary. Toller’s conversations with Michael force the reverend to confront his own burgeoning crisis of faith, as much as he tries to extol it to his troubled young interlocutor. It becomes a race to see exactly who will fall apart first, and how.
The ending of First Reformed has caused some debate and it certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste (or comprehension). But this mysterious, mesmerising film — with an utterly compelling performance from Hawke
— is one of the kind you only feel brave enough to make when you think maybe no one’s watching. Seventy-one-year-old Schrader said he felt that First Reformed would make for a “pretty good last film”, but he may well find the pressure’s back on.
Keeping the faith: Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried star in First Reformed irst Reformed is out on 13 July